ATHENS – Jonathan Ledbetter was second in line as Georgia defensive linemen went through a shuttle drill at Tuesday’s practice. It’s been that way for that drill basically every practice, every week, this season.
But this was not a normal week.
Ledbetter, the very talented sophomore defensive lineman, is finally set to make his season debut on Saturday, after serving a six-game suspension for two offseason alcohol arrests.
“Anticipation,” Ledbetter wrote Sunday afternoon on his Twitter feed, alongside a picture of himself in uniform.
“He’s pumped,” said Natrez Patrick, who is Ledbetter’s roommate. “He’s been at it for a long time. He’s been getting scout-team player of the week every week. So he’s definitely been pushing.”
Every week, Ledbetter has been scout team player of the week?
“Every week,” Patrick repeated, with a grin.
Head coach Kirby Smart estimated it was “three or four times.” Either way, the point is clear.
“It wasn’t like he was just over there on a knee,” Smart said. “He was taking a lot of reps. He was disruptive to them on the scout team in order to give us all these looks of the hard players we’ve been having to block. He’s been the guy that would go in there and play those positions. We’re excited to have him back.”
Ledbetter (who hasn’t been available for interviews) was poised to be a starter and potentially a difference-maker before his troubles began this past spring. He was first arrested in March while allegedly trying to go into a bar with a fake ID and while inebriated.
That charge was eventually dismissed because the district attorney didn’t think the search would stick in court. Ledbetter was then arrested in July for DUI, when he was found asleep at the wheel early in the morning. The team announced a day later that Ledbetter was entering treatment for a “serious problem.” That was just over three months ago.
“For me, just being around him, I think it’s behind him,” Patrick said. “Honestly, he’s just looking forward to the future. He’s looking forward to what’s to come, and what’s in the past is in the past, and he’s just striving to be better.”
Ledbetter is thought of as an impact player. He was a four-star recruit rated in many top 100 national lists in 2015. But he won’t necessarily walk into immediately playing time and re-claim his starting spot.
In his absence, freshman David Marshall has played well, and Georgia has used up to eight defensive linemen. So head coach Kirby Smart isn’t sure how much Ledbetter will play on Saturday against Vanderbilt, saying “we’ll work him into the rotation.”
But Patrick, a starting inside linebacker, thinks Ledbetter can help right away.
“He can really hold the edge,” Patrick said. “He’s one of those bigger guys, but able to move outside as well. He just can do a lot for us.”
Ledbetter didn’t play much last year, appearing in seven games and only making four tackles. But that was on a veteran line. This was supposed to be his coming-out yet, which was derailed by the arrests.
“He’s been gone for awhile,” Patrick said. “He has a lot to prove, he has a lot to show, and I feel that he’s ready to do something.”