When thinking of players who were either going to break out or shine this spring, you wouldn’t have picked Nakobe Dean.
Dean led Georgia in tackles a season ago and has looked every bit like the 5-star prospect he entered college as. He’s established himself as one of the top players on a defense that led the country in rush defense in 2020.
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But the reason it didn’t seem likely to hear much about Dean this spring is that he’s a limited participant due to offseason labrum surgery. Dean is expected to be fully recovered by the time fall practice starts in August.
Through the first four practices though, Dean has drawn consistent praise.
“Nakobe (Dean) has stood out to me,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s been a guy that really is a tremendous leader and has taken on more of a vocal role. I think that’s big.”
The junior linebacker isn’t able to take on blockers or dropping back into coverage as he normally would.
Dean though is still calling things out just as he would if it were a fall Saturday in Athens.
“He’s still on the sideline still coaching,” linebacker Channing Tindall said. “He’ll coach me, He’ll coach Quay [Walker]. It doesn’t matter. Just because he’s not still active on the field doesn’t mean he’s not being a leader for the team. He’s still out there coaching and doing a good job.”
Teammates have always praised Dean’s intelligence, both on the football field and in the classroom.
So the fact that he’s such a natural as a coach, at seeing the game, should not be a surprise.
“He’s a very, very, very smart kid,” former Georgia linebacker Monty Rice said. “You can tell he was brought up well by his parents. He got the whole package, he can play football, he can do school work. He’s going to be successful as long as he keeps doing what he’s been doing.”
Related: WATCH: Monty Rice shares how Kirby Smart leads, Georgia football improves
Tindall added that he’s looking forward to getting Dean back healthy, as those two and Walker will be the top options at the inside linebacker spot for Georgia in 2021.
Walker and Tindall have a significant opportunity this spring to impress with Dean out and Rice off to the NFL. The latter was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, serving as a consistent presence in the Georgia defense.
With Dean’s sideline help, Tindall is hoping to become just that.
“Whoever is doing well in practice that’s who is going to rise above,” Tindall said. “It just depends on how you’re doing in practice, executing plays and taking it day by day. There’s truly no guy favored.”
It’s hard to imagine Walker, Tindall or anyone else keeping Dean out of the starting lineup when Georgia takes on Clemson to start the 2021 season.
In addition to the 5-star ranking following Dean, there have been constant comparisons to former Georgia great Roquan Smith. On a per tackle basis, Smith averaged 7.31 tackles per game as a sophomore while Dean came in at 7.10.
Smith then went on to become the best defensive player in the country as a junior, leading Georgia to an SEC championship and a national title game appearance.
Dean still has improvements to make to reach that point and no spring practice doesn’t help matters. Smith though missed the spring practices prior to this junior season due to an injury.
Georgia shouldn’t need Dean to become the next Smith to achieve its goal in 2021. The Bulldogs need the offense to take multiple steps forward in 2021. While the Bulldogs have a young secondary, the front seven talent is likely better than it was on that 2017 team.
As much talent as there is though, Dean has the chance to be the best player in the front seven. He’s got experience. He’s got the athletic ability.
And he’s most clearly got the instincts to be both a great linebacker and leader.
Nakobe Dean continues to impress, even while injured
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