041721 Athens: Georgia defensive lineman Zion Logue comes up with the fumble recovery against quarterback Brock Vandagriff during the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Kirby Smart admits Georgia defensive drop-off up front, veteran Oregon line looms

ATHENS — Kirby Smart turned his focus to Georgia’s opening game, and the matchup between the Oregon offensive line and UGA’s reloaded defensive line has his attention.

“Absolutely, it is (a bit matchup), they have 85 or 90 percent of their snaps coming back across the offensive line,” Smart said on Atlanta’s 680 The Fan radio. “That’s really incredible when you think of five position players with the majority of playing time back.

“That’s a strength of those guys that we have to try to answer and our guys have to play physical up front.”

The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs play the No. 11-ranked Ducks at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and are 17-point favorites.

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Jalen Carter anchors the defensive line, and Smart said he’s among the best “when he’s geared up ready to go and playing with consistent effort.”

Carter, a projected top-five, first-round NFL pick, is still improving.

“He’s had a good camp, he plays with effort trying to get to the ball, and understanding to play within the defense is critical for him,” Smart said.

“He has tremendous power, instincts, athleticism, quickness; for a defensive lineman a lot of time, he plays like a linebacker.”

Smart admitted there has been a drop-off across the defensive front, however, and expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

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“It’s not the three first-rounders we had last year, I can promise you that,” Smart said on his Coaches’ Show on Thursday night. “It’s a group that will do it by committee, they will work really hard, they will play hard.

“We’ve got good depth, but we obviously don’t have the quality at the top we had last year. We don’t have three first-rounders across our defensive line, so we can’t ask them or expect them to do what last year’s group did.”

Redshirt junior Zion Logue is expected to start next to Carter up front, while junior Nazir Stackhouse and Warren Brinson are primed to rotate in.

Georgia’s defensive philosophy starts with stopping the run in an effort to make teams one-dimensional and easier to defend.

The Bulldogs’ historically dominant defensive line last season, featuring No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, Outland Trophy winner Jordan Davis and first-round pick Devonte Wyatt, kept gaps covered and blockers occupied, enabling UGA linebackers to make plays.

The Bulldogs have a reload at that second level, too, with inside backers Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall off to the NFL.

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Smart is counting on Georgia’s defensive line to find its niche.

“They have to find some qualities they are good at,” Smart said. “I don’t know if that’s stripping a ball out, batting a ball, cheering each other on, making some plays even down the field.

“We have to get some production out of that group.”

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