The Bulldogs have a new defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt, and that’s not the only thing that will look different when the team opens spring practice March 18.
The practice routine is changing a bit, with an emphasis on giving everyone more of an equal shot at playing time.
Hutson Mason isn’t exactly a newcomer, but this will be the fifth-year senior’s first — and only — full season as the starting quarterback after the Lassiter High School product backed up Aaron Murray most of his career.
Also, there are some position changes on the horizon, the most notable being the shift of running back J.J. Green from offense to defense to provide much-needed depth at cornerback.
“When you have change, it adds excitement to what’s going on,” Richt said Wednesday. “I think the players, especially on defense, know that every job is wide-open.”
Richt said he wasn’t necessarily looking for a major overhaul after the Bulldogs, picked to win the Southeastern Conference East for the third year in a row, endured a rash of injuries and slumped to 8-5.
“Change doesn’t necessarily mean something needs to be fixed,” the coach said. “There’s just different ways of doing things.”
Coming off a highly successful season at Florida State, Pruitt was brought in to run the defense after Todd Grantham bolted for Louisville. The Seminoles won the national championship and led the nation in points allowed.
Pruitt likes to run essentially the same 3-4 scheme that Grantham favored, so there won’t be any huge differences in the way the Bulldogs line up on defense. That said, the new coordinator intends to put his stamp on a unit that never seemed to play up to its potential under Grantham and was especially vulnerable last season while going with a large number of freshmen and younger players.
Already, Pruitt has made it known that he wants to see less poundage on his side of the line.
“We’re trying to get some of our bigger guys down,” he said. “Personally, we feel like everybody’s a little bit heavy. We’d like to be a little bit faster. That’s just our preference. We’re trying to slim up just a little, including,” he added with a chuckle, “the coaching staff.”
Georgia got a sampling of its new quarterback in 2013. Murray went down in the next-to-last game of the regular season with a knee injury, allowing Mason to get the first two starts of his career. He led the Bulldogs to a huge comeback win over Georgia Tech in double-overtime, but wasn’t as effective in a Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.
All along, Mason was pointing to this year as his lone chance to show what he could do.
“Those two games at the end of the year really helped a lot, just as far as how guys were looking at me as the leader and stepping into that new role,” he said. “We need guys to be able to hold each other accountable and say, ‘Hey, there’s a certain standard here.’ The expectation is to win a championship. If you’re not doing it right, then it’s got to get it fixed or you’ve got to get gone.”
Several injured players won’t be able to go in the spring, including running back Keith Marshall and tight end Jay Rome. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell made be able to take part in non-contact drills but won’t be fully cleared until the fall.
Then there’s star running back Todd Gurley, who battled all sorts of leg issues last season. Richt plans to limit Gurley’s work this spring, while offensive coordinator Mike Bobo wants to get him on the field as much as possible.
Assuming Gurley and Marshall are both fully recovered by the fall, Green didn’t figure to get much playing time at tailback. Pruitt felt the sophomore could be a bigger contributor on defense.
“It’s a little crowded back there at the running back spot,” Pruitt said. “J.J. wants an opportunity to play, and this gives him a chance.”