Georgia building up next generation of defense

semerson@macon.comApril 7, 2012 

ATHENS -- Amarlo Herrera’s eyes light up. This is a subject the linebacker has already thought about: The Georgia football team’s defense beyond 2012.

Much of the excitement -- and early top-10 predictions -- for this year’s Bulldogs revolves around a highly ranked defense returning nine starters. But since they could all be gone after this year, the perception might be that a drop-off awaits in 2013.

Not so, according to Herrera.

“Oh man, we will be great,” he said. “We’re learning now. Most of us on the second team, some of us rotating with the first team, we all know (the defense) the same. And when we know it perfect like they know it, it’s gonna be the same thing.”

The next generation of the Georgia defense is already in view: Some are like Herrera, youngsters currently serving their apprenticeship. Some are set to arrive this summer. And there are also recruits who have committed to the 2013 freshman class, including one on Friday: inside linebacker Ryne Rankin.

Herrera’s optimism might be a bit overboard. But it’s not without merit, given the talent that could be on hand.

Many figure that star outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will take his talents to the NFL after this, his junior year. But Jones hasn’t said anything to indicate that yet. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and nose tackle Kwame Geathers also will be candidates to leave, although like Jones they’ve said nothing to indicate that.

But even if they leave, the defense figures to have experience on all three main units:

• Defensive end Garrison Smith, who will be a junior this season, played well at the end of last year, and he has drawn praise from coaches for his spring play. Ray Drew, a five-star recruit last year, has also been pegged for stardom at some point.

• Cornerback Damian Swann and safety Corey Moore will be juniors in 2013 and are both due to play early this season thanks to suspensions. Moore was the defensive star of Saturday’s scrimmage, making nine tackles and picking off a pass.

“He’s a very aggressive football player, when it comes up to making a tackle,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He’s a good athlete. He’s learning a lot. He’s getting a lot better. He’s gonna have to play for us. He’ll be able to function for us.”

• The linebackers will at least have Herrera, who started eight games as a freshman inside linebacker in 2011 and is in the main rotation this season. That also puts him in position to be the captain of the front seven -- although Herrera said that wasn’t in doubt.

“I will be,” Herrera said. “I will be. I’m excited. But you’ve gotta know what’s going on right now and also prepare for the future. So really what I’m doing right now is preparing right now and also preparing for the future to be ready to run the D, when all these guys leave.”

Ramik Wilson, who can play inside and outside linebacker, is also set to see time this season.

Then there is the incoming talent: Jordan Jenkins (an outside linebacker) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (who can play outside linebacker and safety) figure to see action as freshmen this year. Jonathan Taylor is the heir apparent at nose tackle. Cornerback Sheldon Dawson was the top-rated player in Tennessee. Linebackers Leonard Floyd, James Deloach and Josh Dawson and lineman John Atkins were all highly-rated.

The recruiting class for 2013 has some help in the secondary, with safety Tray Matthews and cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Shaq Wiggins.

It should all be enough to stave off worries of a drop-off after this year, especially if Herrera, Moore and others have big sophomore seasons.

“Usually they make the biggest jump -- even in the NFL you make your biggest jump learning from your first year to your second year, because you kind of have it all figured out, you’re more comfortable,” Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olividatti said. “Just like (it) happens every year, something’s gonna come up, and somebody’s gonna have to win us a game. Ramik, Amarlo, Corey Moore, you know, Damian Swann, somebody’s gonna have to win us a game. Maybe all of them.”

Georgia’s projected 2013 defense

DE: Garrison Smith, Sr.

NT: Kwame Geathers, Sr.*

DE: Ray Drew, Jr.

OLB: Jordan Jenkins, Soph.

ILB: Amarlo Herrera, Jr.

ILB: Ramik Wilson, Jr.

OLB: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Soph.

CB: Damian Swann, Jr.

CB: Sheldon Dawson, Soph.

S: Corey Moore, Jr.

S: Tray Matthews, Fr.

*denotes fifth-year senior

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