We now continue our, er, slow-running series on the Georgia football roster, post-signing day and pre-spring practice. The offense was completed last week (and the week before), and now it’s time to move over to the other side of the ball.
Georgia’s defensive line depth chart is tricky, and we’re not just talking about personnel. While the Bulldogs are officially still a base 3-4 defense, they use the 4-2-5 so much that we’re tempted to break down four defensive line positions. For the purposes of this post, we’ll stick with a three-man depth chart, on the educated guess that when Georgia is in a four-man front one of the outside linebackers (Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd or Lorenzo Carter) will be the fourth man.
Of course, Georgia is so loaded with good young defensive lineman after the most recent signing class that Tracy Rocker and Jeremy Pruitt could use them a lot too. We shall see.
Last year the line was deep, and it’s only deeper now: Ray Drew and Toby Johnson are the only two departures, while three signees are already enrolled, and then mega-recruit Trent Thompson arrives this summer. So Rocker will have a lot of raw talent at his disposal.
Let’s delve into it:
Returning players: Sterling Bailey (Sr.); Josh Dawson (Sr.); James DeLoach (Sr.).
Early enrollees: Michael Barnett (Fr.).
On the way: D’Andre Walker (Fr.); Chauncey Rivers (Fr.); Justin Young (Fr.).
Early favorite: Bailey.
The skinny: Bailey has quietly been a solid starter the past two seasons, and while he doesn’t rack up sacks – or even tackles - he’s been dependable in taking up blocks. Dawson and DeLoach, who came to campus as four-star recruits, have yet to see a tremendous amount of playing time, though each were part of the rotation last season. They’ll have to use this spring to make a big move, with all the talent coming in.
Barnett will miss spring practice after shoulder surgery, and injury that happened before his arrival. But he’s expected to be ready for the summer, and should also contend for playing time. So should the other three freshmen, and keep an eye especially on Walker. He just needs to put on more weight; he was listed at 209 pounds when he signed.
Returning players: Chris Mayes (Sr.); Lamont Gaillard (R-Fr.).
Early enrollees: Jonathan Ledbetter (Fr.).
On the way: Trent Thompson (Fr.); DaQuan Hawkins (Fr.).
Early favorites: Mayes and/or Thompson.
The skinny: We’re listing Mayes and Thompson as co-starters partly because there could be two tackle spots, and partly because it’s hard to see either not starting. The same could also go for Ledbetter, who has a head start on Thompson this spring. Both Thompson and Ledbetter could also play some on the edge, but Mayes is more of a pure nose at this point.
Georgia’s run defense wasn’t up to par in key games last year (Florida and Georgia Tech), and a lot of that had to do with not setting the edge well. But some of it was also up the middle, so the team needs improvement from Mayes, but it would also help for Thompson to make the instant impact that many analysts expect. Thompson also has the ability to get into the backfield on passing downs, which is why it’s going to be hard to keep him on the bench.
Gaillard redshirted last year, and could also be a factor for playing time. Hawkins is most likely to follow the redshirt route in his first year, but you never know. There’s a lot of potential depth on this line, but it’s only potential right now.
Returning players:Bailey, Dawson, DeLoach.
Early enrollees:Barnett, Ledbetter.
On the way:Walker, Rivers, Young.
Early favorites: Dawson, DeLoach, Barnett or Ledbetter.
The skinny: Yeah, we think the second end spot is wide open. And don't rule out one of those outside linebackers for this spot.
As mentioned earlier, Dawson and DeLoach could stand to have a big spring, and not tempt the coaches to plug a true freshman in the starting lineup. What if Rocker wants to get his best three players on the field, regardless of position? Then he might not care if two of them are tackles.
That said, they’re going to sub liberally, so the key thing is becoming part of the rotation, whether that’s six, seven or eight guys. Dawson and DeLoach figure to be a part of that, at minimum, and it’s hard to see Ledbetter not being in it either. But competition will be stiff, this spring and preseason.
Next up: Outside linebackers.