July 24, 2013

Grantham feels for refs

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Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Wednesday he feels sorry for the officials who will now be asked to enforce the NCAA's new targeting rule, which has been designed to help prevent injuries as a result of big hits to the head or neck.

"I think they made it tough on the officials now because of the emphasis on it," Grantham said during a sit-down with Bulldog beat writers. "Now, once the official throws the flag, it's an ejection. Now, the replay guy can come back in and make a decision whether it was or wasn't so I think that's a lot of pressure, a lot on the officials. I think they made their job very difficult from that standpoint."

It's certainly a conundrum, one that's certainly created a lot of talk over recent weeks.

According to the NCAA, the goal is to prevent the helmet-to-helmet hits that in the past have caused injuries to both players involved.

Under the new rule, such a penalty will result in an automatic ejection, not only for the rest of the game but parts of the next contest as well if the penalty occurs in the second half.

So what's a coach to do?

"I think it's a good thing for the safety of players, but you still want to play aggressive and physical because you still want to protect yourself also. I think you've just got to understand the rule, the target area and how they're going to call it. I don't think you can put your head in the sand because it's there and part of the game," Grantham said. "I think you've just got to understand what they're looking for and how you can play the situations that come up that could get you in those area of being a foul.
"I think you've got to talk about it because you're talking about something that can happen in one or two seconds. It's a pretty quick decision, it's sometimes spontaneous so you've got to address it with the players and understand that it's an emphasis in college football. It's for the safety of the players but don't let it take away from your aggression and here are the areas and boundaries that they're looking at."

Grantham is no stranger to dealing with this sort of policy.

During his 11 years as an assistant in the NFL, finding ways to curb helmet to helmet contact was a big subject of conversation as well and admits he's concerned there may be too much gray area when it comes to officials making the call.

"I think you've got to understand what a defenseless player is so that everybody is on the same page," he said. "Again, I think you've got to talk to your players about the targeting area to make sure they understand that because if you don't you could lose a guy for really two games."

Who will replace Harvey-Clemson?

With sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended for the opener against Clemson, who will the Bulldogs turn at strong safety?

Grantham said he'll be looking at several candidates.

"Corey Moore has a done a good job in spring and has had a good summer. Shaquille Fluker is a guy who just got here so we're definitely going to be able to able to evaluate him and see his ability," Grantham said. "Connor Norman is a guy who has really taken a leadership role in the back end in some of the 7 on 7 so we're excited about his leadership and the things that he's done so we're going to evaluate those guys at the safety position."

When the Bulldogs go Nickel, junior Damien Swann could slide over and play a key role.

"Damien is a guy who really played Nickel for us anyway, he's done it for two years and it hasn't been an issue so we will continue to get him some snap there, depending of course how (Brendan) Langley and Shaq (Wiggins) come along."

Grantham said he'll spend the early part of fall camp making sure his two freshmen would be able to handle such a load.

If you play Damien, really what you're doing is adding a third corner. If we did that then you'll see how those new guys, Langley and Wiggins, have come on, so we'll mess with it the first third of training camp to see how those guys progress," he said. "The big thing will be to evaluate those new guys we have coming in. We've got roughly 17 new and different (defensive) players on our roster from last year and we want to do a good job of evaluating those guys and see how can do what."

Grantham confident in Thornton

The Bulldogs no longer have John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at nose, but Grantham likes what he sees in junior Mike Thornton.

At 6-foot-1 and 295 pounds, Thornton does not possess the same girth as his two predecessors, but his coach feels he makes up for it in other ways.

"We're not going to change what we do. Mike's a guy whose skill set is his initial quickness, his ability to get into blocks, some of its chance of direction," Grantham said. "Anytime you have players at any position you're going to play to their strengths and have them do the things that they do well whether it's be a move guy, whether it's knock a guy back, play off them or whether it be a penetrating guy and try to get one on one."

Grantham said Thornton fits that role just fine.

"Mike's a guy who I thought had a good spring, and he's done a solid job this summer so I'm looking forward to getting him in camp, along with Chris Mayes and John Atkins to see what they can do. We'll just have to see how it goes from there."

Dawg bites

Grantham said Toby Johnson will be on the field for Georgia's first practice next week. "Toby's a guy who will be out there practicing from Day 1," Grantham said. "He's a guy who we will probably play at the end position. He's got some athletic ability, he just hasn't been in the system yet. We'll have to see what he can handle and how he progresses once we get him on the field."

Grantham said that freshman linebacker Shaun McGee will start out at Sam but has the ability to play inside as well, and could get some looks there this fall. He also said that fellow freshmen Johnny O'Neal and Tim Kimbrough will be inside backers, while Leonard Floyd is slated to work at will behind Jordan Jenkins.

Junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera has apparently taken a leadership role. "He's done a good job of not only being a good worker for himself but being a guy who demanded that he and other guys around him work the way he thinks they need to work in order to get back to Atlanta. I think he's done those things," Grantham said. "He's a guy who has probably lost a few pounds. He plays well at the weight he is at right now and is a guy who is going through our system for the third time and I think allowing him to be stable will be good for him and what we want to get accomplished with him. I think the things we've needed him to do to become a better player he's done and I'm excited about the leadership role he can have."

Emptying the notebook

Grantham said he's looking forward to seeing what his young defense can do. "I think we've got 17 new players that weren't here last year and some of those guys got to come in the spring so I think we've got a pretty good idea of what guys can do and the fact they came in during the spring was very beneficial to both us and them. Even though they are freshmen, they've been through the system for a spring and have a good grasp of it. They'll get to do it again in August, but the big thing is we've got to evaluate the talent, then develop the talent, then you've got to define the roles for the players who are on the team and find what they can do and how they can help us win. Those are the thing we've got to focus on, along with our conditioning, our team building and our health." c Although Clemson is the first game, Grantham said from a defensive perspective, he'll actually have prepared for all 12 games before all is said and done. "It's really going to be no different than any other camp that we've done form the standpoint, the first third of camp we need to evaluate our talent, see what our pieces are and then determine the players who can help us win. During that middle third of camp, you've got to work on the SEC. You've got some tough games coming along, obviously the first two are going to be important, but you've got Florida in the middle there, we've got Missouri, we've got Tennessee that's new and then Georgia Tech at the end. You're always going to have different nuance each week, so our approach and my approach has always been to introduce those guys to the things systematically or the concepts that they'll have to understand to stop these styles of offense. During the middle session, you're going to get ready for your season. Once you get to the back end there, that's when you start focusing on the first game and getting ready for that. No matter who your opponent is, you've got to be ready for the entire season, the things that present themselves each week."

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