Updated: Sep 5, 2020
“…We find ways to make the quarterback play bad, we have a chance to be in the game.” – Todd Grantham
If Todd Grantham were an NFL player he’d be Jack Lambert, frothing at the mouth while staring at the opposing quarterback from across the line. Remember the ferocious Steelers middle linebacker who said all quarterbacks should wear dresses?
If Grantham were ever invited to a Halloween party for quarterbacks, he’d go as Darth Vader. And if his Florida defense was also invited to that Halloween party, he’d have them all dressed all the same numbered jersey just to confuse them.
Todd Grantham, Master of Disguise.
Dan Mullen’s defensive coordinator has a message for Kellen Mond, Myles Brennan and J.T. Daniels (or whoever Georgia picks to replace Jamie Newman) and all opposing quarterbacks: We want to make you look as bad as possible. When you come to the line of scrimmage for your pre-snap read, the Florida Gators are going to mess with your mind.
I’ll take Grantham Blitz Packages for $200, Alex.
A little hide-and-seek from Grantham’s D? What you’re going to see is 11 guys who can attack you from various angles on various calls at various times. You’re not going to know who’s coming on the blitz, or when, or how. Grantham’s even got his own names for positions of specialty players. What’s a STAR and what does he do? Where does BUCK line up? Will that guy with his hand on the ground be dropping into pass coverage? Is this guy a nickelback or a dime? (see Kassidy Hill’s glossary below)
By the way, Kellen or Myles or J.T., you’ve got maybe eight seconds to figure that out.
Those disguised blitzes even confuse color analysts like the astute Lee McGriff, former college star, NFL player and Gator assistant coach. Sometimes he’ll see a Florida defender blitzing and sacking or harassing the quarterback and say: “Holy mackerel, where did THAT guy come from?” And he wonders if the blitzer came from the sideline, or maybe the concession stand.
That certainly was the case last season when Grantham dialed up the Donovan Steiner “Walkoff Safety Blitz Win” vs. Mississippi State. You don’t see many “Walkoff Blitzes.”
I ask him how he dialed up those big plays.
“You work hard at it. You get a feel,” Grantham told me. “You really try to get a feel for the coordinator, and you try to get a feel for what he’s doing, how he’s calling the game. You kinda look at things maybe he’s done in the past from a situational standpoint. There’s probably a lot more preparation that goes into it than people realize. Meaning, you might go back one to two years to find something from a fourth quarter standpoint. Meaning the first three quarters, a lot of times can be the philosophy or their attitude as a coordinator.
"But then in the fourth quarter, the score kinda dictates what they’ve gotta do. When that situation comes up, kinda maybe knowing by formation what they’re going to be in or maybe the concept from a passing game standpoint that they’re going to run, I think that can help you. So there’s preparation that goes into it, and there is a feel. Like I always talk about, we’re looking to execute and attack people and find ways to get after the quarterback and make him play bad.”
The bad news for opposing QBs and OCs is that Grantham is back and fired up in this pandemic year, loaded with good players from the DBU cupboard. He’s got a whole arsenal to pick from, including talented veteran players like Marco Wilson, the “most versatile back” he ever coached -- plus bright, shiny new things like Georgia transfer Brenton Cox, who has yet to play a down at Buck or linebacker and has already earned the No. 1 jersey.
BTW, how does that work? How would you say Brenton got No. 1 jersey without playing a snap?
"Well, there's a lot of things you do within our program,” said Grantham. “It's not always about on the field, it's about how you handle yourself off the field, it's about your grades. You know I've been really pleased with the guy's attitude in the classroom he takes care of his business has a really high GPA and, and has worked his tail off to be in the position he is now. And, you know, you really pull for guys like that when, when they put that much into it. And generally speaking, you know, the all in investment—and what I mean by all in is from an academic, from an athletic, from a social standpoint, those are the kind of things that allow you to get that kind of number, and he's done a really good job.”
Nobody is more crucial to Grantham’s defense that his Swiss Army Knife; appropriately named Marco, because he’s as well-traveled as Marco Polo. Wilson is a like a band member who plays drums, sax, bass and lead guitar. Literally he could play any position on defense where he hand was not on the ground.
He’ll start at cover corner, but by the fourth quarter, Wilson may have checked in as a STAR, Nickel and bass fiddle.
"I think that Marco's an interesting guy,” Grantham told media in a Zoom presser. “Probably the most versatile player I've had from the standpoint of being able to play the corner/STAR position and that really creates value for our team, for himself, because, he's an excellent STAR. When you talk about a guy that can be instinctive, that guy can cover you know he's got physicality.
