We're doing a preview of Georgia's linebackers, a day before we preview the secondary. That's sort of like having ice cream right before diving into a few ounces of kale. Tomorrow's story will be about chaos and uncertainty, but first, a reminder of what's actually good about the Georgia defense.
(And yes, kale is very healthy. So are a lot of other vegetables. You have choices.)
Georgia’s linebackers are arguably the best position group on the team. The tailbacks and receivers are more proven, but here’s what Georgia’s four starting – we assume they’re starting – linebackers boast:
- A consensus first-team all-SEC player (Ramik Wilson).
- Three players (Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Wilson) who were named to the preseason Lombardi award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive player.
- The team’s defensive MVP last year (Herrera), as voted on by coaches.
New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt may have been stingy with praise, and his assistant coaches were reluctant to anoint anyone a starter. But before spring practice they did move a couple players (James DeLoach and Josh Dawson) from outside linebacker to defensive end. That’s a sign of confidence in the current crop of linebackers.
Here’s a breakdown of each position as practice begins Friday:
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SAM (OUTSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Leonard Floyd, Soph.
OTHERS RETURNING: Shaun McGee, R-Fr.; Tommy Long, R-Soph. (walk-on)
NEW GUYS: Lorenzo Carter, Fr. (also at defensive end).
WHAT TO WATCH: Floyd has breakout star potential this year. As a freshman he led the team with 6.5 sacks and 22 quarterback pressures, and was also becoming better at run and pass coverage, racking up eight tackles in the bowl game. He just needs to become a bit more consistent, which is a pretty normal criticism of a young player, and Pruitt isn’t likely to put Floyd in pass coverage as much as the previous staff. McGee redshirted last season, which in the long run makes was better for him, as other freshman linebackers lost their first year mainly just playing on special teams. On the other hand, McGee’s name wasn’t mentioned much last year and in spring practice, so he will need to become more of a factor if he’s going to contend for playing time. Right now the best bet is Carter and even Davin Bellamy (more on him later) are ahead of him for snaps off the bench.
MIKE (INSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Amarlo Herrera, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Tim Kimbrough, Soph.; Kosta Vavlas, Sr. (walk-on); A.J. McDonald, Sr. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: Detric Bing-Dukes, Fr.
WHAT TO WATCH: Herrera is as set a starter as there is on defense. The bigger competition is for snaps behind them – assuming it ends up being another inside linebacker. (Pruitt is likely to use different schemes and sub much more than the previous staff.) Kimbrough played in 11 games last year, but it was on special teams or at the end of blowouts. Vavlas has been a special teams standout his first three years. McDonald tore his ACL before last season. Bing-Dukes is most likely to provide depth, but who knows, he could always push his way into playing time with a strong August.
WILL (INSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Ramik Wilson, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Reggie Carter, Soph.; Ryne Rankin, Soph.; Ridge Underwood, Soph. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: Dukes.
WHAT TO WATCH: Wilson, like Herrera, is pretty much set. Yeah, you never know, maybe Pruitt and his staff really want to shake it up. But who else are they going to put at inside linebacker? Carter showed potential last year but his season was cut short by injury. Still, Carter is the safe bet right now to be the first inside linebacker off the bench, with Rankin competing with Kimbrough and Dukes. The more interesting thing to watch is whether another player is moved to ILB, or if there are signs of more creative coverages that put a non-ILB in the middle of the field. (Josh Harvey-Clemons would have been an interesting candidate to do just that, but, well, he’s not an option anymore.)
JACK (OUTSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Jordan Jenkins, Jr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Davin Bellamy, R-Fr.; Johnny O’Neal, Soph.
WHAT TO WATCH: The affable Jenkins seems ready to put aside his disappointing sophomore season, when he merely equaled his five-sack debut season. He may be helped by all the hype around Floyd, as long as it results in other team’s focusing too much on Floyd and forgetting about Jenkins. But either incumbent outside linebacker could be pushed hard by Carter, so that’s something to watch in August. Another thing to watch was going to be Bellamy, who had a good spring and was poised to be the top backup OLB. But his recent DUI arrest likely means a two-game suspension. No discipline has been announced yet. Finally there’s O’Neal, who was moved from inside linebacker by the new staff. Realistically, players like O’Neal, Kimbrough, Rankin and McGee need to have a really good preseason, or they face the danger of being buried on the depth chart for awhile.
Next up: Kale