As Georgia gets set to being spring practice, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has said that every job is open and every player has a clean slate. There's no reason not to believe him.
But that doesn't mean we can't guess at a pecking order for each defensive spot. So here goes. Keep in mind that not only will this be fluid, but some guys may not be long for the spots at which we have them right now. Pruitt has already detailed a couple position switches, but doubtless a few more are in the works, or will occur during the spring.
Starter: Ray Drew, Sr.
Top backup(s): Josh Dawson, Jr.
Starter: Sterling Bailey, Jr.
Top backup(s): John Taylor, Soph., James DeLoach, Jr.
Not here yet: Lorenzo Carter, Fr., Keyon Brown, Fr.
The skinny: Drew should be entrenched as a starter, while Bailey will have an early edge for the other spot. DeLoach and Dawson have some new life after being moved down from outside linebacker, where they rarely played. Taylor has shifted between nose and end, and it’ll be interesting to see how new D-line coach Tracy Rocker handles him. Taylor has a lot of long-range potential, but hasn’t quite broken through yet. So that’s the story for the spring. And then in the summer Carter arrives, and while he will play a lot of outside linebacker, he could be at end much of the time as well. Rocker’s duties include not just the defensive line but also one of the end spots, a reflection that in certain alignments the edge rusher spot will be interchangeable. Carter could end up there.
Starter: Chris Mayes, Jr.
Top backup(s): Toby Johnson, Sr., Mike Thornton, Sr.
Don’t forget: John Atkins, R-Fr.
Not here yet: Lamont Galliard, Fr.
The skinny: Georgia is likely to line up with four linemen a lot of the time, so in many ways this is a competition for two starting spots. When it’s only three men, Mayes is the leader to man the nose spot. Mayes emerged last year as a very capable player, and if he makes the next step it would go a long way in making Tracy Rocker’s job easier. Johnson is actually listed as a defensive end, but the guess here is he’ll line up more inside. Thornton was hoping to nail down the starting spot last year but was just a member of the rotation. Atkins is coming off a redshirt year, and Galliard will be trying to avoid one.
JACK LINEBACKER (OLB)
Starter: Jordan Jenkins, Jr.
Top backup(s): Davin Bellamy, R-Fr.
SAM LINEBACKER (OLB)
Starter: Leonard Floyd, Soph.
Top backup(s): Shaun McGee, R-Fr.
Don’t forget: Brandon Burrows, Sr.
Not here yet: Carter, Brown.
The skinny: It’s actually hard at this point to definitely say whether Jenkins will be at the Jack or whether he and Floyd may trade places, and who else be at what spot. That should become clear as spring practice begins. And as stated in the note about ends, in certain alignments the edge rusher spot will be interchangeable. Either way, Jenkins and Floyd are the top two in the OLB pecking order, with Carter having the potential to bully his way into the mix. Bellamy and McGee each redshirted last year, and had some impressive moments in practice. Bellamy especially seemed primed for a harder look this season under the former staff. If he can make a similar impression on Jeremy Pruitt and his staff, there could be a lot more subbing at the OLB spots than there has been in the past.
MIKE LINEBACKER (MLB)
Starter: Amarlo Herrera, Sr.
Top backup(s): Tim Kimbrough, Soph., Paris Bostick, R-Fr.
Not here yet: Detric Dukes, Fr.
The skinny: Herrera is the unofficial captain of the defense, and was named the team’s defensive MVP by the coaches after last season. So his spot is secure. What will be intriguing is whether Pruitt and inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler select a younger player to groom as Herrera’s successor as the unofficial captain of the defense. Reggie Carter would seem a candidate.
WILL LINEBACKER (MLB)
Starter: Ramik Wilson, Sr.
Top backup(s): Reggie Carter, Soph.
Don’t forget: Ryne Rankin, Soph., Johnny O’Neal, Soph.
Not here yet: Wilson was a consensus first-team all-SEC pick, blossoming after two seasons of mostly coming off the bench. He could still get a push from Carter, but it’s more likely that Wilson will retain his spot but come off the field in certain situations. So could Herrera. Bostick moved down from safety during last season, when he was redshirting because of a summer injury. His background would indicate that he brings an element of speed that the inside linebacker spot has been missing since Alec Ogletree bolted for the pros. Something else to watch for: Somebody being moved to inside linebacker from another position, whether it be safety or outside linebacker.
Top backup(s): ???
The skinny: This is a spot to watch, because it’s basically a starting position, and the man who was set to own it – Josh Harvey-Clemons – has been dispatched from the program. Could Damian Swann occupy the spot, as he has occasionally the past two seasons? He would have been the favorite if the previous defensive staff were still around. But Pruitt and his assistants may have other ideas.
Starter: Damian Swann, Sr.
Top backup(s): Sheldon Dawson, Jr., Brendan Langley, Soph.
Starter: Shaq Wiggins, Soph. Top backup(s): Reggie Wilkerson, R-Fr
Don’t forget: Devin Bowman, Jr., J.J. Green, Soph., Kennar Johnson, Jr., Tristan Askew, Jr. (walk-on)
Not here yet: Malkom Parrish, Fr., Shattle Fenteng, Jr., Shaquille Jones, Fr.
The skinny: No shortage of options here, but how many are good ones? Pruitt, who will coach the secondary, will seek to find out during the spring. Swann struggled immensely as a junior, but he’s a veteran and probably still the most skilled corner at this point. Wiggins showed a lot of promise and ball-hawking skills. Dawson and Langley, who were in and out of the doghouse under the previous regime, have to be ecstatic for a chance to make a new impression. So are the other reserves, including Bowman. Then there’s Green, last year’s third-leading rusher who has shifted back to the spot he played in high school. But everyone had better have a good spring, because Parrish and Fenteng will come ready to play right away.
Starter(s): Tray Matthews, Soph., and Quincy Mauger, Soph.
Top backup(s): Matthews or Mauger.
Don’t forget: Lucas Redd, Sr. (walk-on),
The skinny: It may be more than just Matthews and Mauger, as Pruitt could move someone else here to compete for the job. Tramel Terry is one possibility. A cornerback could also find his way back here.
Starter: Corey Moore, Sr.
Top backup(s): Tramel Terry, R-Fr.
Don’t forget: Devin Gillespie, Jr. (walk-on)
Not here yet: Dominick Sanders, Fr.
The skinny: Moore came on strong last year and deserves first shot at the job, and he’s got a clear opening with Harvey-Clemons gone. But again, the coaches could move someone else here to join the competition.