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Malik Herring has emerged as a key contributor for Georgia's defensive line.

Why players like Malik Herring are an important part of building a championship culture

Connor Riley

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Malik Herring, the real Georgia football unheralded star

Malik Herring is not the most beloved or well-known player on the Georgia defense. He does not play one of the more statistically driven positions on the defense, nor did he have a 5-star recruiting ranking attached to him upon his arrival at Georgia as a member of the 2017 recruiting class.

Herring won’t rack up sacks nor will he lead the team tackles. His job in the Georgia defense as a defensive end doesn’t require him to do either of those things. But what Herring does do is excel at his job within Georgia defense.

Because Herring plays the way he does, maintaining his gap on run defense, absorbing blockers so linebackers like Monty Rice, Azeez Ojulari, others on the Georgia defense thrive and benefit from the notoriety. Doing what Herring so often does as a defensive lineman is a thankless task in the Georgia defense but there are numbers tell us he excels at what he’s asked to do.

Pro Football Focus has raved about Herring, as their metrics tout Herring as the top-returning defensive lineman in the conference. Statistically, Herring finished with 26 tackles last season to go with 18 quarterback pressures. He ranked third on the team in the latter category.

Like Richard LeCounte, who ESPN labeled as Georgia’s unheralded star for the 2020 team, Herring played perhaps the best game of his career in the 2020 Sugar Bowl. He tied a career-high with five tackles and added 1.5 tackles for loss against Baylor.

Related: Richard LeCounte earns high praise from ESPN, named ‘unheralded star’

Given Georgia likely won’t be as deep on the defensive line as it was a season ago, there will be the opportunity for the senior from Forsyth, Ga. to accomplish more this season. But it might not show up on the stat sheet, especially given sophomore Travon Walker figures to eat into some of those opportunities. Herring and Walker often had the same alignment on early downs last season, and Walker certainly has a higher upside.

Walker also took up some of Herring’s potential pass-rushing opportunities, as Walker does have the size to bump inside on obvious passing downs. Doing so allows Georgia to get more athletic outside linebackers such as Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson on the field in those situations.

But those lack of reps didn’t slow Herring down from being a productive player and likely won’t again this season. One only has to look at the success the New England Patriots have had under Bill Belichick to understand that having guys who excel in their specific roles is a key part of a championship culture. That’s something Georgia is attempting to build and to this point, Herring has fit that model perfectly.

That’s probably why you saw Georgia highlight Herring in a video put out on social media this week. Herring spoke about why he loves the school, among other things.

“It’s just so family-like. People treat you right and I really love that,” Herring said. “It makes me feel like I’m actually wanted here.”

As strange as it might seem, the 2020 season will be Herring’s final season suiting up for Georgia. It seems like only yesterday he was doing backflips in his commitment video.

“I’m just trying to soak it all up because before you know it will all be over with,” Herring said.

Given how well he fills his role, it won’t be a surprise to see Herring find a home with an NFL team. He probably could’ve done that this year. But like so many of his fellow defensive teammates, he elected to come back for one final season and continue to build a legacy at Georgia.

He’s not as vocal as LeCounte or relentlessly positive as Eric Stokes, but Herring will play a key role for Georgia this year. The defense won’t ask him to be a star, as defensive linemen have rarely been the most productive players for Georgia since Kirby Smart took over.

But Georgia can rest easy in knowing that Herring is going to thrive in his role. He’s going to make plays when asked. He’s going to set the edge when it’s his responsibility to do that as well.

Every Georgia fan knows who LeCounte is and most can explain why he is great. The same can’t be said for Herring, but that doesn’t make him any less of a key player than he already is and likely will be for the Bulldogs in 2020.

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