ATHENS — It didn’t take Tate Ratledge long to notice freshman linebackers CJ Allen an Raylen Wilson. While the Bulldogs were preparing to play in the College Football Playoff and national championship game a season ago, the two freshmen were throwing themselves into practice.

“They came out on scout defense and our offensive linemen were like, ‘Who are these guys?’ They were flying around hitting stuff,” Ratledge said. “I’ve definitely seen them grow up a lot since they’ve been here, and now it’s kind of forced on them to try and step up into that role. I think they’ve done a really good job.”

Georgia is going to find out just how much these two young linebackers have grown up, starting this week against Ole Miss.

With Jamon Dumas-Johnson out with an arm injury, Georgia is turning to the two freshmen to fill his void.

The two have already seen extensive playing time this season, as Georgia employs a rotation at the position. In addition to being key special teams players, Allen and Wilson have worked as rotational linebackers. Allen has 12 tackles on the season while Wilson has 7.

But Saturday will be different, as Dumas-Johnson has started the previous 24 games at inside linebacker for Georgia. The Bulldogs still have Smael Mondon to help guide the two young linebackers.

“No matter what level you get to, football is still football. Still 100 yards, still have to hike the ball, offense, defense, still the same thing, just a faster tempo,” Georgia safety Malaki Starks said. “So just go out there and have fun and be able to trust your brothers beside you. Especially when you’re coming in as a freshman, I know it’s not so easy and nerve-wracking. But if you can trust the guy beside you and have faith in him that he’s going to help you out, it makes it a lot easier.”

Starks knows what Allen and Wilson will be going through. The Georgia safety started 14 games as a freshman and made an immediate impact in the season-opening win over Oregon.

Allen and Wilson will be playing in a game with similar stakes, as the Bulldogs welcome No. 9 Ole Miss into Sanford Stadium. The Rebels boast one of the top offenses in the league, led by its potent rushing attack.

As great as running back Quinshon Judkins is, he’s only part of the reason why Ole Miss is averaging 181 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Jaxson Dart is equally capable of hurting a team with his legs as he is with his arm. Of his 23 touchdowns this season, Dart has 7 rushing touchdowns.

Allen and Wilson aren’t your typical freshmen linebackers, as the former was the No. 6 linebacker prospect in the 2023 recruiting cycle and Wilson was the No. 4 player at the position. They arrived at Georgia with great expectations. Saturday will be their first big chance to meet them.

Allen is likely to get the start on Saturday, in part because of a preseason knee injury Wilson suffered back in August. But head coach Kirby Smart is very confident in what the two young linebackers bring to the table.

“You don’t know if a guy’s going to be a place a freshman until they get here and see how they learn and process,” Smart said. “They were both bright kids and they were both really talented kids. So physically, they had the gifts to be able to play but I mean, within our defense, there’s a mental rep count you got to get and luckily, they had all spring. They got it down in the spring, then they had all summer and they’ve had all fall camp.

“Raylen would be probably at least where CJ is or ahead if he had not had the injury in camp. That set him back, but he’s caught up really quickly and they’re both really good athletes.”

Georgia football confident in CJ Allen, Raylen Wilson