It won’t be easy for Georgia to replace its starting two outside linebackers from the 2015 season.
The Bulldogs lost Leonard Floyd a year early to the NFL and Jordan Jenkins to graduation. There may not have been a more versatile football player on Georgia’s roster than Floyd on last year’s roster, evidenced by his ability to not only shine at outside linebacker, but to play inside linebacker and the star position too.
Jenkins, before a midseason hip flexor injury slowed him somewhat, was a terror rushing the passer. Floyd tallied 4 ½ sacks and Jenkins notched 4 sacks, with both getting pressure on the opposing quarterback frequently.
Georgia will need to figure out a way to replace this kind of production – 133 combined tackles between the two – in 2016.
It starts with two players – one of whom has emerged without expectation and the other being a former five-star product with a boatload of potential.
As of now, Davin Bellamy is probably Georgia’s best overall returning outside linebacker. When former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said in a preseason news conference last August that Bellamy “might be the best one” of the outside linebackers, plenty of reporters’ eyes rolled with the supposed coach speak.
But Bellamy went on to record 33 tackles (5 ½ for loss) and 3 sacks, proving Pruitt was on to something with his praise. Bellamy got a lot more playing time than people thought early in the season and kept making plays in the rotation. A sound run defender who can get after the passer, Bellamy possesses some great traits to play the position. Even with the solid sophomore seas, Bellamy is entering 2016 as one of Georgia’s most unheralded players and should be in for a big year.
The likely starter opposite of Bellamy is Lorenzo Carter, a former five-star prospect who has a big opportunity ahead of him. Carter has a chance to impress the new coaching staff with the rare athleticism he has. At 6-foot-6 and 242 pounds, Carter has the build, frame and talent to be like Floyd on the football field.
It’s just a matter of Carter becoming an all-around outside linebacker, which is something Pruitt and outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer both said he needed to last preseason. Both were critical by saying Carter, who finished the 2015 season with 19 tackles and 6 quarterback hurries, needed to do more than just be a great at rushing the quarterback. If Carter can use this spring to refine his run defense and show he’s more than a third-down pass-rusher, Georgia’s defense will be in good shape moving forward.
But the concern Georgia has behind Bellamy and Carter is that the outside linebacker group isn’t as deep. In 2015, Georgia could start Floyd and Jenkins, with Carter and Bellamy being the primary players off the bench. Carter and Bellamy are in line to start, with Chuks Amaechi and D’Andre Walker being the early two rotational players.
Amaechi, however, is coming off of a torn labrum, according to UGASports.com’s Sarah Spencer. Walker saw most of his time on special teams and could be asked to have a bigger role this year. Given the uncertainty at the position behind Bellamy and Carter, you have to wonder if players such as Juwan Taylor or Natrez Patrick will cross-train some at outside linebacker this spring.
In the fall, Georgia will add Chauncey Manac, who could have a chance to compete for a rotational spot given the depth at the position. It also remains to be seen whether Georgia will use incoming freshman David Marshall as an outside linebacker or as a defensive end.
But as it pertains to the returning players, head coach Kirby Smart isn’t likely to do anything too different schematically with the position. It should be a fairly smooth transition for the group. The key for the outside linebackers this spring will be earning the valuable reps that can speed their development for the regular season when it rolls around in the fall.
"We lost two outside backers with really good speed in Jordan and Leonard," Smart said. "Those guys will be hard to replace on third down. That’s going to affect the game for us. We have to do a good job getting off the field on third down. Those two guys won a lot of third downs for Georgia the last few years. They’re gone. Somebody else is going to step into that role."