ATHENS — Freshmen finding their way onto the field is nothing new for Georgia. Malaki Starks has been starting for the Bulldogs since the second game of the season, while Brock Bowers led the team in receiving last year.
But few freshmen do it in the manner in which linebacker Jalon Walker has in recent weeks. He spent most of the summer repping at Georgia’s inside linebacker position, playing behind the likes of Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon.
After the season-ending injury suffered by outside linebacker Nolan Smith, Walker has seen an uptick in snaps as an edge rusher or outside linebacker for the Bulldogs. He found himself on the field for Georgia’s opening drive of the game, playing in Georgia’s third-down pressure package.
“His versatility really helps him play between both positions,” Mondon said. “He’s fast and can move around like an off-ball linebacker but he’s a big guy too. He’s strong, so he can get on the edge and set a good edge.”
Walker played 13 snaps against Kentucky, more than that of fellow inside linebackers Trezmen Marshall and Rian Davis. Georgia only played Chaz Chambliss and Robert Beal as true outside linebackers against Kentucky.
The freshman from North Carolina did notch a tackle for loss against the Wildcats. As the Bulldogs get deeper into the season, the hope is that Walker is able to team with fellow freshman Mykel Williams to make a bigger impact as a part of Georgia’s third-down pressure package.
“Jalon has developed and is getting better and still got a ways to go, and he’ll believe the first to tell you that he’s got to grow and get better,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Walker prior to the game against Kentucky. “He’s got to continue to grow. He has not taken what he does in practice to the field just yet. He practices sometimes better than he plays, and he’s got to get through some of that anxiety and that’s part of being a freshman.”
Williams has 2.0 sacks on the season and would’ve had another against Kentucky were it not wiped away due to a penalty.
Walker has worked hard as a member of Georgia’s scout team, teammate Broderick Jones noted. Jones has seen plenty of Walker in practice as the starting left tackle for the Bulldogs.
Jones offered up a comparison for the freshman linebacker, one that offers a glimpse of Walker’s upside and versatility.
“Jalon Walker, man, he reminds me of Adam Anderson in terms of getting off the ball,” Jones said. “He’s probably not as tall but he packs a punch. You better be prepared when you go against him.”
Georgia has just 18.0 sacks on the season, but the Bulldogs have done an excellent job of creating pressure. With Smith and Beal both off to the NFL after this season, the Bulldogs will have a hole at the outside linebacker position.
Walker has the ability to fill that void, starting now. While the Bulldogs also hope to get more production out of Chambliss and Marvin Jones Jr. at the edge position, Walker has proven of someone who continues to get better the more he sees the field.
With Georgia being a massive favorite over Georgia Tech this weekend, Walker has the chance to see plenty of snaps for the Bulldogs and get the reps needed to make a greater impact for the Bulldogs as they ready for the SEC championship game and beyond.
Broderick offers high praise for Jalon Walker
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