ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart means it when he says there’s ongoing competition for playing time within his team, even three games into the season.
While many turn their attention to the ever-popular quarterback position, the linebacking corps is neck and neck and there’s a revolving door on the defensive line.
The Bulldogs’ talented secondary seems relatively set, but Smart has called his defensive front seven a “committee,’ and he has yet to start the same combination in the first three games.
“Y’all keep trying to make it be more than it is, it’s just four or five guys who are in the same area and if we can have fresh guys out there and they play well, we’re going to do it,” Smart said this week, asked if he was settling into a fixed rotation at linebacker. If one of them is not playing to the standard, they won’t do it.”
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (3-0) figure to get plenty of work at Missouri (3-0) in the teams’ noon game (EDT) in Columbia (TV: ESPN, RADIO: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM).
The Tigers feature the SEC’s top passer, Drew Lock, and a revamped pro-style offense operated by coordinator Derek Dooley.
Georgia’s linebacking committee will see their share of runs and passes, with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker substituting accordingly.
“There’s four guys who’ve played consistently’ if there was a dominant player, he’d play more,” Smart said, elaborating on the linebacking corps.
“Juwan [Taylor] is the guy who has probably been playing the most, Natrez [Patrick] is playing more and more, trying to bring Channing [Tindall] along. Monty [Rice] played good last game,” he said. “.Tae [Crowder} has got to continue to improve and help us. Those guys are by-committee, that’s what they are.”
Talented freshman outside linebacker Brenton Cox remains a part of the discussion and could figure more heavily into the rotation as the season progresses.
“Brenton has grown and progressed, probably hasn’t shown up in games as much as he has in practice,” Smart said. “He hasn’t had many opportunities to get out there and flash and do what I think he can do. He’s played really hard. He’s played physical. He’s very contentious about his assignments and learning those.
“Brenton has just to continue to grow up and mature. I’m hoping a lot of these freshmen, we’ve played three games now, will start to have a little confidence where they get over the butterflies and anxiety so they can go play.”
Smart said the defensive line rotation runs “seven, eight guys” deep, even though Jonathan Ledbetter, Tyler Clark and Julian Rochester have been the starting trio two of three games.
“David Marshall, Michael Barnett, Michail Carter, DaQuan [Hawkins-Muckle], Malik Herring, it’s all of them,” Smart said. “They all play. They all have a role. Again, I think playing a lot of players is good for morale.
“I think playing a lot of players keeps you fresh as long as they’re playing good and one guy isn’t outplaying the other guy.”
Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Davis is a player Smart said he hopes can find a bigger role.
“He’s one of those players we feel like is getting better and if he can continue to get better and grow and go against Lamont [Gaillard] every day, and work on the scout team and develop, that before this year’s over, he can contribute,” Smart said, “or if somebody gets hurt, he can play. We’re certainly approaching it like he can help us.”