ATHENS -- Georgia is young in the back end and forced to replace two starters on the defensive line. But what should help those two position groups is the depth and experience at linebacker, particularly with Georgia’s pass rushers.
The Bulldogs possess three likely future NFL players at outside linebacker but will be breaking in two starters inside. Even so, Georgia looks particularly strong due to the versatility this position group brings. It will be a challenge for the Bulldogs to replace inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, but the numbers and package options should aid the transition.
The players: Outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd and Lorenzo Carter all have NFL potential. Given the talent level of these three players, there’s a good chance head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt come up with ways to get all on the field at the same time.
On Georgia’s summer depth chart, Floyd was listed as a co-starter at both outside and inside linebacker, with Richt commenting on the fact that his versatility allows him to line up at multiple spots.
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Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough are penciled in as starting inside linebackers, although UAB transfer Jake Ganus will have every opportunity to earn playing time in his final collegiate season. Early enrollee Natrez Patrick could also be a factor with Georgia’s plans at inside linebacker.
Expectations: Georgia finished in the middle of the pack, ranking 55th in the nation in sacks with 28 in 2014. The Bulldogs have the talent in place to boost that number into the top 40. Of course, an outside linebacker group will need help from the secondary and defensive line.
If the secondary can force quarterbacks into third and fourth reads, that will allow more time for the outside linebackers to produce sacks. If the defensive line can occupy blockers, the inside linebackers will be able to shoot the gaps against the run.
Expectations will be high for a linebacking group that enters the season among the best in the SEC.
“Everyone has bought in, and it’s not just the older guys who are playing and the young guys who are not,” Jenkins said. “The young guys who are there now are eager to learn. They always ask for help and are coming in to get extra film time. This is also one of the most structured 7-on-7s we have had in the past couple years I have been here. These guys are ready to compete and ready to show that we’re a quality defense and we can be dominant if we buy in.”
Outlook: The linebackers will be the strength of Georgia’s defense this season, given what should be a strong ability to get after the passer. It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs use Floyd in various packages, so that they can get he, Jenkins and Carter on the field at the same time.
Pruitt is the type of coordinator that’s interested in getting the best players on the field regardless of position.
If the moving parts of the defense mesh well together in Pruitt’s second season as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, then the linebackers should be able to do plenty of damage.