ATHENS — Jeremy Pruitt tossed out phrases like “very inexperienced,” and mentioned his group was in the “process of building.” When he talked up players, it tended to be those whose time at Georgia has come and gone.
It’s less than two weeks away from the start of what many expect to be a very good season for Georgia’s defense, but its defensive coordinator is downplaying what he’s got.
“We’re very inexperienced, first of all,” Pruitt said after Monday’s practice. “You’ve got (outside linebacker) Jordan Jenkins and you’ve got (linebacker) Leonard Floyd, that’s the two guys that have played a lot of football. (Safety) Dom Sanders started every game last year, and besides those three guys there’s a couple of guys that have started some games here. But other than that there’s not a whole lot of experience, okay?”
“We’ve tried to define our expectations for the guys daily, and create goals that they can accomplish each day. We’re building, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
There actually are a number of returning starters. Eight defensive players have at least eight career starts. But Pruitt citing Jenkins, Floyd and Sanders likely indicates he sees them as the core of his returning defense, which was improved last year, Pruitt’s first at Georgia.
Even when Pruitt was lobbed a softball, a question on if his defense had a different edge or attitude than last year, Pruitt started his answer by bringing up last year’s seniors: Cornerback Damian Swann, inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, defensive linemen Mike Thornton, Toby Johnson and Ray Drew.
“Those six guys, they played hard for us. And they had been around for awhile,” Pruitt said. “So it’s going to be hard to replace those guys. It’s hard to just plug 17, 18-year-old guys in the place for guys that are 22 and 23-years old.”
“So we’re in a process of building, trying to create an identity. And we’ve got a ways to go on that.”
Pruitt pointed out they have 17 new players on defense, 16 of them freshmen, and “several of those guys” will probably be in the two-deep depth chart.
He didn’t gush over defensive lineman Trent Thompson, as the freshman’s teammates have done. In fact Pruitt didn’t gush over any freshmen, saying they’re all just learning.
As for the defensive backs, Pruitt’s position group, he granted that he has four players coming back with playing experience (Sanders, Quincy Mauger, Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman started a combined 38 games last year.) But in another sign of how hard to please Pruitt can be, he said that Mauger – who tied for the team lead with four interceptions last year – needs to play the deep ball better.
“He had four interceptions last year but he had a chance to finish on maybe four other ones,” Pruitt said. “So that’s something he’s concentrated on in camp.”
As the press conference wrapped up, Pruitt was asked if he was intentionally trying to temper expectations.
“No, y’all are asking the questions, I’m answering them,” he said. “When you lose three defensive tackles that start for you, and you lose two inside linebackers that – I think one of them made All-SEC and another made second-team All-SEC – and you lose a guy that’s drafted in the secondary and he’s played a lot of ball. It’s hard to replace guys like that. That happens everywhere. It’s nothing new. We’ve just gotta do it.”