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Georgia players, coaches excited about new defense
Mark Richt roams the practice field Monday in Athens. - photo by John Kelley

ATHENS — Georgia football coach Mark Richt is trying to be as efficient as possible with his time during summer camp.

This season, that means stretching out practice time as much as possible before opening day. With 29 practice sessions allowed by the NCAA, he’s found the age-old tradition of two-a-days is counterproductive to the grind of a college football season, especially while implementing a new 3-4 defense with coordinator Todd Grantham.

With one practice each day, the Bulldogs are still permitted to do a morning walkthrough, which can mask as another practice — minus the pads and helmets.

“We wanted to get started as early as we could, and with the practice we still get to do the walkthrough session,” Richt said Monday. “The goal is to build them up physically and to avoid the hamstring pulls and fatigue that come with practicing twice in a day.

“This way we get a balance and get acclimated to the heat.”

And no unit with the Georgia team will be more heavily under the microscope than the defense with only one month remaining until the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. The unit has confidence that Grantham’s scheme will prove the difference in a unit that was light on pressuring the quarterback in 2009 (30 total sacks) and only created 21 turnovers for the season.

Grantham’s new defense has been raved by coaches, players and fans before even seeing it in real time.

“The fans want to see the 3-4, I want to see what it’s going to look like and the players want to see it,” Richt said. “We’re all really intrigued.”

Junior nose tackle DeAngelo Tyson said the biggest benefit of running the new scheme, as opposed to last year’s 4-3 defense, is players will be allowed to rush more and hopefully create turnovers.

“We’re going to be blitzing and attacking more on defense,” Tyson said. “It makes it a lot more fun to play in.”

Grantham, a former assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, said one of the foundations that makes the new defense work is disguising a pass-rusher with an outside linebacker playing on the line to make it look more like a conventional 4-3.

The first day of practice in helmets came with moments of uncertainty as players were still getting a handle on the playbook. Players say they’ve found a familiarity with the terminology since Grantham arrived last winter. Most view the biggest bonus moving to the 3-4 is swinging Cornelius Washington and Justin Houston — last year’s sack leader with 7 1/2 — both to an outside linebacker spot.

“It’s really the same technique as a defensive end, I’ll just be standing up now,” Houston said.

Senior defensive end DeMarcus Dobbs sees the 3-4 scheme as a new beginning for the entire Georgia program. The Bulldogs are talking about beating Florida in 2010 and even hoping for a run at an SEC title game, a goal they set every season.

Dobbs — Georgia’s veteran on the defensive front — sees endless possibilities with what Washington and Houston may accomplish in their new role. As a result of all the change, he sees seniors Kiante Tripp and Brandon Wood, both limited in playing time, getting another look at how they can contribute to the defense.

“I think we all have a slight swagger going right now,” Dobbs said. “This season is a way for the defense to bounce back and show what we can accomplish.”

The only missing piece during the summer on defense is inside linebacker Akeem Dent, who recently had toe surgery. Richt says that in a best-case scenario he’ll back in time for Week 1.

In his absence, Christian Robinson and Marcus Dowtin will get more reps.

“Akeem is still our leader on defense, even though he’s not on the field right now,” Dobbs said. “Right now, he’s able to put on a happy face for the team, so we can feed off his energy.”

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