Lanning discusses defense ahead of 2021 season
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Lanning discusses defense ahead of 2021 season

Dan Lanning
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Fain and Billy Slaughter Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning met with the media via Zoom Tuesday morning and offered the following comments regarding fall camp and the upcoming 2021 season.

On the dynamic between the defensive coaches …

“It is actually a blessing for us to have that experience on our side of the ball. The great thing about our group is that there are zero egos. Everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction. When you can have a guy like Coach (Will) Muschamp, as well as the additional coaches we have on our staff, it is obviously a benefit for myself and every one of our players.”

On his decision to stay at Georgia …

“First off, I just got to say I am forever grateful that Coach (Kirby) Smart gave me the opportunity to coach at the University of Georgia. It’s always been a dream of mine to coach the elite and have an opportunity to compete for championships at the highest level, and I think Georgia provides that. They’ve always been competitive. When you have good programs, guys are going to get opportunities, but the grass is certainly not always greener, and I learned that from watching Coach Smart for several years. Being where you are at, being successful where you are at, those opportunities will come. My focus is being here right now.”

On filling the absence of Azeez Ojulari …

“Obviously, Azeez provided a lot of consistency for us in the pass rush standpoint. His success also limited some guys’ opportunities on the field, I know we know Adam Anderson’s skillset and his ability to rush the passer. I think it’s going to create some opportunities for guys like Nolan Smith, Robert Beal, that have been sharing some of those reps in the past. Then Travon Walker, I expect really big things to show up with him and I’m excited about some of the young guys that kind of come into the fold. I think we will continue to adapt defensively about where we create pressure, where we create those one-on-ones. Maybe that means there will be some more one-on-ones inside rather than out on the edge. But I feel confident that we’ve got the guys to replace some of that production for Azeez and I’m also excited to see what Azeez does at the next level for the Giants.”

On working to improve the pass defense …

“The game is certainty changing. We have always been built on stopping the run, I don’t think that piece changes. But we have to be creative, and I think that every single year we have been here defensively, Coach Smart has always pushed us. We’re going to continue to look and adapt and change. You bring in Coach (Jahmile) Addae from West Virginia, the number one pass defense in the nation last year. You obviously have Coach Muschamp in the mix. We’ll always have some new fresh ideas of how we can adapt and do things differently. Then, a lot of it plays to your players’ strengths. When you have guys like Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, you’re going to play and put those guys on islands a little more. There were some more explosive plays last year than we want. We’re charting those and keeping track of those in practice. But we will definitely adapt and look for ways to prevent those shots down the field.”

On what transfers Tykee Smith and Derion Kendrick add to the defense …

“I think they’re both really instinctual players. You talk about how you want the athleticism piece, but both of those guys have tremendous football instincts in my opinion. They’re not coming in unpolished; they have been developed in the places they were at with the ability to adapt and pick up. I think going through some of the player-led stuff they were able to do this summer, they really got a leg up being able to come in and pick up our system. I also think that gave us a chance to rethink—we have some young freshmen, some new guys in, rethink how we could deliver the message about what we are doing in the back end and making sure it is a simple message we can execute. But certainty excited about those two guys.”

On his wife’s diagnosis with Osteosarcoma …

“Man, life’s bigger than football. I immediately thought about my kids. Then, thought about how grateful I was that it came when we had great support. At that time, I was with Coach Norvell (at Memphis), but quickly heard from coaches that I had coached with in the profession, whether it be Coach Smart or coaches that I had coached with at Alabama. That family, that unique support that we received was obviously a blessing. You get scared quick, and you realize, ‘Man, life is a little bit different than just ball.’ That was a good refresher for me, certainly was.”

On his impression of the offense to this point …

“One of the goals coming into fall camp was to create that competitive atmosphere between both sides of the ball. They have certainly won some and we have certainly won some. It’s fun when you have a side of the ball that’s really talented. I think Coach (Todd) Monken and his side of the staff do a phenomenal job of getting those guys ready to play. They’re doing a lot of things that stress us defensively, which is good because I’d rather see that now than when we get to the season. You know JT (Daniels) is obviously an operator, they have a lot of talent in the backfield there, and I am excited to see some young guys step up on the other side of the ball and stretch us vertically, really attack a lot of pieces that are tough for us on defense. So, it’s a good group to go against.”

