Georgia football lost a lot from its 2021 defense. Gone are three defensive linemen who went in the first round of the draft. Three inside linebackers were drafted as well. Safety Lewis Cine went in the first round and cornerback Derion Kendrick came off the board in the sixth.
Much will be made about how Georgia goes about replacing all that lost production. But one thing Georgia did not lose to the draft though was its top pass rusher from last season.
That would be Robert Beal.
Beal finished the season strong, picking up 5.0 sacks in Georgia’s final six games of the season to give him a team-best 6.5 sacks. He notched a sack in games against both Alabama and Michigan in the College Football Playoff last season.
What’s more is that since Kirby Smart became the program’s head coach prior to the 2016 season, only Azeez Ojulari in 2020 and D’Andre Walker in 2017 had more sacks in a single season.
The reason Beal finished the season so strong is largely due to opportunity. Adam Anderson was suspended prior to the team’s game against Missouri, clearing a way for Beal to earn more snaps at outside linebacker. He took full advantage of that opportunity.
That late-season success in part prompted Beal to return for another season at Georgia. He first signed as a member of the 2018 signing class at Georgia, but Beal was granted an extra year of eligibility thanks to the NCAA’s one-year COVID exemption.
One caveat is that for the 2022 season, super seniors do in fact count against the 85-man scholarship count. Georgia in theory had a choice to make if it wanted Beal to return for another season. Given his sack production last season and that Georgia saw its second, third, fourth and fifth most productive pass rushers all depart, it’s clear the Bulldogs desired what Beal brings to the table.
The Bulldogs have recruited well at the outside linebacker position in recent cycle and also saw fellow outside linebacker Nolan Smith return for 2022 as well. While Georgia will ask Smith to wear many hats — set the edge, drop into coverage, spy more athletic quarterbacks and rush the passer — Beal’s top trait is getting after the opposing quarterback.
Beal missed Georgia’s spring game with an undisclosed injury but Smart indicated it was nothing serious and that he’ll be ready to go for fall camp. He’ll be playing for a new position coach as Chidera Uzo-Diribe takes over for Dan Lanning, who is now the head coach at Oregon.
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Maybe it’s due to it being his fifth year at Georgia for why Beal seems so under-discussed. Perhaps the fact that he was only the No. 107 ranked prospect in the 2018 class — and not a 5-star — plays into it. That there were so many other great defenders on Georgia’s 2021 defense surely contributed.
For most of his time as a Georgia Bulldog, Beal has been overshadowed. To this point, he has just two starts in his career. But his late-season production shouldn’t be seen as a fluke. Yes, he’ll have to take on a larger role entering the 2022 season but after all this time, Beal is no doubt ready to go from underrated to properly respected.
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