One big question for every defensive position group heading into summer
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The one big question for each Georgia football defensive position group
Defensive line: Does anyone emerge as a star?
Georgia has plenty of bodies on the defensive line. Its got a mix of veterans in Tyler Clark, Julian Rochester and David Marshall. The Bulldogs are also bringing in the likes of 5-star freshman Travon Walker and a trio of 2019 defensive linemen from Tennessee.
But do any of those guys make the jump from just a role player to an every-down terror for the Bulldogs? Sophomore Jordan Davis made a significant impact when he was inserted into the lineup last year. Is there any player that could make an impact like that for Georgia this year, and ease the burden on Davis?
Georgia has always used its defensive line to soak up opposing offensive linemen. This has allowed the talented Georgia linebackers to make plays. But that became a problematic strategy when D’Andre Walker and Monty Rice both missed the conclusion of the Alabama game.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has talked a lot about creating more havoc plays in 2019. To do that, Georgia is going to need someone to really emerge along the interior of the defensive line.
Outside linebackers: Can the returning players hold off the newbies?
Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson both made strong impressions this spring for Georgia. And given their strong starts, it’s easy to see them stepping in and contributing right away.
But what about some of the returning players at the position? Adam Anderson and Brenton Cox were both 5-star recruits coming out of high school. They’re not chopped liver or anything of that ilk. Robert Beal and Walter Grant have also flashed as well.
ESPN has mentioned redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari as someone who could have a star turn this season for the Bulldogs. No outside linebacker had a better spring than Ojulari, who missed most of last season as he recovered from an ACL injury.
“I think he’s transitioned really smooth,” Smart said on Ojulari. “I think the bowl practices for he and Divaad (Wilson) and some of those younger players has almost made them like an experienced vet because they got all that work and they were able to go play the whole game like a starter. That helped his confidence now.”
Georgia needs someone to replace Walker, who was the team’s leading pass rusher last season. While Smith and Johnson will get their chance to do so, the Bulldogs also have a number of veterans they can turn to as well.
Inside linebacker: Is Nakobe Dean really this good?
The “next Roquan Smith” label has already been bestowed on the 5-star freshman.
Obviously, it’s incredibly premature to put that label on Dean given that he hasn’t played a game yet for the Bulldogs. But it’s not unfair to mention that Dean certainly looks further along than Smith did as a freshman.
“He another Roquan,” Marshall said. “He’s got speed, he’s fast. He’s smart. He already knows more plays than most of the other freshmen.”
Georgia’s inside linebackers were solid but rarely spectacular in 2019. Both Rice and Tae Crowder return to the team and figure to provide some veteran cover to the young Dean.
There’s also 2018 signees Channing Tindall and Quay Walker at the position. Like the returning outside linebackers, they will be looking to show they’ve made improvements and can be counted on as well.
But as Georgia gears up for the 2019 season, it’s clear that all eyes will be on Dean and what he can provide to Georgia right away. Smith only had 20 tackles as a true freshman. Dean had 5 stops in the G Day game for the Bulldogs.
Secondary: Can anyone push the presumed starters?
Think of this group as the inverse of the outside linebackers group. Georgia returns a lot of proven production in the secondary.
Safeties JR Reed and Richard LeCounte both started double-digit games for the Bulldogs last year. The same can be said for cornerback Tyson Campbell. Eric Stokes played very well during the stretch run of the season and arguably had the best spring practice of any Bulldog.
“He’s a kid that has come a long way from a guy that wasn’t really a DB coming out of high school to an athlete that is very conscientious about doing things the right way,” Smart said. “When you teach Stokes something, he listens and applies it. When you combine that ability with talent, you’ve got a pretty good player.”
Georgia did bring in some talented players in the secondary in the 2019 signing class. Corners DJ Daniel and Tyrique Stevenson both drew praise from Smart over the course of the 15 spring practices. Meanwhile, safety Lewis Cine had a stellar spring game for the Bulldogs as well.
Smart seems to very much like what Georgia has when it comes to the secondary. The starters could be more than enough for the Bulldogs to have one of top units in the SEC. Can Cine, Daniel or Stevenson upset the apple cart and make Georgia’s already good secondary even better?
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