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Tony Walsh / UGA Sports
The Georgia defense, led by Monty Rice and Richard LeCounte, looks to be as good as ever this season.

Georgia football defense stock report: Buy in now

ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has accomplished plenty his first four years as the Bulldogs’ head coach, but he’s not one to reflect on success.

“No, because we haven’t gotten to where we want to go, and we know that,” Smart said in a recent ESPPN podcast interview. “I think everybody understands that in this building and part of this organization.

“We try not to let the outside noise affect us, we know our goals we know our aspirations, we know the capabilities we have.”

RELATED: Georgia football preseason overview, view from 10,000 feet

The team’s ceiling is largely because of Georgia’s championship level defense.

It’s a group that returns 80 percent of its production from last year’s unit, a group that ranked No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in rushing defense, No. 3 in total defense and No. 8 in pass efficiency defense.

“I’m not looking backwards on things we’ve done, just like I’m not trying to look way out forward, either,” Smart said.

“I”m trying to look day-by-day at this thing as we go through it.”

Here’s a “stock report” look at each of the defensive position groups.

Defensive Line (UP)

War horses Tyler Clark, David Marshall and Michael Barnett are gone, their contributions appreciated but not likely missed on account of a star-studded returning cast.

Sophomore defensive end Travon Walker might be the most valuable player on the team to invest in, if he were a stock. Between Walker and Malik Herring — the highest rated returning defensive lineman in the SEC per Pro Football Focus — UGA figures to cause problems for offenses at the position.

Smart said he considers outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson as down linemen. These pass-rushing specialists make it seem almost unfair. All three are future NFL players, athletic, strong at the point of attack and quick off the edge.

Devonte Wyatt returns at defensive tackle where he was second on the defense in quarterback pressures and first among interior linemen in tackles. Wyatt looks to be a leader in the group, though fifth-year senior Julian Rochester might also step up after redshirting last season.

Fan-favorite Jordan Davis brings size and athleticism to the nose guard position, and many are excited about true freshman Jalen Carter.

Linebacker (UP)

Monty Rice is a three-year starter at middle linebacker and the heart of the defense. If you’re looking for the biggest reason the Bulldogs didn’t give up a rushing touchdown until the 10th game of last season, it was Rice.

As much as Rice is about filling gaps and making stops, he also sets the tone in the huddle and off the field. Coordinator Dan Lanning has said Rice is a player the defense feeds off of, and his injury in 2018 was likely the difference in Georgia losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

Nakobe Dean is expected to line up alongside Rice, and he could be the catalyst the Bulldogs have been missing since Roquan Smith’s departure. Dean is a playmaker with great quickness and instincts. As effective as New York Giants draft pick Tae Crowder was last season, Dean could represent a step up.

Somewhere, Adam Anderson fits in, be that here or on the defensive line. But Anderson is another talent who is expected to grow more into a more diverse role this season.

Quay Walker and Channing Tindall are two other names to watch for, as Lanning finds ways to utilize all of the defensive talent and keep rotations fresh.

Secondary (UP)

Some were concerned when safety J.R. Reed announced he wasn’t going to make the trip to the Sugar Bowl, but the three-year starter was not missed.

Rising senior Richard LeCounte lll had much to do with that, and he asserted himself as a leader and gave Lewis Cine — Reed’s replacement — all the confidence he would need.

Backup defensive backs Divaad Wilson and Otis Reese will put a dent in the team’s depth at the start of the season ad will be missed as teammates, but their losses will not bring down the unit’s gold standard level of play.

Georgia has a good problem with three cornerbacks deserving of starting time, from Eric Stokes to Tyson Campbell to DJ Daniel.

Then you add highly-touted cornerback recruit Kelee Ringo to the mix, and you wonder if Ringo might be better off competing at the Star position with senior Mark Webb and sophomore Tyrique Stevenson.

Or, will Stevenson get some work at safety? Or might he possible be employed as a hybrid linebacker, like Smart attempted to do against LSU?

Early word is freshman Jalen Kimber has quickly impressed as a cornerback, too, so the Bulldogs have arguably the best secondary top to bottom in the nation.

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