3 Georgia spring football questions for linebacking corps: Most improved unit?
ATHENS — Amazingly, Georgia has had just two first-team All-SEC defensive players as selected by the league coaches in the last five years combined.
The Bulldogs appear to have the talent and depth to replace 2018 selection, cornerback Deandre Baker.
But no one on the roster has looked close to stepping into the shoes of 2017 Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith.
None of last year’s Georgia linebackers, in fact, started all of the games for head coach and noted defensive guru Kirby Smart.
UGA went linebacker by committee last season, unable to find an alpha dog outside of outside linebacker D’Andre Walker, the only player of note in the group.
Outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning and Inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann received promotions to coordinator and co-defensive coordinator and $700,000 in raises, so Smart must feel they are doing great development work.
Georgia’s linebackers were anything but impressive the last time they took the field, however, getting outplayed by Texas in a 28-21 Sugar Bowl loss.
Here are three questions about the Georgia linebacking corps for spring drills
Is Monty Rice the answer?
Rice was a game captain and popular Smart pick for media interviews, sent out as a team representative often, a sign of the head coach’s confidence in him.
That said, not everyone was so convinced Rice would be the answer to replace Smith, even after his 14-tackle performance in the 2018 G-Day game.
“Monty Rice can’t hold Roquan Smith’s jock,” one former Georgia assistant coach told an AJC-DawgNation reporter last summer.
To be fair, it could be a while before UGA produces another SEC Defensive Player of the Year like Smith.
Rice was third on the UGA defense last season with 59 tackles, despite playing in just 10 games. Rice, however, had just one sack and one forced fumble, and no interceptions.
Georgia has 5-star talent at the linebacker position, both inside and outside.
The Bulldogs have an impressive list of players in the linebacking corps who received a 5-star rating from at least one ratings service.
• Robert Beal 6-4, 244
• Brenton Cox 6-4, 245
• Adam Anderson 6-5, 225
• Nakobe Dean 6-0, 220
• Nolan Smith, 6-3, 227
Will a 2019 starter or perhaps even first-team All-SEC selection emerge from that group in spring drills?
Who’s No. 1?
Georgia signed the No. 1 junior college player in the nation in Jermaine Johnson, a 6-6, 250-pounder originally from Eden Prairie, Minn. who comes to Athens by way of Independence Community College in Kansas.
Johnson, who chose UGA over Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon, among others, has opened eyes in the weight room and offseason workouts.
Weight room workouts and high recruiting rankings don’t always translate to success, particularly in the ultra-competitive SEC.
It wasn’t so long ago that Tennessee signed a No. 1-ranked junior college player named Jonathan Kongbo, a 6-5, 264-pound supposed can’t-miss star.
Suffice it to say, Kongbo — who also held offers for Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State — missed.
Spring will be telling for Johnson, along with several other Georgia linebackers who look to make their position group the most improved on the team in 2019.