As a freshman redshirting in 2006, Georgia defensive end Demarcus Dobbs had ample time to soak up the terminology used in a 4-3 scheme.
This spring, he had 15 practices to adjust to a 3-4 system.
"It was very different," Dobbs said. "The most difficult thing was that we installed something new almost every day, and there was so much that could get to you. Once we got it, though, and once everything got more settled and evened out, I thought it ran more smoothly and didn't seem as difficult."
The Bulldogs went through their 10th spring practice under head football coach Mark Richt but their first under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who spent the past 11 seasons in the NFL and prefers a formation with three linemen and four linebackers. Brian VanGorder used the 4-3 during his four seasons (2001-04) as coordinator under Richt, and Willie Martinez continued the scheme through his five years in the role.
Grantham is among four new defensive coordinators in the Southeastern Conference, joining Florida's Teryl Austin, Mississippi State's Manny Diaz and Tennessee's Justin Wilcox. He expected the 3-4 system and its terminology to challenge Bulldogs players on the field and in video study.
"There are certain fundamentals and structures that I'm used to from a secondary standpoint, so all of that stuff was new," Grantham said. "Really, everybody was a freshman when you look at it from day one. I think the biggest difference from what I saw was that guys who have played before could handle it and adjust maybe a little bit quicker than another guy, because he could relate it to something.
"I think it was a learning experience for all of them, and I think everybody progressed."
Georgia's defense gave a solid performance in the G-Day game, as the starting unit allowed just one touchdown.
The new system provided obstacles at every level, though. Junior cornerback Brandon Boykin said there were similar coverages to last season but the pre-snap setting was very different.
"Last year, we would have a coverage for the defensive backs to start off the whole formation," Boykin said. "This year, they will say four things instead of just one coverage, so you've really got to listen to the play or you'll really be lost. It gives everybody in the play what their responsibility is, instead of just one coverage, and everybody is supposed to know what they're doing."
In the 3-4, there are two inside linebackers. So instead of Georgia having a middle linebacker, a "Mike," the Bulldogs now employ a "Mike" and a "Mo."
Senior Akeem Dent practiced most of the spring at "Mo" before being moved the final week to "Mike."
"You're kind of reading the same thing at either position, but if one person is playing the three receiver, the other guy might be playing quarter flats," Dent said. "They're basically two different positions. You're almost reading the same thing, but as the play unfolds the guys are doing something different.
"It definitely can get confusing. In little league, you're just playing linebacker."
Playing up front wasn't any easier. All of the defensive linemen worked at nose and at end before getting placed where Grantham saw they fit, and the ends encountered more responsibility than they had before.
"You have to know what your 'backers are doing," Dobbs said. "You have to know where they're coming from and what gap you have to contain. Not all the calls are telling you where to go, so you have to know where to go.
"In the 4-3, you would line up in a gap and they would give you the call. In this defense, you have to know whether you're going to stunt or go outside, and you've got to know where other people are coming from."
There were awkward moments early as the Bulldogs began adapting to Grantham, and that went for both sides of the ball. Senior fullback Shaun Chapas admitted the offense often stared across the line of scrimmage and said, "Who's that guy and what's he doing?"
By G-Day, however, the growing pains had subsided, and the defenders believed they had accrued some momentum to carry into August camp.
"If we were going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and we had new terminology, it would be hard because it's new," Richt said. "The bottom line is that any time you learn a new language -- and they learned a new language -- it's tough."
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 ...