Justin Houston ended the 2009 football season as Georgia's clear-cut sack specialist.
He began 2010 by dropping back in pass coverage Thursday as the Bulldogs held their first of 15 spring practices. New Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is implementing a 3-4 scheme, and the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Houston has been moved from defensive end to an outside linebacker.
Houston can still try to surpass his 7.5 sacks from last season but now must add cover skills.
"The biggest thing about that position will be dropping back into coverage," Houston said Thursday night. "That's going to be the hard part. I already know pass rush as a defensive end, so standing up and rushing won't be the hard part. Dropping back into coverage will."
Thursday was the first time the Bulldogs have practiced in a 3-4 system since 1994, when Ray Goff was coach and Marion Campbell defensive coordinator.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt liked the energy for the spring opener and believes the next few weeks will contain plenty of intrigue and excitement due to the new defense and a quarterback race. Richt realizes that players such as Houston and Cornelius Washington are having to make considerable adjustments after lining up last season with a hand on the turf.
"Now they're in all these passing drills that they've never been in before," Richt said. "They're cover guys all of a sudden."
Houston admitted he and his defensive teammates got off to a slow start Thursday, largely because they were nervous. The practice also was the first for secondary coach Scott Lakatos and inside linebackers coach Warren Belin.
Grantham is overseeing the outside linebackers.
"Once we calmed down and realized we knew what to do, we did it," said Houston, who practiced some at linebacker when he redshirted in 2007. "I'm very excited about the 3-4, and I think I can help this team by making a lot of plays. I'm ready to go."
Georgia's defensive change provided adjustments for offensive players who had become accustomed to facing the standard 4-3 in practice.
"It was a lot different today just because you're used to seeing something that you go up against every day," tackle Clint Boling said. "I think those guys are enjoying it and embracing the new defense. I think it will work out really well."
The Bulldogs will not practice again until March 16, when students return from spring break.
"I'll be back home relaxing," Boling said. "It's supposed to be nice, so I might play some golf."
Odds and ends
Tailback Washaun Ealey wore jersey No. 24 as a freshman but has inherited the No. 3 worn last year by senior safety Bryan Evans. ... Richt on his new assistants: "They all get after it pretty good, but we want our coaches to be demanding. Guys respect coaches who are assertive." ... The April 10 G-Day game will have a 2 p.m. start. ... Richt on tailback-turned-outside linebacker Richard Samuel: "He's about as lost as the rest of them."