ATHENS – After highlighting so many areas of uncertainty, then pointing out an area of strength, we now return to … well, something in between.
Writing this series, going through Georgia’s depth chart by each position group, has generally brought home just how many questions this team has entering the preseason. It’s not just about starting spots, or injuries, but performance. The running theme for Georgia football’s roster: A lot of talent and potential, but lacking experience or certain starters in many critical spots.
One of the few exceptions was at outside linebacker, where the only question is whether Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy can be stars. We know the starters there. We even know the top backups.
Inside linebacker, meanwhile, does also have a measure of confidence. The two starters are pretty certain, and there’s an experienced top backup, and a fourth highly-touted inside linebacker.
That doesn’t mean all is settled, and the upside isn’t as strong as it is at outside linebacker. So, after analyzing the situations at:
We now delve into …
- Returning starter: None.
- Top candidate: Reggie Carter, Jr.
- Top competition: Roquan Smith, Soph.
- The rest: Ryne Rankin, Sr.; Juwan Taylor, Soph.; Jaleel Laguins, Fr.; Ridge Underwood, Sr. (walk-on).
- The skinny: Carter’s importance to the team this year is underrated, as pointed out earlier this summer. He enters the preseason as the potential captain of the inexperienced front seven, and will likely occupy the Mike linebacker role, a huge spot for leadership. Carter missed most of last season with shoulder problems, but was healthy in the spring and earned the trust of the coaches. Smith, meanwhile, had a quiet freshman season after arriving on campus with plenty of help. Then he was very limited in spring practice after wrist surgery. Assuming he’s recuperated, it’ll be interesting to see if he makes a big move during preseason practice.
- Prediction: Carter starts, Smith earns some snaps off the bench.
- Returning starter: None.
- Top candidate: Natrez Patrick (started two games last year).
- Top competition: Tim Kimbrough, Sr.
- The rest: Rankin, Taylor, Laguins, Underwood.
- The skinny: Patrick started the final two games last year, the first against Georgia Tech because of the unique defensive alignment, and then the bowl game after Kimbrough’s suspension. It was a well-used opportunity for Patrick, who finished spring with the edge over Kimbrough, a hard-hitting linebacker who started seven games last year. There’s likely to still be a place on this defense for Kimbrough, who is Georgia’s leading returning tackler, with 67 last year. But Patrick’s steady play makes it hard to take him off the field. Meanwhile, the preseason will be an opportunity for Taylor and Laguins to try to squeeze their way into the two deep. That’ll be hard, considering the top four in place.
- Prediction: Patrick is the first-teamer, but Kimbrough (and Smith) both see time in third-down roles, or perhaps even second and first downs in certain packages.
Next: Defensive backs.