Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein to “follow the money.” When it comes to deciphering who Georgia coaches REALLY feel is doing well, one should follow the media availability.
Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter met with reporters so often this spring that we ran out of questions to ask them. In fact, spring practice is over but if I walked down to the Butts-Mehre right now I’d half-expect to see Carter sitting in the atrium, asking: “You guys need anything?”
Then you have Leonard Floyd, who was out this spring after shoulder surgery, but on Tuesday was placed on what I believe is the season’s first “watch list.” It was for the Lott Impact award, which goes to the nation’s best defensive player. These watch lists are pretty meaningless, but it did just offer me another way of pointing out that Floyd is good.
So Georgia is loaded at outside linebacker. We knew that. What about the other two linebacker spots? They remain the most interesting on defense, because of how wide open they are. The spring didn’t change that.
That’s not to say the inside spots will be a weakness. They won’t be as good as the outside linebackers, obviously. But there will be plenty of subbing at both spots. So let’s dive into how things stand as spring thinks about turning into summer:
SAM (OUTSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Leonard Floyd, Jr.
TOP BACKUP: Loreno Carter, Soph.
OTHERS: Chuks Amaechi, Jr.; Shaun McGee, Jr.
ON THE WAY: D’Andre Taylor, Fr.
THE SKINNY: Floyd and Carter could almost be listed as co-starters. Carter is too good not to play a lot, as assistant coach Kevin Sherrer acknowledged, so the staff will find ways to get him on the field. That could involve shifting Floyd inside in some packages, or shifting Jenkins and Carter to the line in some sets.
But Amaechi is threatening to be part of the equation as well. The junior college transfer impressed at inside linebacker before shifting outside halfway through spring practice. He impressed there too.
Taylor could also be a factor, depending on how he looks this summer upon his arrival. As for McGee, he continues to be stuck behind a talented group, which isn’t really his fault.
JACK (OUTSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Jordan Jenkins, Sr.
TOP BACKUPS: Carter and Davin Bellamy, Soph.
OTHERS: Johnny O’Neal, Jr.
ON THE WAY: Walker.
THE SKINNY: Jenkins enters the season as an entrenched starter, it’s just a matter of whether he takes a lot of snaps on the line as well, and how much he subs out so Carter, and perhaps even Bellamy and Amaechi, can get on the field.
Bellamy missed spring practice with a torn labrum. He’s battled injuries in two years on campus, so it’s easy to forget that he was a four-star recruit who, according to those who have seen him at practice, has looked deserving of the hype. There’s still a long way to go in his career, so even if he doesn’t see the field much this season, he figures to eventually.
O’Neal is in the same boat as McGee. There’s not much either can do at this point other than be ready in case of a rash of injuries.
MIKE (INSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Reggie Carter, Jr.
TOP BACKUP: Natrez Patrick, Fr.
OTHERS: Detric Bing-Dukes, R-Fr.
ON THE WAY: Roquan Smith, Fr.; Juwan Taylor, Fr.
THE SKINNY: Patrick emerged this spring as the player whose stock rose the most, at least on defense. He’s going to see the field, it’s just a matter of how much.
Carter at least retained the first-team spot through G-Day. He may not have the huge body type of the younger players, but Carter has always been lauded for his intelligence and nose for the ball. He served two seasons as a backup to Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, and has some experience (36 tackles over 20 career games.)
Bing-Dukes made more news last year for a position he only played briefly. He moved to fullback after Merritt Hall’s career-ending concussion, but never played and redshirted, and quietly moved back to inside linebacker. He also had a quiet spring, but that may have more to do with the buzz around the new guys at inside linebacker.
Smith, the incoming freshman, was a huge get for Georgia after the UCLA mess. He’s talented. There was a reason the Bulldogs were willing to wait for him, and take him without the letter-of-intent. Once he arrives this summer, he makes the situation all the more interesting at inside linebacker, where the options are increasing, but the two starters remain up in the air.
Taylor doesn’t come in with the hype of Smith, but the coaches like him too. Don’t rule out Taylor being a factor at some point.
WILL (INSIDE) LINEBACKER
STARTER: Tim Kimbrough, Jr.
TOP BACKUP: Jake Ganus, Sr.
OTHERS: Ryne Rankin, Jr.
ON THE WAY: Smith and Taylor.
THE SKINNY: Echoes of the other inside linebacker spot. The veteran who has waited his turn (Kimbrough) got a push from the newcomer (Ganus, the UAB transfer), but the veteran got the start on G-Day.
Kimbrough’s calling card is his physicality. Mark Richt refers to him as a “thumper.” He also has some experience, with 32 tackles over 13 career games. If he can provide confidence in his coverage skills, it would go a long way towards guaranteeing a spot.
Ganus has experience too, in fact more, it just came at another school, and at a lower level of play. But he has good size and teammates said his speed surprised them. Ganus racked up the tackles in the first two scrimmages, though it was as a second-teamer, against second-teamers.
Rankin missed spring after tearing his labrum. He presumably will be healthy for preseason camp, when he’ll need to make a move in order to have a chance to play. The numbers are suddenly a lot better at inside linebacker, and if Floyd moves over in some packages, then look out.
Next up: Defensive line.