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Deandre Baker (18) was named a second-team preseason All-American by Athlon Sports.

5 Georgia Bulldogs named Athlon Sports Preseason All-Americans

Cy Brown

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5 Dawgs named Athlon All-Americans

With the college football season only a few months away — I had to pinch myself after writing that — preseason All-America teams are beginning to trickle out from college football publications. And as one of the top teams in the country, Georgia should be well-represented in each.

On Tuesday, Athlon Sports released its All-America teams. It will shock no one that Dawgs littered the ranks, with five Georgia players earning spots on Athlon’s four teams, tying Georgia for third-most entries with Boston College, Clemson, Alabama and Michigan. Wisconsin (7) and Ohio State (6) led the way.

First up for the Dawgs are running back D’Andre Swift and tackle Andrew Thomas, who earned spots on the second- and third-team offenses, respectively. They were two of the most impressive freshmen in college football last year, as Swift rushed for 597 yards and 3 touchdowns at 8.2 yards per carry while working as a backup and Thomas started all 15 games at right tackle.

Only one UGA defender made the cut, and it’s the one UGA defender you’d expect, cornerback Deandre Baker. Baker, a rising senior, was selected as a corner on the second-team defense. As a junior, Baker rose to prominence as the first shutdown corner to play for the Dawgs in quite some time. Quarterbacks rarely threw the ball his way, but he still managed 3 interceptions. He enters the 2018 season as Georgia’s best (and most irreplaceable) player.

Finally, the Bulldogs are well-represented among the specialists, as rising juniors Mecole Hardman and Rodrigo Blankenship were named second-team punt returner and third-team kicker, respectively. Although he never broke one for a touchdown, Hardman led the SEC in total punt return yards and average per return last season. Blankenship, meanwhile, went 20 for 23 for the year on field goals, including a clutch 55-yarder in the Rose Bowl.

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Deandre Baker ranked 46th best player in CFB

Speaking of Deandre Baker, he was ranked 46th on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 college football players of 2018.

Baker is a key holdover from a smothering defense that powered Georgia’s charge to its first conference title in 12 years and a national championship game berth. Rather than jumping to the NFL after a stellar junior season, Baker opted to return to Athens to bolster his case as a first-round NFL draft prospect and lead a unit waving farewell to a handful of important contributors, including Butkus Award–winning linebacker Roquan Smith.

The Bulldogs will need Baker to counter talented SEC quarterbacks like South Carolina’s Jake Bentley (Sept. 8), Missouri’s Drew Lock (Sept. 22) and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham (Nov. 10).

Julian Rochester running out of time to live up to hype

Tom VanHaaren of ESPN recently counted down 10 former big-time recruits running out of time to live up to their hype, and — much to the chagrin of Dawg fans, I’m sure — UGA defensive lineman Julian Rochester earned a spot.

Rochester has two years of eligibility left and there is a big opportunity along the interior of the defensive line. Nose guard John Atkins and tackle Trenton Thompson are both gone to the NFL, which leaves a lot of snaps for Rochester to grab.

With some consistency in the defensive coaching staff as well, this should be an excellent opportunity for Rochester to shine and take over the stage.

Rochester also just missed a spot on my recent list of five Dawgs with something to prove this season.

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