The Georgia Bulldogs defense improved under defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last season compared to the 2013 season.
According to CFBStats.com, the Bulldogs ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense and ninth in passing defense. In 2014, which was Pruitt’s first season as defensive coordinator, they ranked sixth in total defense and were the second-best pass defensive team in the conference.
The Bulldogs also improved in run defense. In 2013, they ranked eighth in the SEC. In 2014, they ranked sixth.
With six defensive starters returning, the group will have another shot at taking another step forward. However, of the six starters, none are defensive lineman.
Could this be a problem for the Bulldogs?
According to Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com, not only did the Bulldogs have zero returning starters on the defensive line, but at the start of spring football, there were only five defensive linemen that were on scholarship.
Three of those scholarship players–Sterling Bailey, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson–are seniors and they have seen plenty of action. But they have not made the impact plays consistently according to Aschoff.
One of the things that hurt the Bulldogs last season was the run defense despite the improvement. In the 10 wins, the Bulldogs allowed over 117 rushing yards per game. In the three losses, the Bulldogs surrendered 331 yards per contest. And in the losses to Florida and Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs allowed 6.3 yards per carry and 817 yards.
Aschoff went on to say that’s “on the entire defense, but it starts with deficiencies up front”. So the Bulldogs wanted to get more star power on the defensive line this season, and that’s why they signed Trent Thompson, who was listed as the nation’s best recruit according to 247Sports.
Thompson had 36 tackles for loss and four sacks his final year of high school in Albany, Ga. He won the 2014 Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Player of the Year Award along being named All-State and All-America honors.
When the Bulldogs released their fall camp depth chart, Thompson was not listed. But Thompson has been doing good work during fall camp, and he should have a chance to see a good amount of playing time in the fall.
Another new player to watch is Jonathan Ledbetter. 247Sports listed him as the fifth best defensive end in the country, and he was able to enroll in Georgia the past January.
A sign of encouragement, he had a strong spring game with seven tackles on the day. Recently, Ledbetter has not been practicing because of an injury, and there’s no telling when he’ll be back. However, when he comes back, he should be in the mix when it comes to the defensive line rotation.
Defensive line head coach Tracy Rocker has a mix of solid veterans and promising young talent to work with. However, one or two of the players will need to step up in order for the defensive line to be an elite group. If that doesn’t happen, the Bulldogs will once again be inconsistent in run defense, and that could lead to a disappointing season for the Bulldogs.