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I understand we lost 7 starters on defense and that seems to be the focus. I’m curious of the returning players on defense, how many plays did the non-starters average per game? They may not have started, but they may have played a substantial amount of plays. Any stats around for that?
— William Earl Buchanan
This is precisely what D’Andre Walker was getting at when I asked him last week why he was confident the 2018 defense would still be OK.
“There are just some guys on this team who have a lot of game-time experience,” he said.
Walker is a prime example … perhaps the example of that. He didn’t start a game last season but was second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss. He estimated he was on the field for 40-45 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
There are not, unfortunately, firm numbers on snaps for players. The team has those, I’m sure, but they don’t give them out. And while my Second Glance pieces are exhaustive, they’re not that exhaustive. (So perhaps exhaustive isn’t the term I should use. Whatever.)
The four returning starters, as defined by starting at least half the season: defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (11 starts), defensive tackle Tyler Clark (12), cornerback Deandre Baker (14) and safety J.R. Reed (15). And you could throw Natrez Patrick in there considering he started seven games but missed six games because of off-field issues.
Other returning players who started at least one game: DE David Marshall (3), CB Tyrique McGhee (2), DE Julian Rochester (1), inside linebacker Monty Rice (1), ILB Juwan Taylor (1) and S Richard LeCounte (1). In addition, DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle started five games in 2016 and two games the year before.
You could actually field a full defense with the returning starters and those who had started at least one game, with the exception of outside linebacker. But even there you have Walker and Walter Grant, who played a lot as a freshman.
Statistically speaking, Georgia also returns four of its top seven in tackles (No. 2 Reed, No. 4 Baker, No. 6 Clark and No. 7 Walker), four of its top seven in tackles for loss (No. 2 Walker, No. 5 Clark, No. 6 Ledbetter and No. 7 Reed), eight of its 13 players who registered at least half a sack, and three of the six who had at least 1 interception.
One word of caution: Back in 2013, the last time Georgia had this much to replace on defense, then-defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he wasn’t as worried because so many returning players had seen action the previous season. That included players who had started several games. That, of course, did not work out as well.
The players Georgia loses from last season aren’t just experienced, but are very, very good. Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Aaron Davis & Co. will not be easily replaced. Five years ago Georgia was trying to replace seven players who are still in the NFL: Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Abry Jones, Cornelius Washington and John Jenkins. (Not to mention Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings and Kwame Geathers.)
That doesn’t mean the 2018 defense will struggle as much as in 2013. As I pointed out earlier in the week, Georgia’s defensive recruiting in recent years has been much better.
But for those who say Georgia will be just fine on defense, and just as good as last year … I’d temper the enthusiasm. There’s still a lot of experienced talent to replace.
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