This is Part 11 in a series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.
ATHENS — Generally, the Georgia Bulldogs don’t utilize a lot of defensive ends. The way things are shaping up, though, they might want find a way to get more on the field this coming season.
As discussed in Part X of this ongoing series previewing spring football practice, putting labels on any defensive lineman in Kirby Smart’s system is a near impossible task. The Bulldogs like to mix and match along the defensive front the same way they sub in and out in the secondary. The idea is to create a match-up advantage.
That’s what makes replacing Jonathan Ledbetter such a difficult exercise. Despite utilizing multiple defensive formations against opponents last season, Ledbetter ended up getting the start at defensive end in 13 of 14 games and played most of the downs there. The outgoing senior represented a real block of granite for the Bulldogs all year. Due to an early season-ending foot injury to junior David Marshall, the only other players who logged any significant snaps at the end position were Malik Herring and Jay Hayes, on occasion.
This year will be different. This year there will be an all-out free-for-all to see who gets the primary responsibility for playing end in Georgia’s 3-4 defense. And the Bulldogs have all sorts of intriguing candidates.
Georgia went big in its pursuit of defensive ends through recruiting and, as it turned out, found quite a few in the neighboring state of Tennessee. Georgia signed 6-6, 287-pound Zion Logue out of Lebanon, Tenn. and 6-6, 285-pound Bill Norton out of Memphis. Both of them were 4-star prospects, according to 247Sports, and UGA had to beat out a lot of good programs to land them.
That’s not to mention 6-3, 315-pound freshman Tymon Mitchell, who’s from Nashville. He’s more likely to play an an inside position. Likewise, defensive line signees Travon Walker (6-5, 290) and Tramel Walthour (6-3, 280) could be given looks outside as well. All of those guys are more similar in body type to Ledbetter (6-4, 277), Herring (6-3, 280) and Marshall (6-3, 274), who logged almost all the snaps last season. Meanwhile, a number of the Bulldogs’ interior defensive linemen will be cross-trained and therefore will be quite capable of coming outside to take on some offensive tackles.
The key will be finding somebody to give Georgia the kind of consistent performance it got from Ledbetter most of the last two seasons. That won’t be easy, but the Bulldogs have to feel good about the number of options they have.
Let’s a take a closer look:
THE DEFENSIVE ENDS
- Returning starters: None
- Others returning: David Marshall, 6-3, 274, senior; Justin Young, 6-4, 275, senior; Malik Herring, 6-3, 280, junior; Devonte Wyatt, 6-3, 301, Jr.;
- Early enrollees: Tramel Walthour, 6-3, 280, So.
- On the way: Zion Logue, 6-5, 295, Fr.; Tymon Mitchell, 6-3, 315, Fr.; Bill Norton, 6-6, 285, Fr.; Travon Walker, 6-5, 290, Fr.
- Analysis: While commanding a lot of attention for being a captain and leader and spokesperson for the Bulldogs, Ledbetter probably didn’t get enough for the many things he did on the field. He represented the best of both worlds for defensive linemen in that he was big enough stand up an SEC offensive tackle, yet quick enough to get around one to either set a defensive edge or pressure the quarterback. For that reason, Ledbetter led all down-linemen with 59 tackles. His quarterback pressure numbers were down last season (1 sack, 2 hursries) as Georgia often went with the quicker Herring on passing downs, and Herring finished 3 hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. So the job is Herring’s to inherit, but coach Tray Scott will be looking to upgrade in all facets. There is an argument to made for Marshall — who had four tackles and a sack of Baker Mayfield in the Rose Bowl — being better than all of them, but a foot injury sidelined him for the season after the sixth game.
- Bottom line: Georgia’s future is bright on the defensive edge, between the ends and an incredible accumulation of talent at the outside linebacker position. And the overall number of defensive linemen on scholarship for the Bulldogs is high with at least 15. For that reason, new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is going to have his hands full when it comes evaluating all the different players and deciding which ones are going to represent the best option for any given situation. Again, the key here is there are a lot of options.
UP NEXT: Bulldogs look to get dominating play again out of inside linebackers.
SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW