MOBILE, Ala. — Three years ago, Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter wouldn’t have walked away from the sort of scuffle that broke out at Wednesday’s Senior Bowl practice at South Alabama.
But as much as Ledbetter has improved as a football player under coach Kirby Smart the past three seasons, he has also grown into a man and team leader, one of four permanent captains in 2018.
“I’ve just matured, I’ve learned to carry myself a different way,” said Ledbetter, who exchanged shoves with Old Dominion defensive end Oshane Ximines over a debate in the repetition order.
“I didn’t come here to fight …. (but) three years ago, I’d have fought him. My friend called me afterward, said ‘Man you’ve grown up, because the old you would have blacked out and fought him.”
Instead, Ledbetter stepped back and encouraged Ximines.
“I told him when I got behind him, I just said ‘win the rep,’ I told him that about 30 times. win the rep, win the rep, win the rep,” Ledbetter told DawgNation. “Then I won my next rep, I knocked my guy back 5 or 6 yards off the ball, and I said to him, ‘Look man, we’re on the same team, I want you to win your rep, just like I want to win my rep.’
“He was just saying he’s from the smaller school and he’s got a lot to prove, and I said I’ve got a lot to prove, too, I said you’ve got a good draft grade, and I’m projected in a lower round,” Ledbetter said. “Everybody has something to prove here.
“I respect his mindset, but I can’t let someone walk over me, but I’m also not going to break into a full brawl. We’re here for business.”
ESPN analyst and former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic, who alertly spotted the exchange and shared it on Twitter, said Ledbetter proved quite a bit to NFL scouts and coaches with the way he handled the situation.
“You want guys that want to compete and want to be there and want to get the reps,” Cubelic told DawgNation. “Ledbetter showed restraint, and that’s also a positive because we know most times the guy who retaliates gets a 15 yard penalty.”
Cubelic said Ledbetter, who has been projected as a fourth-to-sixth round pick, has as much to gain as anyone in the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl game (TV: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network).
“He’s a guy that’s not going to go out there and wow you with quickens, or straight-line speed and flexility,” Cubelic said. “He’s gong to have to be a grinder.”
Ledbetter has proven that from the first day in Mobile, and he says he’ll give it all he has got at the next stage of the team’s draft evaluation process at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Defensive lineman are there March 2-3.
“I’m just going to try to run fast, and I know my broad jump will be good,” Ledbetter said. “I’m just me, nobody else, I’ll do everything I can do.”