ATHENS – It was the third quarter of the Rose Bowl. D’Andre Walker had his hands on the ground, the wide man on a four-man Georgia defensive front. When the ball was snapped a hole opened and Walker steamed through and, within seconds, down went Baker Mayfield.
That was just one of several big plays last season from Walker, who made a lot for a man who never started a game, and estimates he only played 40-45 percent of Georgia’s defensive snaps.
That’ll change this season.
“Am I playmaker?” Walker said, repeating a question and pausing a few seconds before answering. “Yes, I would do whatever it takes to help my team.”
Walker was second on the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles-for-loss (13.5) last season, more than each of the outside linebackers who started ahead of him, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. And Walker, who was also seventh on the team in tackles, didn’t just rack up garbage-time stats: He had two tackles for loss in the Rose Bowl, including the sack on Mayfield, he had one sack in each Auburn game, and two more tackles for loss came at Notre Dame.
“He really made some game-changing plays for us in only a short amount of playing time,” Bellamy said. “I’m really looking for him to take the next step.”
Indeed, Carter and Bellamy are off to the pros, while Walker will be a senior, so he easily fits into one of their spots and, given his production in such limited playing time, is certain to be a star, right?
Well, it’s not that simple.
The question is whether Walker can be an every-down guy. Not just the pass rush specialist, but the run-stopper, strong in pass coverage, and the little stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score but is important.
“Me personally, I feel I can play every down, but that’s not up to me, it’s up to Coach (Kirby) Smart,” Walker said. “I just have to do whatever the boss man tells me.”
The boss man once had to have a talk with Walker about another issue: penalties. He has drawn a few. Last year he was called for jumping the shield at Auburn. He was called for roughing the punter a couple times during his first two seasons.
“About the penalties …,” Walker begins to say, then points out that he cut down on them last year. “That was one of the major things that coach Smart emphasized to me, and I tried to work on it. Just try to be more disciplined.”
The physical tools appear to be there: Walker, listed at 6-foot-3, is a couple of inches shorter than Bellamy and Carter but has put on weight. After coming to UGA three years ago at 215 pounds, he said he was 250 pounds the most recent time he stepped on a scale.
Walker was a well-regarded prospect when he graduated from Langston Hughes High School in Fairburn in 2014. Rivals and Scout each rated him a top 100 player. He just had to wait his turn on a deep unit: Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins started when Walker was a freshman, followed by Carter and Bellamy the past two years.
Now it’s Walker’s turn.
“I guess you would say emerging into a new leader,” Walker said, when asked how his role changes. “And just becoming one of those guys that my coaches can depend on every down, or every play.”