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Nakobe Dean had a sack in Saturday's loss to Alabama.

UGA linebacker Nakobe Dean on strong sophomore start: ‘I feel like I have grown tremendously’

Alabama was once again on the edge of scoring position and facing a third down. Quarterback Mac Jones dropped back to pass and was looking for one of his many weapons to help pick up a first down.

What he hadn’t been looking for was Georgia defender Nakobe Dean. The sophomore linebacker came around the outside and had a clean shot on Jones. The question was whether or not Dean could get there in time before Jones released the ball.

A year ago, the Georgia linebacker wouldn’t have been able to make the play, in part because of a preseason ankle injury that slowed the early part of the season. He told reporters on Tuesday that he feels better now than he did this time last year, even while playing an SEC-only schedule.

And he’s playing better too, as hammered he Jones like one car violently t-boning another. It was Georgia’s third sack of the night and the first unassisted sack of Dean’s promising career.

Through four games of his sophomore season, Dean has 20 tackles compared to the 25 he registered over the 14 games he played in his freshman season. He’s also already matched his tackle for loss total from his freshman season.

The improved play was always expected from Dean, even if at times this 2020 season wasn’t guaranteed.

“I feel like I have grown tremendously, not just from a football standpoint but from a person standpoint—just learning and going throughout life,” Dean said. “I am 19 years old, and I am still trying to figure a lot of stuff out.

“Being able to continue to learn definitely during this pandemic [I have had] a lot of time to myself and just learning who I am and everything like that.”

Dean, along with inside linebacker Monty Rice and Quay Walker, plays a big part in Georgia’s defense. Through the first three games of the season, he helped make the unit the best in the SEC in almost every category.

Then came the Alabama game, where the unit gave up 564 total yards. Alabama running back Najee Harris ran for more yards by himself than Georgia had given up in the three games prior.

But Dean isn’t stressing or worrying about the group coming apart due to one bad performance.

“They just out-executed us. We just have to come back and look at the things we have to work on and fix them,” Dean said. “Because we definitely can compete with them. We just gotta come back this week, fix it and know what we gotta do and work on it.”

Related: Kirby Smart explains why Georgia defensive performance ‘doesn’t cause alarm’ after Alabama loss

That sounds a lot like something you would want a leader to say after a loss. That’s because Dean works at becoming one of those for the Georgia defense.

He knew he was going to have to replace what New York Giants linebacker Tae Crowder brought to the team this offseason. And Crowder’s impact went beyond the stat sheet.

“I feel like I stepped into a leadership role during the offseason,” Dean said.  “It’s not production-based at all, it’s how I can influence the other people on the defense and the team.”

Dean even gave an example of how Crowder influenced him, even while he was playing for the Giants on Sunday. The former Georgia linebacker had his first career touchdown on a key scoop and score late in the fourth quarter.

When Dean saw the play, he started screaming, cheering on his former teammate. Afterward, he sent Crowder a text congratulating him on his first career touchdown.

Related: Georgia rookies D’Andre Swift, Tae Crowder shine in Week 6 of NFL season

As for bouncing back from the Alabama defeat, Dean said there’s clearly room for improvement. And that he and the team are now going to use Georgia’s off week to work on some of those little things that can show Georgia’s defense is closer to what they looked like in the first three games, as opposed to what happened against Alabama.

“This week is definitely for us just to get better, and not really focus too much on any opponent just focus on myself and my craft.”

Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean discusses how he’s grown as a sophomore

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