ATHENS – It’s been the narrative, and a convenient one, this spring for Kirby Smart: Georgia’s defense, with all those returning starters, was getting pushed around by the offensive line.
Offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn was asked Tuesday if that was true.
“Yes sir,” Wynn said, grinning slightly, and not elaborating.
Then the same question was put to a defensive player, inside linebacker Natrez Patrick.
“Of course not,” Patrick said, also grinning. “I’m on the defensive side of the ball so it’s not something I’m going to say.”
But then for the next 10 minutes, Patrick basically echoed Smart and Wynn. Yes, the offense is having a better spring. Yes, the defense needs is missing something, and is being out-physicaled by an offensive line that lost three starters.
“I don’t know if it’s guys not letting loose. I don’t know if it’s guys – I don’t know what it is,” Patrick said. “But something has to give.”
There are necessary caveats here: Georgia’s defense is without potentially its two top players (lineman Trent Thompson and inside linebacker Roquan Smith). It serves a dual purpose to say the offense is having a better spring, injecting much-needed confidence in the offense and a kick in the rear to a defense expected to be good.
Still, Patrick was fairly convincing in backing up Smart’s narrative. Especially after the results in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“A couple times, guys were getting blown off the ball,” Patrick said. “It just seemed like they were hungrier than the defense was at the time,” Patrick said.
That’s a major surprise, considering everything.
Georgia’s defense was the strength of the team last year, an even with Thompson and Smith out, there’s plenty of talent and experience in the front seven. There are all-SEC candidates such as Patrick, outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, and defensive linemen Jonathan Ledbetter, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle and David Marshall.
The offensive line, meanwhile, returns just two starters, and has a new guy in each of the five spots, with Wynn shifting to left tackle and Lamont Gaillard shifting from right guard to center. Even so, Smart keeps saying – and at least two players are now corroborating – that there’s been a physical mismatch this spring.
“We’ve got eager guys,” Wynn said. “No offense to the past guys, but we’re just hungry. We’ve got more younger guys, so I feel like a lot more younger guys have something to prove.”
“They’ve probably got a little size edge,” Patrick said. “And I don’t know man, they’ve just been coming off the ball, they’ve been striking (with) physicality. They’ve just been physical.”
The size edge may be most pronounced at guard, where Solomon Kindley (340 pounds) has been first team at right guard, with Pat Allen (290 pounds) at left guard. Compare that to last year when the guards were Gaillard (now listed at 288 pounds) and Wynn (302 pounds.)
The indications are that the biggest way this has manifested itself is in the run game. Wynn alluded Tuesday to that when he said: “Now that we’ve got the run game going, the offense is clicking now.” And obviously the run offense was a major disappointment last year.
Then when you consider that star tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were held back in Saturday’s scrimmage, it provides further encouragement that real, tangible improvement is happening on offense.
But it also leads to potential concern on the other side of the ball.
“When it comes to us to raise our physicality, they’ve raised the bar,” Patrick said of the offense. “So now it’s time for us to raise the bar. They’ve been physical. They’ve been really physical.”
G-Day is Sat., April 22 and the Red and Black game begins at 2 p.m. and will be seen on SEC Network.