Bulldogs defenders motivated by lacrosse sticks

Georgia redshirt junior cornerback Aaron Davis collected the only turnover at last month's G-Day game with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown and got a lacrosse stick as a result.

ATHENS, Ga. - First-year Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has said since his hiring in December that he would bring some aspects from what he learned under Alabama's Nick Saban as well as some new wrinkles of his own.

Lacrosse references would fall into the latter category, not that Smart is an expert on the sport.

"I don't know much about lacrosse, but they whack people with the sticks," Smart said last month after the G-Day spring game. "What we sold our kids on was if somebody has the ball, we're going to take a lacrosse stick and whack the guy to try and get the ball. They took pride in that."

Actual lacrosse sticks were not used during the allotted 15 spring workouts, but sticks were awarded after practices to players who caused turnovers. A 98-yard interception return by redshirt junior cornerback Aaron Davis of a Greyson Lambert pass was the only turnover at G-Day, and Davis was spotted on the sideline proudly waving a lacrosse stick.

The players who held the stick most throughout spring, however, were senior safety Quincy Mauger and junior cornerback Malkom Parrish.

"The stick symbolizes going after the ball and ball disruption," Mauger said. "It's an incentive for us to really go after it and win a prize in the end. It has pushed our team to be a more physical team and a more physical defense.

"We want to be relentless going after the ball."

The Bulldogs have experienced mixed results in recent seasons in forcing turnovers. Georgia's 2012 team, which won the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference and nearly knocked off Alabama in the league title game, had a veteran defense that racked up 30 turnovers.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones forced seven fumbles that season, while safety Bacarri Rambo forced three. Rambo and cornerback Sanders Commings each intercepted three passes.

Those three and others, such as linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Shawn Williams, were selected in the 2013 NFL draft, and Georgia's youthful defense several months later struggled to get turnovers, gathering just 15.

The 2013 season was Georgia's fourth and final year with Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator, and his replacement, Jeremy Pruitt, oversaw a defense two years ago that collected 29 turnovers. Former cornerback Damian Swann had four interceptions and four forced fumbles in 2014, and he returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown against Georgia Tech.

Last year's defense gathered 22, highlighted by six interceptions from current junior safety Dominick Sanders.

Now Smart and new coordinator Mel Tucker are looking for ways to enhance Georgia's ability defensively to be as opportunistic as possible - by old methods or new.

"It was a deal where if you get the ball out, you get a lacrosse stick," Smart said. "We're always trying to give the kids some kind of edge."

The impact of the lacrosse sticks remains to be seen, but the Bulldogs did develop a newfound appreciation earlier this spring.

"I have never played lacrosse," Mauger said, "but I have a lot of respect for lacrosse players, because I can't do that."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.