ATHENS — Nakobe Dean is the man in the middle of a rapidly improving Georgia football defense. The Bulldogs can’t improve fast enough, for Dean, including himself.

“I feel like I have to work harder with not being able to have my spring and work like I want to,” said Dean, who has been limited on account of the offseason surgery he underwent to repair a torn labrum.

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“I have to work just as hard to get everyone else on board, and myself, mentally, physically and emotionally.  I feel I have to work harder to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish with the team.”

Dean, the unquestioned leader from his inside linebacker position, shared his version of what a good G-Day Scrimmage on Saturday would look like. Not surprisingly, it might not be as exciting as fans would like.

“I’d to see the execution and everyone knowing their job and of course tackling,” Dean said after practice on Tuesday. “If we do that and do it positively, and we aren’t lax out there, I feel like we’re getting better and that would be a good G-Day for the defensive side of the ball.”

Dean won’t be on the field playing in the 2 p.m. game at Sanford Stadium but he will certainly be involved.

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“I’ve never had a player in all my career of coaching who is more engaged — .you have to stay on certain guys when they are injured to stay engaged,” Coach Kirby Smart said. “Nakobe’s calling things out. He’s playing linebacker every play and is making the call from the sideline.

“You can hear him. He’s engaged. He’s on top of it.”

Dean has been compared to former UGA great Roquan Smith from the onset. A former 5-star prospect out of Horn Lake Miss., Dean ranked as the nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 19 overall player in the 2019 class.

Dean ranked among the top young linebackers as a freshman. He allowed only five catches on 14 targets for 28 lads on 149 coverage snaps, per PFF metrics.

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Dean pledged after the Sugar Bowl win over Baylor he was going to become more a vocal leader. He started backing that up last season by taking on a larger role with Monty Rice injured part of the season.

Dean led the Bulldogs in tackles with 71 last season despite playing through the torn labrum the final month of the season.

Dean went from having double-digit tackling performances against Kentucky (14), Florida (15) and Mississippi State (12), to having 2 against South Carolina and 1 against Missouri.

But it was Dean who came up with a game-saving open-field tackle on Cincinnati’s penultimate drive. Dean’s play prevented the Bearcats from running out the clock and served to set up JT Daniels’ game-winning drive.

Dean has supplanted the departing Rice as the heart of the defense. From what Smart has said, and how Dean is carrying himself, something special is happening for the Bulldogs’ reloading defense.

“It’s just knowing that we all got the same central goal, and we are working for something that is bigger than every single one of us,” Dean said. “So, we communicate with each other and continue to keep it fresh in our mind. And then we just keep working towards it every day, and if we don’t get complacent on anything and stay lax, and put our foot on the gas, then we’ll be all good.” 

“For the most part, I’ve just been out there coaching. I’ve been getting my mental reps and basically just seeing myself out there, making sure everybody is upholding the standard.”

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