ATHENS, Ga. -- Implementing a 3-4 defensive scheme in Southeastern Conference football has not come with overnight success.
Alabama struggled to stop opponents in 2007, when Nick Saban arrived with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Georgia's 2010 season was anything but smooth under new coordinator Todd Grantham, and Tennessee's defense is experiencing inconsistencies this year under Sal Sunseri, who spent the past three seasons as Alabama's linebackers coach.
The Volunteers have given up 899 yards the past two weeks against Florida and Akron heading into this Saturday's game at No. 5 Georgia, which had a top-five defense last year and regained that dominance this past weekend in a 48-3 pasting of Vanderbilt.
"From a coverage standpoint, we are pretty complex, and I think that you've got to get some reps in it," Grantham said of his system. "I think the best thing we've done is to maintain our consistency from day one here. As players develop and get that consistency and develop their habits, then they play with more consistency.
"That's a little bit of why you saw some things early on with us, because we had some players who were kind of like first-year guys."
Georgia head coach Mark Richt wasn't looking to change defensive schemes after firing Willie Martinez in December 2009, but Grantham came highly recommended. The Bulldogs allowed 334.4 yards a game in '09 and had yielded 30 or more points five times.
Yet the first year with Grantham was a virtual repeat, as Georgia allowed 328.5 yards a game, allowed 30 or more points five times and finished last in the SEC in third-down defense. The Bulldogs went 8-5 in their final year with Martinez but were even worse at 6-7 under Grantham.
"We are glad that season is behind us," Bulldogs redshirt junior outside linebacker Chase Vasser said. "Last year, we made a big deal about not just knowing your own role but the roles of everyone around you. We started to play faster, and now I know I am trying to get even more detailed and working on little things like my stance, get off, drop step and where I shoot my hands.
"It's the little things now, because I'm not worrying about the whole defense."
Alabama's 2007 defense gave up 286 points, its highest total of the past eight years, and allowed 17 or more points in each of its last 11 games. The Crimson Tide went 7-6 that year, avoiding a losing record by holding off Colorado in the Independence Bowl.
It's been nothing but top-five national defenses in Tuscaloosa ever since.
"With three down linemen, you need a really big noseguard and two pretty stout ends," Georgia senior cornerback Sanders Commings said. "It just takes a while to build that scheme, but Tennessee will probably get it figured out here in the next couple of years."
Grantham is fixated this week on stopping quarterback Tyler Bray and Tennessee's NFL-type offense, but Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is picking Grantham's mind about the 3-4 and trying to capitalize on the growing pains in Knoxville -- the same growing pains Georgia experienced two seasons ago.
"We'll talk a little bit this week about what they do," Bobo said. "They're all from the same background, but all of them are a little bit different. We'll figure out what we can do to give us the best chance to be successful."
Odds and ends
Bulldogs tailback Todd Gurley was honored Monday as SEC freshman of the week for a second time. ... Georgia's game at South Carolina on Oct. 6 will be televised by ESPN and will kick off at 7 p.m. ... The Bulldogs worked out for 90 minutes Monday, with backup tackle Watts Dantzler (ankle) remaining limited and starting defensive end Abry Jones (ankle) sitting out.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...