On Jordan Davis’ development …

“Jordan just doesn’t get moved. I know we always talk about his size. I think one thing he has continued to improve upon is not just be a guy that doesn’t get moved and eats up a block but be a guy that separates from a block. I am anticipating Jordan being a guy that can play three downs. He’s to get his body in a position where he can do that because he is extremely athletic and super talented. When his conditioning fits that, he is a guy that can create issues on first and second downs. When you have a guy that is Jordan’s size, offenses are going to try and get the ball away from Jordan and try and make him a nonfactor. Again, the Cincinnati game we showed as a team defense the other day, a video of Jordan running the ball down and that’s because of his conditioning. So, if he is able to maintain that, it will allow him to really push himself and be a guy that can be an every-down player for us.”

On the effect of offensive evolution on defenses …

“I think one of the biggest things that Coach Smart’s been able to do is we adapt the way that we practice. Before, in coaching, you would run a practice play, all of the coaches would come back to the huddle, they would coach the guy on what they did wrong and you would set the next play, line up, and run it. Now, with fastball, tempo offenses, Coach creates those periods within practice. It makes our guys communicate fast, and a lot of times, you’re going to be coaching it off of film, but it makes them react, go faster. Always defensive football is trying to recreate what’s going to happen in a game in practice, and I think Coach has done a good job of simulating those situations.”

On defending Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington …

“All of those tight ends and wideouts that we have obviously create a lot of issues. We’ve got a lot of big bodies that can go down, catch the ball in space. The biggest thing is they make contested catches and they run really, really well. For Darnell being a guy that’s over 270 (pounds) and able to move like he moves, it’s pretty impressive with a big catch radius. Even when you’re playing tight coverage, that might not be enough, so that’s something we’re battling every day, and it’s good for us to go against those guys in practice.”

On the depth of the defensive line …

“When you’re talking about defense, defense is the ultimate team sport, and the more guys you’re able to involve in that process, meaning you have guys that can play at a high level, the more buy-in there is on your side of the ball. I think we have really great leaders—we’ve challenged our players to make this a player-led team, and the more players that are involved, the more it becomes a player-led team. We’ve always said, ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’ It doesn’t matter how old you are, but if you play at the right level, with the right intensity, the right competitive toughness, you execute the assignment, then we’re going to figure out a way to get you on the field. I think that’s been a benefit and it will certainly be a benefit this year.”

On Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei …

“Obviously, D.J.’s got great size, and that’s what sticks out to you. When you put a body on him, you’re going to have to be great at wrapping up and finishing the tackle. I think he stands big in the pocket. He creates some issues with his athleticism and his ability to run. He’s a guy who’s always falling forward when he does. He’s got a strong arm, can push the ball down the field, so certainly, a great quarterback to go up against early.”

On Kelee Ringo’s outlook for the season …

“There’s nothing that can replace game experience, and Kelee missed out on that. On the same note, Kelee’s working extremely hard in practice to put himself in position to go and make plays, learn what we do defensively. I’ll say he’s engaged, Kelee’s intelligent, and he puts the time in, but we’re going to continue to challenge him because I’m excited to see what this guy can do. He runs extremely fast, he’s got great size, and the more experience he gets, the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to get. He’s done a great job so far working through fall camp and we’ve had a lot of competition in that back end with Kelee to create those guys coming out there to work every day in that environment.”

On the competition at the cornerback position …

“We haven’t had a scrimmage yet, but I will tell you that Tykee’s (Smith) working at Star, as well as at other positions. For a long time in our defense, we’ve always trained guys at multiple positions. Part of the piece of that is to make sure that you have your best 11 on the field if there’s an injury, if someone comes up with COVID, if something comes up that makes it where that guy can’t be on the field. Tykee’s working at Star, Ameer (Speed) and (Latavious) Brini are working extremely hard as well, and they’re working multiple positions too – Ameer working at corner and working at Money, and Brini working at Star and working at safety. We’ve got great competition there, and certainly, nobody’s moving out, so we’re going to see how it continues to develop throughout the fall.”

