NEW ORLEANS — In one breath, Jonathan Ledbetter says he has no problem at all with Deandre Baker’s decision to not play with the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. In another, says it’s something he wouldn’t consider himself and he might even try to talk Baker out of it.
Either way, Ledbetter said neither he nor any of his teammates will harbor ill feelings toward Baker for making a last-minute decision to not play in the bowl game.
“One hundred percent,” Ledbetter said of understanding the business aspect of Baker’s decision. “I mean, he’s going to be a potential first-round draft pick, kind of guaranteed. He’s a great player. He’s played a lot of games for Georgia. He’s done a lot of things and sacrificed a lot for Georgia. And, you know, I think it’s okay for him to be a little selfish at this point. Because, you know, you are starting to create your own brand when you step outside the brand of Georgia. And he’s there.”
Ledbetter said he also explored his draft prospects and considered them in context of the bowl game. After all, he, too, is a senior, a starter, a team leader, and one of the Bulldogs’ best defensive players. As such, Ledbetter is also expected to command interest from the NFL ranks.
“I thought about it, of course,” he said of skipping the bowl. “But I think my situation is different than his. His draft status is very well up there, so I understand where he’s coming from, just making sure he’s ready and able. I want to play in this game just because it will be better for me. It gives me more of an opportunity to show what I can do on the field and just increase my level of play.
Ledbetter won’t likely hear his name called until the late rounds. One mock draft has him going in the seventh round to Tampa Bay. WalterCamp.com has him rated 28th among draft-eligible defensive ends.
Hardly sure money. But that’s not necessarily what his decision to play for the Bulldogs in the bowl is about.
“I’m trying to cherish (the college experience) as much as I can,” he said. “So I’m going to play this last one with my boys. But I understand and support (Baker).”
That said, Ledbetter doesn’t think he’d skip out on the Sugar Bowl even if he was projected as an early draft prospect.
“I understand if you’re in a lower-tier bowl, but this is the Sugar Bowl,” Ledbetter said. “I’ve never been in the Sugar Bowl, I’ve never been to New Orleans and I’m excited. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, you know, but, like, I’m glad to be here. Just to have the opportunity to play in a bowl like this, as prestigious as this, is special. It’s special to Georgia. And, you know, we want to finish this season off the right way. So it doesn’t matter if it’s the national championship trophy or the Sugar Bowl trophy, we want to finish it the right way.”
Having Baker would definitely help the Bulldogs to that end. Baker was a consensus first-team All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner as Georgia’s starting right cornerback. The Bulldogs are expected to turn to freshman Tyson Campbell or redshirt freshman Mark Webb in Baker’s absence. But his 40 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and 82 yards in interception returns will definitely be missed.
But Ledbetter believes Georgia can actually recover from Baker’s loss in the secondary.
“The crazy thing about the secondary is you have to work as a unit,” said Ledbetter, who leads Georgia’s down-linemen with 51 tackles. “So it doesn’t matter who you put in that position; we have athletes all across the board. The better you work together the more successful you are. … If we stick to the scheme, communicate well and just listen, we’ll be fine.”
Ledbetter, one of Baker’s closest friends on the team, said he appreciated the way Baker went about his decision. He said Baker discussed it with his Georgia teammates first.
“He sort of got our input, so we support him,” Ledbetter said. “He’s been practicing with us the whole time and it was on his mind and you could definitely tell it was kind of bothering him. He just wanted to make sure he was healthy for his career and his future. It just kind of hit him in the middle of the week and he expressed it to us, to Kirby and to the leadership guys. He’s a leader on this team and we support him and he knows that.”
But Ledbetter said he hasn’t given up on changing Baker’s mind.
“If he decides to come back and play, we’ll let him,” Ledbetter said with a grin. “And if he doesn’t play we’ll still love him.”