Georgia linebackers ready to shuffle in Music City, match Vanderbilt personnel and quarterbacks

Georgia football-nolan smith-Jermaine johnson
Georgia linebackers Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson will shuffle into the action against Vanderbilt.

NASHVILLE — Georgia coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning take specialization to another level when it comes to the linebacking corps.

The Bulldogs’ defense will shuffle players on and off the field each snap in the Music City, the ESPN game kicking off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

RELATED: Rising star linebacker among 7 to watch for Bulldogs vs. Vandy

The Commodores have played coy a quarterback, not announcing a starter between Riley Neal and Deuce Wallace.

Smart countered on Friday, sending word the Bulldogs will break protocol and not release their travel roster before kickoff. Already, Georgia has declined to release a two-deep depth chart.

It’s a safe bet the Bulldogs have come loaded at linebacker. Smart has said No. 3-ranked Georgia will be ready for either Vanderbilt quarterback.

The Bulldogs head coach explained the complexity of Georgia’s substitution pattern — inside and out — earlier this week in Athens.

“Outside (linebacker) is really a fresh thing, because I look at the outside linebackers as part of the defensive front, so you don’t play any of those guys every single snap,” Smart said. “They roll in by series, they roll in by circumstances.”

Georgia lists its base defense as a 3-4 alignment. But most teams choose to spread out the Bulldogs with multiple receivers, triggering UGA to adjust to a 3-3-5 alignment.

In that scenario, only one outside linebacker is on the field. Georgia has several options.

“We have Jermaine [Johnson], Walter [Grant], Azeez [Ojulari], Adam [Anderson],” middle linebacker Monty Rice said on Wednesday. “We have a bunch of different dudes that can do a bunch of different things. … we have some elite guys this year.”

Rice, himself, is an elite player, projected to start alongside senior Tae Crowder as the inside linebackers.

The rotation pattern inside, Smart explained, is different.

“Inside backer is based on if they have two tight ends in the game, do they have one tight end in the game, do they have no tight ends in the game, (or) is it third down?” Smart said. “There’s a lot of decisions. Some guys play better in space, some guys play better in the box. Some guys just play better altogether.”

Bulldogs’ Outland Trophy Candidate Andrew Thomas explained how challenging the UGA outside linebackers have made practices.

“What makes them so good is they are all different,” Thomas said. “We just got out of doing 2-minute drill, and you’re going against one rusher, and then the next thing you know, there’s another and he’s fresh, and he’s a totally different kind of guy.

“That can put a strain on an offensive line.”

Smart said in spring drills that new outside linebackers Nolan Smith and Johnson were making “Superman” plays at times

The Bulldogs head coach explained how he’ll play the appropriate superheroes depending on whether it’s Neal or Wallace under center.

“Each guy has his strength, and we try to put our strength on the field based on what the other team is doing,” Smart said. “So being that I don’t know Vanderbilt’s game plan, I can’t tell you the rotation of the linebackers.”

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