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Georgia football could see defensive end Mykel Williams contribute immediately as a freshman. He was the No. 4 overall player in the 2022 recruiting class. (Photo by Jeff Sentell, Edit by Connor Riley)

Why Georgia football can expect freshman defenders to make an early impact

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Georgia football freshman defenders will get the opportunity to make an early impact

Kirby Smart pointed out many times that talent was not the reason for Brock Bowers’ success last season. As a freshman, Bowers led the team in every receiving category and set a school record for touchdown catches in a season with 13.

Dating back to spring practice, Bowers quickly turned heads at Georgia. He was too good to not make some sort of impact at Georgia in his first year on campus. But when Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick both sustained foot injuries last August, it opened the door even further for Bowers to see the field.

Once given that opportunity, Bowers took advantage of it and became one of the best players in the country.

Georgia is hoping a few members of this year’s freshman class produce similar results. Not everyone is going to go full Bowers, but when you sign 11 top-100 recruits you’re going to have plenty of bites at the apple.

Most of those come on the defensive side of the ball, with the Bulldogs signing five 5-star defensive players. That doesn’t include the likes of Jalon Walker, who stood out during the team’s spring game. The best parts of this past signing class undoubtedly come from the defensive side of the ball.

And those players will have an opportunity, much like Bowers did a season ago, to make an early impact at Georgia.

When you have the kind of talent exodus on the defensive side of the ball, you tend to have plenty of holes to fill. Georgia saw seven starters depart its defense from a season ago. Some of those holes have ready-made replacements with the likes of Zion Logue at nose tackle or Jamon-Dumas Johnson at inside linebacker.

But a handful of those positions aren’t quite as well-equipped with reinforcements. That is where some of the top signees in Georgia’s prior recruiting class have the best chance.

Related: Cover 4 on Georgia football: Which true freshman are you most excited to see this fall?

Consider the defensive end position. After Travon Walker became the No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Georgia brings in 5-star signee Mykel Williams. The Columbus, Ga., native won’t be an exact replica of Walker — there just aren’t many players like Walker on the planet — but Williams is someone who the Georgia coaching staff is excited to implement on the defensive side of the ball.

“I left work the other day on a Sunday, and he’s out there hitting a sled on Sunday,” Smart said of Williams at SEC media days. “When you have a freshman that’s out there on Sunday on his own, on turf, 115 degrees out there, he’s out there striking a sled, something special.

“He’s talented. I’m excited for him. I can’t say what his role is going to be right now because I don’t know fully which way we’ll use him, where we’ll play him.”

Related: Standout freshmen, Arik Gilbert updates and other key Georgia football takeaways from SEC media days

At corner, Georgia brings back Kelee Ringo. But opposite the hero of the national championship game, Georgia lacks a proven option. Kamari Lassiter and Nyland Green are the second and third most veteran options at the position. Both are entering just their second seasons at Georgia.

Much of the depth at Georgia’s cornerback spot is comprised of freshmen. The Bulldogs signed four cornerbacks in the 2022 recruiting class. Daylen Everette got a jumpstart on the other three as he participated in spring drills. Jaheim Singletary, Julian Humphrey and Marcus Washington Jr., all arrived this summer and will look to push for early playing time.

Even at positions where Georgia brings back talent, they have a freshman who could push for playing time. Nolan Smith and Robert Beal give Georgia two experienced players at the outside linebacker position for this fall. It’s one of the few spots on defense where Georgia has real experience and a solid depth chart, with MJ Sherman and Chaz Chambliss behind them on the depth chart.

The Bulldogs though signed three edge rushers in this past cycle. Marvin Jones Jr. is the most impressive of the trio and one of the biggest recruiting wins for the Bulldogs, as Georgia beat out Alabama, USC and Oklahoma to land the No. 24 overall player in the last cycle.

While the Bulldogs won’t hit the practice field in an official capacity until this week, Smith has already come away impressed with Jones.

“Marvin, I watch him. He’s in my position group, and I’m the most excited to see him just because when he came in, he’s a great pass rusher, good arms, great length and he just works so hard,” Smith said. “He’s not one of those guys with a big head. He’s just here to work and I can work with any man like that.”

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