Willie Martinez has to replace much of his 2006 defense if the Bulldogs want to get back on top of the SEC East in 2007. Coach Martinez and his players begin practice in Athens on March 5. UGASports caught up with him to ask coach Martinez about replacing seven defensive starters and mixing a big class of redshirt freshmen into his defensive schemes.
UGASports: What are you type of production are you expecting from the three-redshirt freshmen linebackers?
Martinez: "The first thing that comes to mind is productivity. You cannot play anywhere on defense without unless you are productive. At the linebacker position, you are a part of the run and the pass. We have lost a senior oriented group there and the only player returning with starting experience is Brandon Miller. Whenever you lose a productive player like Tony Taylor whose production was tremendous. Finding those types of players is something that we will continue to evaluate and hope that we get. We do not know that we will see that by the end of the spring, but we are looking for guys who are hungry and can consistently make plays."
UGASports: What went into the decision to move Miller to the middle linebacker position?
Martinez: "We had been training him there for a year now. It is not like it is a new thing for him; it will be a new position from him in a game type situation. We have slowly been doing it and I just think it is a good move for us. Brandon playing the sam linebacker position for us there are times when we go into the nickel formation and that position is the first position subbed out. We felt like we did not want to take him out of the game at those times or we were forced to take him out when we had to bring the nickel in there and we did not feel good about that against certain teams that like to run the ball. Now, we are obviously keeping him on the field and he has experience. I think it is a good move for the team and Brandon."
UGASports: What will the competition be like in the secondary this spring with so many talented players batting for a few spots?
Martinez: "We lost Tra Battle and everyone else returns. I do not know how spring will go. There are numbers there from a standpoint of guys we have returning. Thomas Flowers will not participate nor will Antavious Coates. There are a couple of guys who have bumps and bruise and we do not know how many will be full speed. Those two guys come to mind so we are lacking depth there, but we have three returning starters and that is the bright spot. There is depth and there are guys who played as freshmen that will help. Obviously, they will be better on the backend from an experience standpoint. We still have a long way to go and whatever success we were perceived to have in the secondary had to do with the experience we had on our defensive line and linebackers. Now the lack of that will obviously put a lot more pressure on them to execute, be more consistent, and not make the mental mistakes that were camouflaged because we put pressure on the quarterback."
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