Chidera Uzo-Diribe gushes about 2023 UGA outside linebacker signees: ‘It’s gonna be awesome to see’
Welcome to Good Day, UGA, your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes. Check us out every weekday morning for everything you need to know about Georgia football, recruiting, basketball and more.
Georgia football outside linebackers early enrollees
Georgia needed to retool at the outside linebacker position. With Nolan Smith and Robert Beal entering their final years at Georgia, the Bulldogs knew they were going to have to hit the recruiting trail hard under first-year position coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe.
“We’re trying to get that room back to where it’s been in the past,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said during the early signing period. “You know, there was a time when there were three or four really high draft picks in that room. That’s what you want in that skill set. That helps you on third down. Those body types help you on special teams.”
At one point Georgia had Azeez Ojulari, a second-round pick, Jermaine Johnson, a first-round pick and Nolan Smith, a projected first or second-round pick, on the roster. Adding three top 100 overall prospects in Damon Wilson, Samuel M’Pemba and Gabe Harris will go a long way in re-stocking the position and returning it to that point when Ojulari, Johnson and Smith got after opposing quarterbacks.
Similar to Ojulari, Johnson and Smith when they first arrived at Georgia, the 2023 trio is going to have an opportunity to play immediately.
MJ Sherman transferred to Nebraska this offseason, clearing one more veteran presence in the room. But even before the season, Wilson, Harris and M’Pemba will get to soak up a lot of reps as Marvin Jones Jr. is set to miss spring practice following shoulder surgery.
Related: Marvin Jones Jr. to miss spring drills due to surgery per report
“We’re gonna have to look for some guys that can compete and contribute,” Georgia outside linebacker coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe told DawgNation prior to the national championship game. “It’s going to be great to get those guys early. To come out there and see what they’re going to be able to do this spring and obviously this offseason. It’s gonna be awesome to see what those guys can do.”
Wilson may be closest to contributing for Georgia. M’Pemba hasn’t been playing the position for long, while Harris may ultimately move to the defensive end. But as both Uzo-Diribe and Smart point out, all three players offer a size upgrade over where the position has been in recent seasons.
Wilson checks in at 6-foot-4, whereas Smith and Ojulari were both at 6-foot-2. That length should help them against offensive tackles while giving their bodies the ability to add weight.
“When we’ve been at our best, we’ve had a lot of speed and athleticism in that room, and we’re trying to get back to it,” Smart said. “We hope these guys can do that and provide some defensive end help as well when it comes to playing 4-3 and having two guys out there.”
Wilson was the highest-ranked of the trio, as he was the No. 20 overall player in the class. Georgia had to beat Ohio State to land him and playing time, of the immediate variety, was a factor in his recruitment. M’Pemba and Harris were equally highly coveted and played for IMG Academy this past season. The list of Bulldogs who played there before starring at Georgia is long and includes Smith.
As for what the Bulldogs return in addition to Jones at the position, Chaz Chambliss is the most senior member of the group. He enters his third year in the program and was the main beneficiary of Smith’s mid-season pectoral injury.
Georgia will see Darris Smith and CJ Madden get more reps this offseason as they enter their second years in the program. Smith moved around last season, playing some at the star position in the secondary but the belief is that he will practice with the outside linebackers in the spring.
Then there is the case of Jalon Walker. The rising sophomore came to Georgia with the intention of being an inside linebacker. But he proved to be too talented to keep off the field as a freshman and as numbers dwindled at the outside linebacker position, the Bulldogs felt comfortable moving Walker to the outside.
He earned a spot in Georgia’s pressure package and came down with his first career sack in the national championship game against TCU.
What Georgia elects to do with Walker this spring and offseason could be very telling about how quickly the 2023 signees get onto the field next season. Georgia brings back both starting inside linebackers in Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson. Rian Davis and Xavian Sorey are also set to return at the position as well. Walker is simply too talented to be kept off the field for the Bulldogs in 2023.
Related: Georgia freshman Jalon Walker reflects on future, first career sack in 65-7 CFP title game win over TCU
Either way, Georgia will have plenty of young options to turn to at the outside linebacker position. That will be a blessing and a curse for Uzo-Diribe and the defensive staff. As is the case with any young player, there will be growing pains when relying on so many unproven players.
But Georgia was led in sacks this past season by a freshman in Mykel Williams. He is a defensive end and not an outside linebacker, but his best work came on third down or obvious pass rushing packages. That is where Wilson, or M’Pemba or Harris could potentially come in and help as well.