Position Plus/Minus: A deeper look at the Georgia football outside linebackers
Every Tuesday, we’re going to take a deep dive on every Georgia position in the run-up to the 2020 season. Georgia figures to have one of the most talented teams in the country and the Bulldogs have a number of talented players across the board. But there are still some questions that have to be answered if the Bulldogs are to achieve their end goals.
This week we take a look at the outside linebackers.
Plus: Returning production
Last season Georgia outside linebackers racked up 13.5 sacks. All of the players who contributed to that total return this season for Georgia, as the Bulldogs will have back all of their 2019 outside linebackers on the 2020 team.
This group will be led by redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari, who led the team in sacks last season with 5.5. He figures to be the starter at the Jack position for the Bulldogs and a possible All-SEC player if he continues to develop.
Georgia also brings back Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson, who had promising first seasons for the Bulldogs. The two each had 2.5 sacks last season and now have another year in the Georgia system. Smith figures to take reps at the Jack spot with Ojulari, while Johnson figures to be a big contributor at the Sam position, while both also figure to factor into Georgia’s third-down defense.
The Bulldogs also have veterans at the position in senior Walter Grant and junior Adam Anderson. Both have played a variety of roles for the Georgia defense in the past couple of seasons and figure to once again be versatile players in the Georgia defense.
And Georgia went out and added a talented freshman to the group as well, as it signed 4-star prospect Mekhail Sherman out of Washington D.C. Sherman just missed being ranked as a 5-star prospect, as the 247Sports Composite rankings had Sherman as the No. 32 overall player in the 2020 recruiting rankings.
Minus: Lack of production
If there’s one knock against the Georgia defense it’s that it didn’t create enough negative plays last season compared to other elite teams. The Bulldogs ranked 46th in sacks and 60th in tackles for loss last season. The four College Football Playoff teams all ranked in the top-25 of that category.
Georgia has to get better in that category and that starts at the outside linebacker spot. Ojulari, Smith, Johnson and the bunch certainly have the talent to help improve those numbers and they’ll most likely have the greatest number of opportunities to do so.
As Ojulari, Smith and Johnson get more comfortable and confident in Georgia’s defense, they’ll have a chance to create more of those sacks and tackles for loss. If Ojuarli could go from say 5.5 sacks to 8.5 sacks and Johnson and Smith both could get to say 5.0 sacks each for that would go a long way in helping improve those numbers.
Plus: Another season with Dan Lanning
Lanning has quickly been regarded as one of the best young defensive minds in college football. In addition to his impressive recruiting chops, Lanning also earned a lot of praise for how he directed Georgia’s defense last season.
The Bulldogs did rank first in the country in both scoring defense and rushing defense last season. And while the aforementioned sacks and tackle for loss numbers weren’t great, they were still an improvement over the 2019 numbers.
Like the on-field personnel, Lanning returns this year with more experience under his belt. This won’t be his first time handling the defensive coordinator responsibilities, meaning he’ll have a better idea of how to handle the rigors of that job while also coaching Georgia’s outside linebackers.
As Lanning continues to grow as a defensive coordinator, he’ll likely continue to put his outside linebackers in a better position to succeed.
Minus: Positional overlap among top players
With a position group that is so deep and flush with talent, there’s naturally going to be some overlap among talented players at the same position. That is certainly the case at outside linebacker.
Both Ojulari and Smith would be great options at the Jack position. The same could be said for Johnson and Grant, whose started at the position for Georgia over each of the past two seasons, at the Sam spot.
Lanning, co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann and Kirby Smart are going to have to figure out how to mix and match the players at the outside linebacker spot to get the most out of the Georgia defense. Trying to figure out how to play Ojulari and Smith at the same time is a great problem to have, but it’s still something the coaching staff will have to solve for the 2020 season.
More Georgia football stories from this weekend
- Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at Georgia’s offensive line for the 2020 season
- Position Plus/Minus: A deep dive into the tight end position for Georgia football
- Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at Georgia football wide receivers in 2020
- Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at Georgia football 2020 running backs
- Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at the Georgia football quarterback position in 2020
- WATCH: Latest Georgia workout video highlights George Pickens, wide receivers
- ESPN expert: Georgia could ‘slip up’ against rising Tennessee Vols
- N.Y. Giants reports: Andrew Thomas signs $32 million deal; DeAndre Baker on commissioner’s exempt list
- WATCH: 2023 Elite legacy recruit Justin Benton explains why Georgia is ‘home’
- College football season update: What’s next amid Covid-19 crises
- Georgia football podcast: The ultimate cure for UGA’s 2021 recruiting woes