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Otis Reese figures to be a big-time player for Georgia in 2019.

Identifying who could be Georgia’s best under-the-radar defensive player in 2019

Connor Riley

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Georgia football: who could be a under-the-radar player for the defense in 2019

It’s never too soon to start looking ahead to next season. And most Georgia fans already know who the defensive stars of the 2019 team — such as J.R. Reed and Eric Stokes Jr. But what about those guys who we don’t talk about that end making a big-time contributions? This time last year, we didn’t say much about Jordan Davis and Monty Rice. They both proved to be significant contributors to Georgia’s season in 2018.

So we’re going to try and identify some players who fit that similar mold: Under-the-radar guys on Georgia’s defense who end up playing and surprising a few people come the end of the season.

Related: Identifying who could be Georgia’s best under-the-radar offensive player in 2019

As a disclaimer, we’re ruling out any former 5-star prospects. You don’t really get to be a surprise when you’ve been labeled as one of the top prospects in the country. Also we’re ruling out guys who have already seriously established themselves, as we’ll save them for breakout candidates:

Otis Reese, sophomore safety

Georgia brings back both of its starting safeties from last season. But Richard LeCounte and Reed may not be the starting safeties by the end of the year if Reese has anything to say about it.

Reese was a 4-star prospect out of Lee County High School (Leesburg, Ga.) and played in 11 games for the Bulldogs in 2018, racking up 13 total tackles on the year. But Reese clearly earned the trust of the coaching staff and started against Auburn.

LeCounte and Reed both have a lot of experience but Reese is going to push for playing time in 2019. And with LeCounte’s struggles in tackling, having a big body like Reese — listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds  —  could help in that department.

Malik Herring, junior defensive end

Georgia has to replace Jonathan Ledbetter as he moves on to the NFL. And while the Bulldogs are bringing in 5-star defensive tackle Travon Walker, Herring might be the better option right away.

After having just 7 tackles in his freshman season, Herring finished with 23 tackles this past season. Most interestingly he had 2.5 tackles for loss in Georgia’s last four games. It looks like the light came on for the former 4-star defensive end at the end of the season.

Georgia hasn’t had a truly dominant defensive lineman yet in the Kirby Smart era, but Herring certainly flashed some of that potential toward the end of the season.

Azeez Ojulari, redshirt freshman outside linebacker

Georgia’s outside linebacker group is loaded with talent, and that’s before you even add in the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect — Nolan Smith and the No. 1 JUCO prospect —  Jermaine Johnson. But don’t forget about Ojulari.

Ojulari tore his ACL in his senior season of high school, and because of that only played in three games this year. But Ojulari did play in the Sugar Bowl against Texas, and he looked more than competent against the Longhorns.

As Ojulari continues to get more comfortable as he comes back from his injury, he’s only going to become a bigger contributor for the Bulldogs. And if Georgia’s going to become one of the best pass rushing teams in the country, it’s going to need guys like Ojulari to pop.

Contract details for Todd Hartley

While we still haven’t heard anything regarding Georgia’s next defensive coordinator, Georgia did release the contract details on tight ends coach Todd Hartley.

Hartley, who was the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Miami this past season, will make $300,000 in his first year of the deal. His contract which runs through June of 2021, will pay him $400,000 in his second year on the staff.

Upon Hartley’s hiring, Kirby Smart released a statement on Georgia’s new tight ends coach.

“We expect Todd to be a great fit back at Georgia,” Smart said.  “He worked with the team while he was in school at UGA until he graduated and then returned to our program for another year later in his career in a separate role so there is no doubting his allegiance and excitement about returning to join the Bulldogs.  Todd has proven himself as an excellent position coach and as a top-notch recruiter and we look forward to his return to Athens.”

In the early days of his tenure, Hartley has already hit the recruiting trail. In addition to doing work in north Florida, he also visited 2019 tight end target Brett Seither.

Hartley is regarded as a very good recruiter, as he was the primary recruiter for Brevin Jordan at Miami, who was the nation’s No. 1 tight end in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Georgia’s tight end room might be a little thin right now given the departures of Isaac Nauta and Luke Ford, but it won’t be that way for long with Hartley at Georgia.

Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt continue the Spider-Man Meme

Last week, we wrote about how Tennessee and Jeremy Pruitt is building his program to look a lot like Georgia’s. Well Tennessee went back to the Georgia well once again, this time adding former Georgia defensive back Deangelo Gibbs.

Gibbs and Georgia seemed to part ways in December. Gibbs could just never seem to gain any traction at Georgia, despite being a former top recruit. DawgNation can also report that Gibbs will play wide receiver for the Vols.

Gibbs has a cousin on Tennessee’s team in safety Nigel Warrior. Another one of Gibbs’ cousins is J.R. Reed, who has become a standout safety for the Bulldogs since transferring from Tulsa. Reed made the decision to return to Athens for his senior season, bolstering what should be a strong secondary, even without Gibbs.

Things just never seemed to work out with Georgia and Gibbs. Georgia isn’t exactly hurting in the secondary as it has the likes or Reed, Reese and LeCounte. Gibbs will reportedly sit out the 2019 season, so his first game against Georgia won’t come until the Vols visit Athens in 2020. The Bulldogs visit Tennessee on Oct. 5 in 2019.

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