1/10/22 - Indianapolis -Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart with Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) after his blocked field goal in the third quarter at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Georgia football needs Jalen Carter to answer Kirby Smart’s challenge starting in spring practice

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Jalen Carter is the most important Georgia Bulldog this spring

With Brock Bowers out for spring practice due to shoulder surgery, Jalen Carter is easily the most talented Bulldog going through practices this spring. Given the defense losses a number of key contributors this offseason, it’s going to need Carter to be even better than he was a season ago.

That’s saying quite a lot. Most remember his field goal block in the national championship game, along with him opening holes on the goalline. But Carter has always been at his best when lined up at the defensive tackle position, smashing opposing offensive linemen and harassing ball carriers.

“Carter is definitely going to be amazing, like man’s got talent, he’s strong, he’s fast, and I can’t wait to see him play next year,” former Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt told reporters while speaking at the NFL combine. “I can’t wait to see him go through the whole process I am going through right now. As long as he keeps his head straight and stays positive, the sky’s the limit for him.”

Georgia is definitely going to need him to do so, even with the heavy rotation it employs in its defensive line. Players like Warren Brinson, Nazir Stackhouse and Tramel Walthour have more experience than you might think, as does Carter despite having just two career starts. But with three possible first-round draft picks gone and Georgia’s top inside linebackers departing as well, Georgia is likely to experience some drop-off in its defense.

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That’s why this spring is going to be critical, even for a player of Carter’s potential. It’s why after the national championship win, Georgia coach Kirby Smart not-so-subtly pushed Carter to do even more going forward.

“He’s a talented player, and the sky’s the limit for him,” Smart said. “He’s got to figure out what his ceiling is and make sure he plays with great effort all the time.”

This spring should allow Carter to really hone in on giving maximum effort. Not that he’s a lazy player by a stretch of the imagination, but spring practice is a perfect time to really improve one’s motor. Carter shouldn’t be bogged down by week-to-week wear and tear that accumulates over the course of the season. And to the best of our knowledge, Carter did not need any offseason surgeries.

Georgia can also help Carter in terms of reaching maximum effort level. Given the Bulldogs also use him on various special teams, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Georgia scaled back Carter’s usage in some areas. Smart mentioned wanting to do so in the national championship game, but he noticed Carter wasn’t thrilled with the decision.

“I thought he was going to beat me up over there when I told him he couldn’t go on kickoff return, because he wanted to go on kickoff return,” Smart said.

Related: Jalen Carter does it all for Georgia football in National Championship victory: ‘The guy is a stud’

Carter is likely going to be asked to be a bigger leader going forward. Carter is not a vocal player, but neither was Travon Walker or Zamir White. Yet through hard work and doing what they were asked, they became key faces and voices for the 2021 team. They didn’t often speak up, but when they did, their voices resonated.

Consider the example Nakobe Dean set last spring. Dean had undergone shoulder surgery and was physically unable to go through contact drills. But he could still run and help call things out for the defense, something he did on a down-by-down basis.

Dean may not have gotten any faster or stronger, but those mental reps absolutely helped him develop into the nation’s best linebacker last fall. Carter has the ability to do the same as well.

One stark difference between Carter and some of the members of last year’s defense is that Carter has already been told, frequently, that he is going to be a top pick in next year’s draft. This is obviously a dangerous setup for Carter. We’ve seen similar players such as Jadeveon Clowney Clowney or Derek Stingley Jr. underwhelm in their final seasons of college football after being anointed.

Carter will have to fight against that temptation. Smart likely knows that, as his post-national championship comments demonstrate as much. This spring should give us a good indication of where Carter might be at mentally. If we hear teammates rave about him as they did Dean last year, Carter should be off to a good start in 2022.

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