What's the difference between Van Gorder's saw blades of doom and the Martinez/Grantham* sieves? I'll give you a few hints: David Pollock, Kedric Golston, Quentin Moses, Marcus Howard, Charles Johnson and Will Thompson. Those are the defensive lineman who were on the roster in 2004, Van Gorder's last year. All of those guys went on to leave a lasting impression on opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen as players you had to scheme around. If you didn't, your offense was going to get disrupted and the defensive back seven would make plays on you. This was the cornerstone to those great defenses of the early 2000's. Get pressure with four and let the back seven reap the benefits. (Image: Dean Legge at Dawg Post.)
I would argue that one of the chief culprits in the current defensive erosion into mediocrity has been the inability to get pressure with our four down linemen. That has been a direct result of the recruiting battles we have both won and lost in the period of 2005 to 2008. Of all the defensive line recruits in that period signed by Georgia who were from the State of Georgia, only one has been an outstanding player: Justin Houston. All the rest of our Georgia recruits were either average players, nonqualifiers, discipline casualties, medical casualties, or are too young to evaluate (including almost our entire DL this year). That group includes Corey Moon, Brandon Sesay, Rod Battle, Brandon Wood, Michael Lemon, Demarcus Dobbs, Neland Ball, DeAngelo Tyson, Toby Jackson, and Cornelius Washington.
In compiling that list though, I was surprised to see how few good recruits the State of Georgia turned out in that four year period. The Peach State has an excellent record of producing defensive lineman, as evidenced by the group on the 2004 roster. Between 2005 and 2008, though, the state produced zero D-line All-Americans and only three first team all-conference players: Eric Norwood (an All-American and All-SEC outside LB at South Carolina), Allen Bailey (All-ACC at Miami), and Cam Heyward (All-Big 10 at Ohio State). Jermaine Cunningham was a second team All-SEC selection at Florida. So, of all the DL prospects in Georgia, only three were difference makers on the D-line and we missed on all but one.
What does this tell us? First, it shows that the talent pool in Georgia over the past few years was much more limited than in the 2000-2004 classes. Second, when there was a prominent prospect on the board, we weren't likely to get them. (See also, Kyle Moore and Omar Hunter.)
Until we can start to land serious D-line prospects, either from our state or otherwise, I wouldn't expect the defense to get substantially more intimidating. And if Georgia isn't producing them, we have to find them elsewhere.
*It's unfair to lump Grantham in with Willie, but so far, the defense ain't much better than last year. Some progress is evident, but we have a long, long way to go.