For awhile last year, there seemed a good chance that Georgia would have at least some turnover at outside linebacker. Leonard Floyd was thought to be as good as gone to the NFL, and Jordan Jenkins was mulling it as well.
Well, never mind. Both returned, making this group easily the most talented and experienced on this year’s Georgia defense. It’s deep too, so deep that the coaching staff is going to find ways to get Lorenzo Carter and perhaps even Davin Bellamy on the field, and not just through substituting. They did that last year, pushing one of them to defensive end in some alignments. Jenkins even played a quasi-defensive tackle position at times.
As always, it’s a bit hazardous to categories someone as purely an outside linebacker. The more accurate term for many is edge rusher, as they can line up at outside linebacker or defensive end.
There’s also the chance that some of the names below will get a shot at inside linebacker, where Georgia has two starting spots to fill.
But for now here’s a look at the riches that Kevin Sherrer, who coaches the outside linebackers, has at his disposal:
Returning players: Leonard Floyd (Jr.); Lorenzo Carter (Soph.); Keyon Brown (R-Fr.).
Early enrollees: Natrez Patrick (Fr.)
On the way: D’Andre Walker (Fr.); Gary McRae (Fr.).
Early favorite: Floyd.
The skinny: It was tempting to list Floyd and Carter as co-favorites, as that’s the way they were listed the final weeks of the season. But much of that was due to the shoulder injury that Floyd had surgery on prior to the bowl. Floyd is a starter, period.
That doesn’t mean Carter can’t be either. Again, don’t be surprised to see someone moved to end in order to start Floyd, Carter and Jenkins together. Even if that doesn’t happen, Carter’s snaps will increase exponentially as a sophomore.
Keep an eye on Brown, who seemed to make a good impression during his redshirt season. He’s another candidate to move down to end, and whether he or others do so depends a lot on what the coaches think they have among the freshman ends.
Patrick is listed as a defensive end but is likely to get a look at both linebacker spots this spring.
Walker is also among the many players who is officially listed as a defensive end, but could play both edge rushing spots. He’s also only listed at 209 pounds, while Chauncey Rivers, for example, is listed at 247. But hey, Patrick is listed as even heavier, so in the end who knows, guys could get a look at lots of spots.
McRae is yet another OLB-DE type who was signed this year, and he’s getting a bit lost in the crowd. But he’s got talent too, so don’t forget about him when he arrives this summer.
Returning players: Jordan Jenkins (Sr.); Davin Bellamy (R-Soph.); Johnny O’Neal (Jr.); Shaun McGee (R-Soph.)
Early enrollees: Patrick.
On the way: Walker, McRae.
Early favorite: Jenkins.
The skinny: Jenkins’ track record speaks for itself. He’s going to be on the field most of the time, barring injury, it just depends whether he shifts down to a defensive end spot at times.
Bellamy hasn’t received extensive playing time his first two years on campus (he redshirted his first year), but that’s not really his fault. The problem is it’s hard to take the other three outside linebackers off the field, and that hasn’t changed. Bellamy can probably just be patient, and work hard enough that he earns the chance when it comes.
O’Neal and McGee, both members of the 2013 signing class, have yet to make a big move up the depth chart. There’s still time, but they’d both do well to have strong springs.
Next up: Inside linebackers.