Despite not having a single player recognized as a first-team All-American, the Georgia defense had quite a historic year. They set numerous records and held teams to just 12.5 points per game this season, good enough for 2nd in the country behind only Clemson.
A lot of that success is credited to first-year defensive coordinator Dan Lanning who spoke to the media today in New Orleans. Here are the highlights from the presser.
Lanning was asked what it will be like playing without J.R. Reed in the Sugar Bowl:
"The reality is that's an opportunity. I love J.R. he's done a lot for our program and I'm excited for him and his future, but we are excited for the guys that are here and the reality is someone is going to step up. It's pretty common in this day and age that you're going to get guys that get opportunities in games like this. We had a lot of guys that got opportunities in this game last year and that was critical for their development."
Lanning then talked about how he thought his first season as the Georgia defensive coordinator:
"Sometimes you sit back and it's hard to realize the blessing you've had on your life. There's probably nobody associated with this program that feels as fortunate as I do to get to do what I do every day. Since the first day I've gotten here I've approach like a guy that has a lot to learn, and I'll tell ya this he's (Kirby) is not afraid to teach me."
Lanning then spoke about the guys in the secondary that will get an opportunity to play a bit more than usual:
"You know, fortunate for us we've played a lot of guys this entire season. I think if you go back and really look we've probably had over 40 guys that have had a significant role in this defense. So you're not really going to see new, but you'll see more. You'll see more Lewis Cine, you'll see more Chris Smith, more Otis Reese, but you're not necessarily going to see new guys."
Coach Lanning was then asked if Tyrique McGhee was here:
"Yea, all I'm speaking about are the players that are here. I've got great respect for the guys that have helped us throughout this season, but the guys that are here are the guys that we are going to compete with."
When asked who was the player that has made the most improvement this season, Lanning responded:
"One guy that sticks out to me at least from my position group is Azeez Ojulari. Kind of his coming-out game last year was this game. He's just continued to work and push himself and work to help us. But it would be really hard to single out one guy. When you look at our defense there's a lot of guys that have played really well and gotten better."
Lanning then expanded on Azeez Ojulari:
"What makes Azeez different is he's the type of guy that will get up in a room and he does it by showing you not telling you. And that's something we've challenged Azeez 'Hey man you can be more vocal, you've earned that opportunity." But what he does is he rolls up his sleeves and goes to work every day."