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AT LEAST FOUR TIMES A WEEK THIS PAST WINTER AND SPRING Christian Robinson would leave his apartment in Athens, Ga., and walk across the street to the Georgia football offices. Alone, Robinson, a junior inside linebacker, would slide into a seat in a small conference room, turn on a computer and then examine every Bulldogs defensive play from the 2010 season as if he were studying for a final exam.
"What I learned is that if we were all lined up correctly, no offense could do anything to us," Robinson says. "But when we were confused, big plays happened. That was our downfall. We were a totally different unit this spring. We have high expectations."
Lofty expectations haven't been met in Athens for a while. Coach Mark Richt, entering his 11th season at Georgia, has seen his team's win total decrease in each of the last three years. But even though the Bulldogs must replace seven senior starters—as well as wide receiver A.J. Green, who left school early and was picked No. 4 overall in the NFL draft by the Bengals—Richt has two substantial reasons for optimism this year: He has arguably the top quarterback in the SEC (sophomore Aaron Murray) returning, and his defense will be in year two of playing the aggressive 3--4 system put in place by defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
"Guys are playing with more confidence because they've got a year of experience moving from the 4--3 to the 3--4," says Richt. "Now we're perfecting what we do rather than just teaching them the new defense."
The unit will be led by the 6' 2", 226-pound Robinson, who started 11 games last season and made 46 tackles and two sacks. The son of a high school football coach in metro Atlanta, Robinson will call the defensive signals in 2011, which is one reason he spent so much time studying film in the off-season. "One key to our defense will be the play of our big guys up front, like [nosetackle] Kwame Geathers and [defensive end] Abry Jones," says Robinson. "They need to occupy the offensive linemen to keep the linebackers free to make plays. I expect us to be very improved from last season."
They'll need to be—soon—because the Bulldogs have a brutal one-two punch to open the season that should reveal whether 2011 will be another lost year or one in which they reemerge as a national power.
COACH Mark Richt (11th year) 96--34 (55--28 in SEC)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mike Bobo