ATHENS – Most coaches set the bar low. It’s what they do. At least most of them. Then there’s Mike Ekeler.
“They say undersell, over-deliver,” Ekeler said. “I say BS to that.”
Ekeler, who is Georgia’s inside linebackers coach, threw down the verbal gauntlet on Friday. His unit lost Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, both of whom were All-SEC players, both of whom are in the NFL now. It should be the major concern on Georgia’s defense.
And yet …
“We obviously had two good ones who got drafted last year. First-team all-conference, second-team all-conference. Guys that made a whole hell of a lot of plays,” Ekeler said Friday night, setting up his big pronouncement.
“These guys, I think at this point we’re better right now than we were last year. And we’ve got a whole hell of a lot more depth.”
It didn’t stop there.
“I think we play better technique now than anybody in college football,” Ekeler said. “That’s my opinion.”
It’s a startling one, but not as surprising as saying that Georgia will be better without Wilson (first-team All-SEC in 2013, a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs) and Herrera (second-team All-SEC in 2014, a sixth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts.) They accounted for nearly 500 combined tackles the past two season.
But a big part of Ekeler’s confidence comes from having more options. He said there are about six or seven players who realistically have a chance to play – not counting Leonard Floyd, the standout outside linebacker who is working some at inside linebacker.
Tim Kimbrough and Floyd are working together at inside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense. In the nickel defense, which the team tends to use more often, Floyd has been working at star, with Reggie Carter joining Kimbrough at inside linebacker.
That likely isn’t final, however, as the coaches experiment to see where Floyd best fits.
“He’s probably one of the most athletic players in the country,” Ekeler said, adding that Floyd has more than that going for him: “He’s smart. His football IQ is obviously really, really high. And again, the guys is really instinctive. He’s really special.”
“He’s very fast, so he can make plays quickly,” Kimbrough said of Floyd. “That’s why they want him in there. He’s long, so he can reach up and get the balls if he wants to.”
Spring sensations Jake Ganus (the UAB transfer) and Natrez Patrick (the freshman) will also be in the mix, along with highly-touted freshman Roquan Smith and Juwan Taylor.
Kimbrough and Carter are juniors who swat behind Wilson and Herrera the past two seasons. They’ve gotten almost all of their 73 combined career tackles on special teams or in mop-up duty.
But they’ve heard the same assessment from Ekeler: This unit can be even better now.
“We did lose two great linebackers, one first-team All-SEC, one second-team All-SEC. Those are some big shoes to fill,” Carter said. “But I think we can fill them with it with the group of guys we have.”