On Will Muschamp’s role in the defense …

“I just have such a tremendous respect for Coach Muschamp and the job he does. He’s a guy that I lean on a lot for advice, really in every situation, whether it be football or life. I definitely think that he will be involved with us on defense and I’m excited to see that as it continues to develop.”

On Nakobe Dean’s role for the season …

“Nakobe’s ready for the challenge. There’s a lot on every one of our player’s plates. Nakobe’s certainly a big-time signal caller for us. I’m excited to see Quay Walker and Channing Tindall and those guys as well. We’ve got some young guys that are really coming up, doing a great job also. But Nakobe’s having a great fall so far and he knows we have high expectations for him, but nobody has higher expectations for Nakobe Dean than Nakobe Dean, and I promise you that.”

On Channing Tindall’s growth this year …

“That’s probably fair to say. Channing is a guy that’s probably earned our trust and he’s played significantly more snaps each year that he’s been here, and he’s gotten significantly better each year that he’s been here. I think that this could be a really big year for Channing. I’m excited to see what he does.”

On Chaz Chambliss’ camp …

“He’s primarily worked at outside linebacker for us. Chaz is a guy—I think the thing that is probably most impressive with Chaz is his work ethic, and I think that has carried over since high school. We kind of make the joke in our room that the guy lives in the building. This guy is getting extra treatment, watching extra film any opportunity he gets. I think it’s early to say exactly what his role is going to look like this season, but I know that based on work ethic, there is no doubt that Chaz will make a big impact.”

On Lewis Cine’s leadership …

“I think that is one think that I was alluding to earlier. We are trying to make this a player-led team. Yesterday after practice, we had some penalties on defense and our players said ‘Hey, defense on the sideline. Let’s go, we’re running for the mistakes we made, those penalties that we had.’ Lewis is an example of a guy who was owning that. Adam Anderson is an example of a guy who was owning it. There are no complaints when you have a player- led team like that. Guys that will be vocal, stand up and say what matters and let’s get it done. I think you can really accomplish a lot more.”

On any young standouts on the team …

“I think it would be hard for me to pick one to be honest, especially with us not having a scrimmage yet.  It’s just been early. A lot of installation early on, so no, I couldn’t pick just one guy in particular, but we have a good young group here.”

On the pass rushing skills of Nolan Smith …

“I think one of our goals as coaches is to continue to develop our players and make them better each year. I think Nolan has been very conscientious about his development from a pass rushing standpoint this offseason. Right now, every single day in our team meetings, we are showing a pass rush of the day and Nolan has been on there; who’s executing moves at a high level, so that’s something we are going to continue to look for. There is definitely an opportunity sitting in front of Nolan, and I’m looking for him to take advantage of it and he has the skillset to do so.”

On expectations for Travon Walker this season …

“A lot of TFLs. A lot of plays in the backfield. I want to see this guy running sideline to sideline. I have high expectations for Travon. His athleticism is really unique. He’s a guy that we’re always trying to figure out how we can incorporate in our scheme, and we’re asking him to do more this year. We’re doing more with him this year than we’ve ever done, and I think Travon has really bought into that, and it’s showing up daily out there on the practice field.”

On Javon Bullard’s progression …

“Javon is an instinctive player. He’s very intelligent, smart. He’s a guy again that’s able to learn multiple positions. We’ve asked him to do a lot and he’s tough, man. Javon is a football player. He’s a tough football player. He’s done a great job so far.”

On MJ Sherman …

“I’m excited to see a healthy MJ. He had some toughness this past year where he was able to play through being dinged up and help us on special teams. He has good strength, good energy, and this guy is very focused. I’m excited to see where this guy can help us. He’s getting some work at the Sam position, as well as some work at the Jack this season, so it will be interesting to see where he plugs in, but he’s definitely pushing us to be better.”

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