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Next man up: Outside linebacker
You could tell by Bill Belichick’s smile that Georgia just produced a killer crop of linebackers. The legendary New England Patriots coach spent a chunk of Georgia’s pro day Wednesday working directly with a group of linebackers many considered the best in college football last season. And who could blame him? The Patriots are in need of an overhaul on defense. By the way Belichick was looking at Georgia’s linebackers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of them on New England’s roster next fall.
But the Patriots’ potential gain is Georgia’s loss. The Bulldogs are also in the midst of a defensive overhaul, particularly at linebacker thanks to the departures of Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Reggie Carter. Last week, I wrote about the top candidates to replace Smith and Carter at inside linebacker.
Now I’ll be looking at the other half of Georgia’s linebacker corps: the “Wolfpack” a.k.a. the outside linebackers. While Kirby Smart may struggle to replace the experience of Carter and Bellamy, he shouldn’t have any trouble replacing their talent. In order, here are UGA’s top candidates to start at OLB.
1. D’Andre Walker — Despite receiving much less attention than fellow OLBs Carter and Bellamy last season, Walker, a rising senior, actually had more sacks (5½) and tackles for loss (13½) than both, and ranked second on the team in both categories. He’s the most experienced and productive OLB Georgia returns, so chances are good he’ll earn one of the two starting spots. The question is whether more snaps equal more stats from the man who was a silent workhorse of the defense in 2017.
2. Walter Grant — When you look at Grant, you can’t help but see Leonard Floyd. It’s not just that both players sported the N0. 84 at Georgia, either. Like Floyd, Grant is long (6-foot-4), relishes contact and doggedly pursues the ball carrier. He was able to rack up 2 sacks in limited playing time last season as a freshman. From what we’ve seen so far, he’s not on Floyd’s level. But he could reach that level with enough snaps. And he should earn plenty of snaps this season.
3. Robert Beal — As the last signee from the recruiting Class of 2017 to arrive on campus, Beal was on a steeper learning curve than the rest of the players in the freshman class, so he redshirted. Now Beal should be up to speed with the rest of his classmates and be prepared to compete for playing time. Like Grant, he has all the physical attributes to be a stellar player for the Bulldogs. Unlike Grant, we haven’t seen him on the field yet.
4. Brenton Cox — As good as the three aforementioned players are, there are plenty of incoming freshmen who could conceivably take their jobs. Smart recruited one of the most stacked groups of OLB recruits ever assembled in UGA’s latest recruiting class. Every one of the four OLBs brought in as part of the 2018 recruiting class is talented enough to start one day, maybe even one day soon. But I’m giving the biggest leg up to Cox for the sole reason that he’s already on campus learning the playbook. Although he has the size to grow into a defensive lineman if needed, he’s starting out at OLB. Because of his versatility and the immense quantity of talented OLBs, if coaches stick with Cox at OLB, chances are he’s a really good.
Other candidates — Adam Anderson, Quay Walker, Azeez Ojulari, Jaleel Laguins, Keyon Brown
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Pro day roundup
As expected, all 32 NFL teams were represented at Georgia’s pro day. The trip to Athens was a can’t-miss one for NFL brass, as a whopping 21 former Bulldogs worked out on Wednesday. The massive interest in UGA prospects by NFL teams is as good a validation as any — besides a national title game appearance — of the outstanding work Smart has done so far in Athens. Of course, that work continues as Smart attempts to replace his NFL-bound former players. That’s what I call a “good problem.”
With such a sizable class of draft prospects, one might assume a gaggle of juniors decided to jump early. But only two juniors made the leap — Smith and Trenton Thompson. Smith a projected top-15 pick and will attend the draft in person with the rest of the likely early first-rounders.
One final bit of news to come out of pro day was the info that offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn played hurt during Georgia’s College Football Playoff run after tearing his labrum late in the season against Kentucky. So make sure you add “tough” to the ever-growing list of adjectives that describe Wynn.
Question of the day
In the Wednesday post, Seth Emerson of DawgNation tackles this question: Will more freshman get playing time this year than last? Take some time to read the post if you’re interested in the young guys on the team. It’s a good primer for what to expect from the freshmen this season.
Tom Crean speaks on Jordan Harris
New Georgia hoops coach Tom Crean held an impromptu presser with members of the media at pro day. One of the subject’s he spoke on was the status of sophomore guard Jordan Harris, who was suspended indefinitely by Mark Fox at midseason for a violation of team rules.
“I’m going to evaluate every part of it,” Crean said of Harris’ status, according to Jason Butt of the Telegraph. “I’m not going to assume. I’m not going to judge. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pay attention. I think anybody who says, ‘We’re walking in with a clean slate’ – that’s partially true. I’m walking in but what’s been done is done. Now I want to see it with my own eyes. I want to see what things looks like. We brought him back, he’s been in the meeting, he was in the workouts. And as is everyone else in there.”
Dawgs on Twitter
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) March 21, 2018
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) March 22, 2018
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) March 21, 2018
I think these pups are broken.
Help I can’t get off! pic.twitter.com/1hBNbTJauK
— 🐕 (@Dogs_Purpose) March 21, 2018
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