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Roquan Smith led the Bulldogs in tackles last season despite not starting three games.

Own the East: Georgia LB Roquan Smith

Chip Towers

Editor’s Note: It may be time for the Georgia Bulldogs to take back the SEC East in 2017. We’ve featured the most important UGA players, coaches, fans and staff for the upcoming season in a 20-part video series, which you can binge-watch right here.

ATHENS — There certainly are players on Georgia’s defense who are more recognizable and who may have accomplished more to date. But none of them are more important to the Bulldogs’ success on that side of the ball this season than Roquan Smith.

Smith is a junior and a returning starter at inside linebacker for Georgia. As evidenced by coach Kirby Smart’s decision to have Smith accompany him to Birmingham for SEC Football Media Days in July, he’s also a player who is expected not only to star for the Bulldogs, but lead.

“Roquan played probably the most snaps on our defense last year,” Smart said of the 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior. “He’s a new hybrid linebacker. Not only that, but he’s a tremendous leader.

“Coming to [SEC Media Days] is about leadership. If you’re going to be a spokesperson for the team, you better hold yourself accountable and do all the things we ask you to do, and he’s done that.”

Smith can play a little, too. He led the Bulldogs in tackles last season with 95 while starting 10 of 13 games. He has defensive back-type speed, which allows him to defend the run from sideline to sideline and to cover running backs, slot receivers and tight ends on pass routes. That versatility allows Smith to stay on the field in all down-and-distance scenarios, a plus in the age hurry-up offenses.

Georgia’s talent and depth on the defensive line should allow Smith to run free most of the time. And he has some good mates around him, with Natrez Patrick starting alongside him and multigame starter Reggie Carter backing him up.

“We don’t really listen to all the hype and what-not,” Smith said of the linebackers. “We’re just committed to grinding each and every day and making each day the best day. We feel like we can do something special — not just us but the whole defense.”

Click here to see more of “Own the East,” our 2017 season preview of the Georgia Bulldogs in video form.

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