No one ever would have expected for Jake Ganus to transfer in from UAB and become Georgia’s leading tackler at inside linebacker.
But that’s exactly what happened in 2015, with Ganus recording a team-high 102 tackles en route to earning the team’s MVP award. Ganus became Georgia’s best overall defender, which was surprising since he was initially brought in to assist with special teams and add depth to the position.
With Ganus gone, Georgia has to figure out who is next in line at the position and hope to get the same kind of production — whether it’s from one player or through a combination.
One inside linebacker Georgia’s new coaching staff is high on is Natrez Patrick. Patrick earned playing time as a true freshman and started against Georgia Tech and Penn State to close the year.
Patrick initially was recruited as an outside linebacker but moved inside, which looks to be where he’ll spend the majority of his career. It’s possible he would have earned starting repetitions earlier in 2015 if it wasn’t for a midseason injury.
Patrick will have a great opportunity to continue separating himself with a strong showing during spring practice. Patrick could end up playing the Mike linebacker role in Georgia’s 3-4 defense.
Rising senior Tim Kimbrough is the likely candidate to start the spring as the Will linebacker. Kimbrough, however, was suspended in Georgia’s win over Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl due to a disciplinary matter. He’ll have a chance to impress the new coaching staff this spring and put the off-field issue behind him. Kimbrough is a thumper and could be someone who excels with what head coach Kirby Smart wants to do on defense.
Kimbrough is great against the run and offers a lot of strength and power at the point of attack. He finished the 2015 season with a team third-best 67 tackles, including 5½ for loss.
Juwan Taylor is another player to watch this spring. Taylor will need to bulk up as he began his true freshman season in 2015 at 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds.
It will be interesting to see how much junior Reggie Carter, who appears to have been awarded a redshirt for missing all but one game of 2015 season, will be able to participate during spring practice. Carter has dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career and suffered one to his shoulder, which required surgery, last season.
Carter has continued his rehab but is still not full-go. Smart hinted at the possibility Carter could be limited, at least to begin the spring.
“Somewhat,” Smart said when asked if Carter will be available for spring practice. “He’ll be able to do most of the stuff we do. He’s not 100 percent.”
The Bulldogs will also be without rising sophomore Roquan Smith, who suffered a ligament injury in his wrist during the TaxSlayer Bowl. Smith had a minor surgical procedure and is being held out of spring practice as a precaution. He’s expected to be a full participant in the fall.
The lone freshman inside linebacker in the recruiting class of 2016 joining Georgia this fall is Jaleel Laguins, who could compete for a rotational role and for a spot on special teams.
The new coaching staff will use the spring to evaluate these players accordingly. As for Ganus, the player the inside linebackers will collectively have to replace, he thinks Georgia will be just fine given the talent level of the young, up-and-coming group.
“It’s been awesome watching them,” Ganus said. “They came in, and obviously, they were big-time high school recruits, but just to see them transition from big-time high school recruits to big-time college football players has been fun. I’m glad I’ve been able to help as much as I can. Those guys, Roquan, Natrez and Juwan, they’re all freak athletes. They all bring different things to the table. They’re all different style of linebackers.”