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Juwan Taylor (44) and Monty Rice (32) are two of the leading candidates to replace Roquan Smith as Georgia's starting inside linebacker.

Georgia football: Who is the leading candidate to replace Roquan Smith?

Cy Brown

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Next man up: Inside linebacker

How do you replace a player as good as Roquan Smith? Short answer: You don’t, at least not like-for-like.

Any player who steps into Smith’s spot at inside linebacker will lack his lateral quickness and nose for the ball. Which isn’t a knock on any of the guys tasked with filling his shoes, because Smith is one of Georgia’s all-time greatest defenders, arguably its best linebacker ever. So unless Georgia is incredibly lucky (you never know), whoever replaces Smith will be a notch or two below him.

That isn’t to say the group that will compete at inside linebacker this spring is a bunch of bums. On the contrary. Neither talent nor experience will be lacking. The trick for Georgia coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be to not only find the best player, but also to find the player who meshes best with the other newcomers at outside linebacker, in the secondary and along the defensive line.

As part of my ongoing series about the most important position battles of spring practice, I’m listing, in order, the players who I think have the best chance of replacing Smith in the starting lineup.

It should be noted I’m not including Natrez Patrick in this list. His status with the team is still uncertain. If he’s back, he’ll remain a starter at ILB, just as he was in every game he wasn’t suspended for in 2017, and he’ll probably be the best linebacker on the team. If he isn’t back, two of the following guys will start this season.

So let’s get into it:

  • Monty Rice — While Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas were becoming breakout stars on offense, rising sophomore Rice was quietly putting in the work on defense, playing in 14 games and starting one. He really came on in the wake of Patrick’s suspension midway through last season, pitching in with Juwan Taylor as backups to former Dawgs starter Reggie Carter. Of the candidates to replace Smith, Rice has been the most productive and is the youngest, making him the early favorite to win the job.
  • Juwan Taylor — Like Rice, the senior started one game, but played in all 15 in 2017. However, he was slightly less productive than Rice, with 13 total tackles to Rice’s 22. This may be a case where a player’s seniority plays against him. If the competition is close between Taylor and Rice, it would behoove the coaching staff to start Rice. Younger players have more room to grow and higher ceilings. So if Taylor is going to win the job and take sole ownership of it, he not only has to beat Rice, he has to beat him soundly.
  • Tae Crowder — Whether he starts next season and is the best player on the defense or never plays another down for the Bulldogs, Crowder’s name will be long remembered by Georgia fans. His heads up play on Oklahoma’s squib quick in the first half of the Rose Bowl made sure of that. While that’s a fine legacy to leave, I’m sure Crowder, a rising junior, wants to do much more beyond special teams in his remaining time in Athens. With an open competition at ILB this spring and fall, he’ll get that chance.

Other candidates: Sophomores Nate McBride and Jaden Hunter, freshman Channing Tindall.

Position battles Right tackle

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The ball’s in his court

Former Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta was in Athens on Monday and he reportedly left with an offer for the same job at Georgia. Matta is now mulling the offer, with a decision one way or the other expected soon. (He could have even made his call by the time you read this. Check here.)

If Matta does land in Athens, it will be good, high-profile hire for Georgia, but it won’t be without its concerns. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We’re in waiting mode now. Stay tuned to DawgNation for updates.

UGA hoops loses final commit of 2019

Unsurprisingly, Mark Fox’s ouster and the uncertainty surrounding the program led the Bulldog to lose their only remaining commitment for 2019. Snellville 4-star SF Elias King rescinded his pledge Tuesday, as 5-star Ashton Hagans did a few weeks ago in the buildup to Fox’s firing. With that, UGA hoops has gone from the top recruiting class in 2019 to no commitments for 2019.

Which isn’t to say all is doom and gloom for UGA hoops recruiting. Once a coach is hired, the recruiting will sort itself out. Especially if Matta, who was a fantastic recruiter during his time at Ohio State, takes the job.

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