ATHENS, Ga. — Although he is without his starting linemen and inside linebackers from last year's 10-win team, Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is far more comfortable entering his second season with the Bulldogs.
"This time last year, we had freshmen getting here and joining our older guys who really didn't understand what we were trying to get accomplished," Pruitt said. "Last year's senior class wound up helping create a standard around here on the defensive side, and that has kind of followed through with the guys who are back. We're really a lot further ahead than we were this time last year."
The Bulldogs practiced for 90 minutes Saturday in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts in preparation for this Saturday's opener against visiting Louisiana-Monroe.
Pruitt became the splashiest hire of the Mark Richt era in January 2014, when he replaced the erratic Todd Grantham. Having served as secondary coach on Alabama's 2011 and 2012 national champions and as the defensive coordinator of Florida State's 2013 national champs, Pruitt was collecting rings far more often than not.
His imprint on the program was evident from the start, as Georgia's defensive staff and strength staff added several who had backgrounds with Pruitt during his years with the Crimson Tide. Pruitt did not address the media as often as his predecessors, bringing Nick Saban's policy to Athens in that regard, and when he did speak, it was calculated, such as his plea last November for an indoor practice facility after a Tuesday practice had been cut short by weather.
Pruitt in January became the first assistant in school history to make $1 million, receiving a pay bump from $850,000 to $1.3 million, and all this has created the impression that he has as much power as some of the head coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
"We've got one boss around here, and that's Coach Richt," Pruitt said. "As a head coach, your assistants kind of help make who you are, and when you sit in a room bringing up names, it's no different here than it was at Alabama when we were ready to hire someone. They would ask around the room, and it was the same way at Florida State and the same way at Plainview High School."
Said Richt: "We have staff meetings on everything we do. Everything is open to discussion. Any time you have people from different programs, you want to hear how they might have done this or that. Coach Pruitt has input without a doubt."
Pruitt's hiring paid immediate dividends for the Bulldogs, who went from yielding 29.0 points per game during the 2013 season to 20.7 last year. Georgia also went from allowing 375.5 yards a game to 337.2 and was especially stout in pass-efficiency defense, ranking second in the SEC.
"He's done everything we thought he would and so much more," senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "He's developed us a lot as young men, and he's developed us a lot on the field. He has really helped me with a lot of coverage issues that I've had in the past, and he's helped the issues of some other guys, too."
Yet his debut year with Georgia was far from perfect, which is why he is preaching "consistency" more than any other message right now. In Georgia's last four games last season against teams that went to bowl games, the Bulldogs allowed 418 rushing yards to Florida, 150 to Auburn, 399 to Georgia Tech and 62 to Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
Not surprisingly, they went 2-2 in those games.
"There were some times last year when we played the way we wanted to play," Pruitt said, "and there were some times in the year when we were like a roller coaster. We've got to fix that."
Pruitt has tempered the enthusiasm about his defense in recent days, pointing out that three defensive linemen and two inside linebackers aren't always easy to replace. It is not hard, however, to see his drive for better results in his second go-around as an SEC defensive coordinator.
"There was a lot of familiarity last year with most of our opponents, going back to my time at Alabama," he said. "This league is a physical league, and you better be good up front. You better have big people so you can sustain over the course of the year. Anybody can beat anybody on any given week.
"We'll be playing teams for a second time, so hopefully we'll improve."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.