Georgia must not repeat the misuse of Leonard Floyd

New Georgia coach Kirby Smart has made a career out of defining individual player roles and putting them in the best spots to succeed.

He’s done this in part by using a high volume of sub-packages and getting certain skill sets on the field for particular game situations rather than particular players.

Smart’s understanding of his own talent led to the best, and most efficient, pass rush in the nation in 2015 while he was still the defensive coordinator of Alabama.

Meanwhile, Georgia struggled to consistently pressure the quarterback, finishing the year with their lowest sack total since 2008 (23). Talented players like Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins, and Lorenzo Carter struggled to generate enough production.

Floyd was the Bulldogs’ best defensive player; an elite athlete, with great sudden quickness and length. He was considered their best pass-rushing weapon and was deemed good enough by the Chicago Bears to trade up to ninth overall in the NFL draft to select him as a designated pass-rusher.

Yet at Georgia he was used primarily as an off-ball linebacker rather than as an edge rusher. The Bulldogs dropped him into coverage (156 snaps) almost as much as they used him as a pass rusher (183 snaps).

A key part of Floyd’s excellence is his athletic ability and size. That gives him the ability to matchup with tight ends or running backs in pass coverage, as well as giving him the length required to keep offensive lineman off his pads when he’s rushing the passer.

That positional flexibility is a great trait for any player to have. Particularly when NFL teams are evaluating prospects for the draft. But at the college level it was a poor use of resources as it came at the cost of generating negative plays.

There is nothing more valuable to a defense than a negative play. Whether it’s sacks, tackles for losses, or quarterback pressures that force errant throws, defenses are constantly looking for ways to pin the offense behind the chains.

In Floyd, Georgia had one of the top pass rushers in the nation. Yet he only lined up as an edge rusher on 61 percent of its snaps, with 29 percent as an off ball (inside) linebacker, and the other 10 percent being lined up in the slot.

In crucial spots throughout the year, when UGA should have been releasing Floyd to go quarterback hunting, he was lined up inside and dropped into coverage.

I understand some of this. Having a defensive chess piece that can move all over the formation is something coordinators covet. And in defense of the previous staff Floyd was a damn good player wherever they put him.

Furthermore, he lacked some polish as an edge rusher. Almost everything he did to beat offensive lineman was based on first-step quickness and bending the edge, with a couple of predetermined spin moves thrown in.

He isn’t a technical rusher, lacks counter moves, and he doesn’t convert his speed to power. But those are questions and coaching tips that need to be refined at the NFL level. In college, even the SEC, first-step quickness, edge-bending flexibility, and one elite pass-rushing move can be enough to make a player a premier defensive threat.

Read the full column on SEC Country.

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