ATHENS – As we’ve gone through each Georgia position group in the lead-up to practice, the theme with each has been uncertainty. Whether it’s injury, suspension, position status, or just competition, every spot has had uncertainty.
That stops here.
There’s no burying the lead at outside linebacker. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy are the starters, period. Their top backups are pretty clear too. Boom, we’re done here.
Well, technically there are a couple matters to resolve:
How good will Carter and Bellamy be as they step into roles vacated by Leonard Floyd (the ninth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft) and Jordan Jenkins (a third-round pick)?
Who else might break into the two-deep, or be ready for a bigger role if they’re needed?
That’s what we’ll be watching at outside linebacker next week. Still, let’s be real: If Kirby Smart needs to send any of his nine assistants out to get lunch it will be Kevin Sherrer, who as outside linebackers coach has the least stress to deal with in August. (At least for now.)
So far in this series we’ve broken down the major questions heading into preseason at:
Now we come to the relatively boring, Tim Kaine-esque situations at:
- Returning starter: None.
- Top candidate: Lorenzo Carter, Jr. (Started two games in 2015).
- Top competition: D’Andre Walker, Soph.
- The rest: Chauncey Manac, Fr.; David Marshall, Fr.; Shaun McGee, Jr.; Keyon Brown, Soph.
- The skinny: The only question at the top here is whether Carter is the elite talent he was projected to be out of high school and looked like as a freshman (4.5 sacks in part-time duty) or the troubling signs of last year (no sacks or TFLs) carry into this year. The signs were good coming out of spring practice. There are also high hopes for Walker, a long and athletic defender who will get some snaps. After that, it’ll be very interesting to watch how Manac and Marshall do. They’re high-upside freshmen, neither of whom look like they need much time in the weight room to be ready for the SEC. Do they push their way into playing time?
- Prediction: Carter starts (duh), Carter carves out a role off the bench in some packages, potentially at OLB if/when Carter slides down to defensive end … a possibility with all the attrition there.
- Returning starter: None.
- Top candidate: Davin Bellamy, Jr. (Started two games in 2015).
- Top competition: Chuks Amaechi, Sr.
- The rest: Manac, Marshall, Johnny O’Neal, Sr.; Jaleel Laguins, Fr. ; Tommy Long, Sr. (walk-on); Michael Keene, Fr. (walk-on).
- The skinny: Bellamy was actually ahead of Carter in the pecking order for most of last year. Bellamy had three sacks and nine QB hurries last year, despite missing three games, and in a full-time role it’ll be interesting to see what he does. Is he the steady, every-snap guy, while Carter is the guy usually unleashed on the quarterback? Then there’s Amaechi, who like Walker may be too good not to play. Bellamy also has the size to slide down to defensive end, which may be how Amaechi sees the field. Laguins probably plays more inside linebacker. O’Neal, McGee and Brown will serve as depth, which is underwhelming praise, but so be it. There’s just too much talent ahead of them on the depth chart.
- Prediction: Bellamy starts, and Amaechi becomes the first outside linebacker off the bench, his experience giving him the edge over Walker. Then either Manac or Marshall, but not both, gets snaps in Week 2 against Nicholls State in preparation for perhaps a bigger role down the road.
Next up: Inside linebackers.