BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The name Erk Russell doesn't carry much significance for with Orantes Grant.
Grant, Georgia's senior outside linebacker, said he has heard scant mention of Russell, the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator who wreaked havoc on Southeastern Conference offenses in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
But Grant, a 2-year-old when Russell helped the Bulldogs to the national title in 1980, might feel a bond with those "Junkyard Dogs" of yore in 1999, when Georgia is expected by many to field its toughest, most intimidating defense in quite some time.
"I don't remember much about those teams," Grant said Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference Media Days. "But I do know that they were great defensively. It's good to be thought of in that manner, but we're just going to have to go out there and prove that we belong in their class."
To do so, the Bulldogs must come a long way from last season, when they surrendered 352 yards per game and appeared to weaken as games wore on.
Georgia coach Jim Donnan said a linebacking corps led by Grant, Adrian Hollingshed and Will Witherspoon, coupled with a seasoned defensive line, is the reason his defense will be much improved in 1999.
"I feel like the front seven is the best it has been since I've been at Georgia," said Donnan, who took over in 1996. "We've got some good athletes and players there."
Two of them are junior defensive tackles Richard Seymour (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) and Marcus Stroud (6-foot-6, 300 pounds), whose size Donnan hopes will effectively clog rushing lanes.
Of course, the Bulldogs will be missing all-everything defensive back/receiver/kick returner Champ Bailey, who bolted for the pros after his junior year.
But the front seven returns its top four tacklers, and it appears cornerbacks Jeff Harris, Tim Wansley and junior college transfer Jamie Henderson can help make up for Bailey's loss on defense.
Also, the Bulldogs' fortunes
appear bolstered with the addition of Kevin Ramsey, who left as secondary coach of Tennessee in the off-season to become Georgia's defensive coordinator.
Ramsey is said to favor a more aggressive, attacking defense, and Grant isn't about to quibble with that.
"He came in and laid down the law about how he wants things done," said Grant, who amassed a team-high 120 tackles in 1998. "The aggressiveness starts with the defensive line. Once we get the defensive line going, then it just falls like dominoes."
Still, Georgia was pushed around much more than it felt was necessary in 1998. While the Bulldogs gave up 17 points a game -- a number good for fourth in the SEC and 15th nationally -- they surrendered an average of 27 points in losses to Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech.
"Last year as a defense, we didn't finish plays," Grant said. "There were some plays that we needed to make in crucial situations that we didn't.
"This year, we're going to need to focus more on finishing plays. We were getting there last year, but we just weren't finishing them."
Larry Williams covers college sports for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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