Following first scrimmage, Kirby Smart still looking for more consistency from Georgia defensive line
ATHENS, Ga., — In terms of hype, the Georgia defensive line might be the least talked about position group on the team. There isn’t an abundance of 5-stars in the group like outside linebacker or at running back.
And the group can’t look back point and to a strong 2018 like Jake Fromm or the defensive backs can. A season ago, the defensive line was the weakest unit on Georgia’s defense. While the Bulldogs were one of the nation’s best defenses in terms of big-play prevention, they struggled to create disruptive plays. Of Georgia’s 24 sacks last season, only 8 came from defensive linemen. And no member of the group finished with more than 1.5.
“We’ve got to play better on the d-line. We’ve got to cause more havoc,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We’ve done that in some practices but we haven’t done that consistently.”
The group returns most of its contributors from a season ago, with Jonathan Ledbetter being the only exception. Georgia did bring in a lot of extra help at the position, as the Bulldogs signed five defensive linemen in the 2019 signing class.
The highest-rated prospect of the group is Travon Walker. He was a 5-star prospect in the 2019 class and the first 5-star defensive lineman that Georgia has signed in the Smart era.
Walker earned high praise from Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning earlier this month, but it was more based on his potential than what he had actually been able to do on the field to this point.
“I’m definitely excited to see what he can do,” Lanning said. “He’s a guy that’s good moving but he’s also strong enough to hold the point. So, I don’t think I would put a ceiling on Travon.”
Don’t expect a ton from Walker or any of the other three freshman defensive linemen right away. Smart said during his press conference on Saturday that the four players aren’t sure of everything they’re doing yet, given that they’ve only just arrived at Georgia. It’s very much like moving to a new city and trying to find your way to the supermarket.
As for some of the returning players who will likely be making bigger contributions, the first guy to look at is Jordan Davis. The sophomore nose tackle really made a difference for Georgia last season when he was inserted into the line-up. Davis excels at taking up blockers, thus freeing up teammates to make plays.
But Davis’ conditioning level is something that has required constant monitoring. When Davis does receive a compliment, it’s quickly followed by a comment about his physical fitness.
“Defensive linemen, everybody is improving,” Georgia offensive lineman Ben Cleveland said. “I know Jordan Davis is in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in right now.”
The two players most likely to help create more “havoc” plays in 2019 are junior Malik Herring and senior Tyler Clark. Herring played well when called upon in 2018, specifically in the Florida and Georgia Tech games. Now with Ledbetter in the NFL, he should have more opportunities.
Many remember Clark’s stellar performance in the 2018 Rose Bowl, where he finished with 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack. But that didn’t transfer over into his junior season, as saw his tackles for loss and sacks both regress.
Other names to watch along the defensive line include Justin Young, Michael Barnett, Devontae Wyatt and Tramel Walthour. The Bulldogs are also expected to get contributions from seniors David Marshall and Julian Rochester once they are fully healthy. Marshall is recovering from Lisfranc surgery, while Rochester missed all of spring practice due to an ACL injury.
Traditionally, Georgia has relied on its linebackers to be the ones who create disruptive plays. The 2017 team excelled because of Roquan Smith. And Smith was free to make plays all over the field because the defensive line made life easier for him.
But the Bulldogs almost certainly don’t have a Smith-type disruptor on the 2019 team. That’s why Smart has put a lot of pressure on this position group — as well as the whole team — to do more in 2019.
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