"I remember in the Missouri game, a couple tackles he had in that game and the interception but, from a physicality standpoint, he really showed up there. So, I've been fortunate to have some good players at corner. I would say he's probably the most versatile guy that I've had from a standpoint of, you can match him up on a premier guy whether he's in the slot or outside, and those are the kind of things we can do with him and we'll work those in.”
Another reason you root for guys like Marco: It never even crossed his mind to opt out this season when he’s almost a surefire first-round pick for the upcoming NFL draft. Nothing against those players who did, but that’s not the stuff Marco Wilson is made of.
Maybe the most talked-about Gator before he ever took a snap since Tim Tebow is Brenton Cox. You can sense the excitement from Grantham and those around him who see Cox’s size, speed, how hard he goes, how his natural leadership inspires others and his superb conduct off the field and excellence in the classroom.
Does Brenton Cox remind Grantham of anyone he’s coached?
"You know, Brenton’s kind of his own man. He has ability, obviously. I'm really excited to watch him play. It's still early as far as, you know, it's early in the sense of, 'hey let's go play the game.' I kind of knew Jon (Greenard) … knew the kind of player that that he could be. I've been very pleased with his work ethic. He's really worked hard to develop some of the fundamentals that he needed to be the kind of player that you guys are thinking, or you're asking about. And I think the biggest thing that I see with him is his desire to be a good player. And if you'll continue to work hard and develop that skill set, you know I'm excited to watch him play.”
And then Grantham stopped short of nominating Cox for the Hall of Fame before he’s played a snap for the Gators.
“I'm really excited to watch him play but I'd like to get through a few games before we start ranking him with anybody else. The thing I like about the guy is he likes to play ball. He’s a really had worker in practice. He’s done a good job and working to develop some fundamentals that I think we needed to work on for him to be successful moving forward. I think as he’s developed those things it will allow him to be the kind of player he wants to be.”
We don’t need to go through the three-deep to convince you but if the young defensive linemen come through as expected (see Gervon Dexter) and the more experienced veterans like Stiner, Jeremiah Moon, James Houston, Amari Burney, Shawn Davis, Ventrell Miller and Kyree Campbell and rising stars Kaiir Elam, Mohamoud Diabate and Trey Dean keep improving, this defense could become championship caliber. Certainly the depth appears to be developing and in a Covid-19 year that’s huge.
So we get it – as Cox and other newcomers begin to impact the defense in this SEC-only schedule and with an onslaught of head-bangers every week from A&M to LSU to Georgia to Tennessee and in between, talent may be critical, but durability is even more important. Grantham’s full cupboard speaks well to that.
While we’re not ready to anoint Cox as the next Brandon Spikes, we must also admit that Grantham needs to continue to grow as DC. You have to love the kind of versatility and grit he’s brought to Dan Mullen’s team – see the Georgia goal-line stand inside the 2 – but there is a certain risk with Grantham’s ramblin,’ gamblin’ style which can bite you in the Gator Tail.
And, finally, while he has apparently turned down chances to coach in the NFL and become head coach of another smaller college, he and Mullen should have a blood oath to finish the job first. This is a program that needs to leap over some obstacles like Georgia and claim a championship. All signs point to this being the year when that could happen. The Master of Disguise needs to show up big.
Kassidy Hill’s Football Glossary:
Here’s what the terms ‘BUCK’ and ‘STAR‘ mean at Florida
STAR—this is the nickel, which is a fifth defensive back. The Gators call it the STAR because you have to be a “star player” to play here. At UF, the STAR/nickel is a combination of a defensive back and a linebacker. They must be able to cover like the former, and stop the run like the latter. They play on the line of scrimmage, the closest skill player to the ball. The STAR has the freedom to move around once at the line, based on what he’s seeing from the offense. They are affectionally known by Dan Mullen as “Unicorns.”
BUCK—This position was created in response to the spread offense. A hybrid linebacker/defensive end, they typically are rushing from a two point stance but have the skills to drop to a hand in the ground if needed. The BUCK can drop back to defend the run or rush the passer. They are the position the quarterback reads on any option play. Will Muschamp really fine-tuned the BUCK in Gainesville and introduced it not only to the Florida Gators but also college football. Like the STAR, the BUCK has freedom to change his assignment based on any offensive shifts.
Both positions are hybrid enough that they can change the entire look of a defense. It limits an offense’s options and allows defensive coordinators to hide looks.
--KASSIDY HILL, GatorBait