ATHENS — There’s a picture of Georgia’s defensive linemen, taken during the black jersey game last year, and Jonathan Ledbetter is right in the middle, his left pinky finger in his mouth as he snarls at the camera. Ledbetter made it the main picture on his Twitter profile.
If you’re looking for symbolism, you could draw that Ledbetter is embracing the camaraderie of his talented unit, arguably the deepest and best on the team.
But Ledbetter is standing out in the crowd. And for the right reasons now.
It’s time to eye the rising junior as a breakout player this season. During the second day of spring practice Thursday, Ledbetter looked unblockable at times during both one-on-one and 11-on-11 drills.
This appears to be Ledbetter building on the second half of last year, when he had 24 tackles, a sack and 5 quarterback pressures. The first half of the season? He wasn’t playing, suspended after two alcohol-related arrests, which led to him receiving alcohol treatment.
“I think he learned from his mistake, and he’s a great football player. He knows where his talent can take him,” senior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “Me and him talk a lot. He knows he has a bright future ahead of him, and he’s just going to be Ledbetter. He’s going to go out there and play football. And he’s going to be okay.”
Ledbetter’s on-field history would point to still having a bright future, despite last year’s off-field problems.
He was a consensus 4-star prospect out of Tucker High School, and on most top 100 recruiting lists. Alabama at first secured his commitment, but then Georgia managed to keep him home, helped perhaps by the transfer in of his older brother Joseph, a tight end who had been playing a level down. (Joseph Ledbetter eventually left the team.)
As evidenced by that Twitter profile picture, there’s a lot of talent on Georgia’s defensive line, so much so that snaps and starting spots can be interchangeable. Trent Thompson, the most talented of the bunch, only started 7 games last year.
So how does someone like Ledbetter (who hasn’t been made available for interviews over the past year) emerge from the group? He started this offseason by bulking up: He also posted on Twitter this week that he’s now 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds.
“Our strength and conditioning program is really the best. I can honestly say that,” said senior nose tackle John Atkins. “It’s not just Ledbetter.”
But Ledbetter is a player who clearly can take it to another level, especially at the optimal weight. And he may be on the way to doing just that.
“He has (bulked up). And he’s moving very well,” Bellamy said. “He knows the type of future he has. So everything else he’s not worried about right now.”