ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs need the Wolf Pack to be howling in 2018.
Not North Carolina State, mind you. “Wolf Pack,” as most Georgia fans probably know, is the name that former Bulldog Jordan Jenkins gave to Georgia’s outside linebackers while he was one of them at Georgia from 2012-15.
As Jenkins’ current address in the NFL suggests, Wolf Pack members are generally an elite group. In fact, next-level success for Georgia’s outside linebackers predates Jenkins’ anointment of the Wolf Pack. Since 2011, when Justin Houston was drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs, at least one starter at that position for the Bulldogs has ended up on an NFL roster.
That appears to be the case for the latest members of the group as well. Lorenzo Carter was drafted in the third round by the New York Giants this past April. And while Davin Bellamy, his cohort from the 2017 team, didn’t get a call during the draft, he did get an invite to join the Houston Texans as a free agent. Hopefully you caught his interception in an exhibition game just this past weekend.
So, understandably, great athletes from all over have been clamoring to become Wolf Pack members at Georgia. Hence, the Bulldogs have a pretty strong representation again this season. But how they play in 2018 will go a long wayin determining whether the Wolf Pack tradition continues.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart expects it to.
“I’m kind of used to it,” Smart said of having to replace great players. “I mean, to be honest with you, when you sit back and look at the good players you’ve been able to coach over your career, they have to be replaced by somebody.”
For now, the Wolf Pack’s bone has been passed to D’Andre Walker and Walter Grant. Based on their experience and repetitions in preseason camp, that duo is likely to take the field first when the Bulldogs open the season against Austin Peay.
Walker is an interesting study. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior has played in every game Georgia has played since he showed up from Langston Hughes High in Fairburn. But he’s never started a game for the Bulldogs.
That’s not to say Walker hasn’t been productive. On the contrary. Despite playing a reserve role behind Carter and Bellamy last season, Walker actually was the team leader in quarterback sacks with 5.5. He also had 40 tackles overall, 13.5 tackles for loss and 12 pressures. In other words, Walker got after the quarterback like nobody else on Georgia’s team.
The only thing keeping him from earning a starting role is a purported weakness against the run. That’s where he came into camp needing to prove to coach Kirby Smart and Georgia’s defensive coaches that he has made marked improvement.
“It doesn’t really weigh on me,” Walker said of the moving into a starting role. “It’s just natural. I was there kind of when (the Wolf Pack) first started, and it’s just like all the guys that come in as freshmen. They’ll pick up on it real quick just like I did. It’s like a brotherhood.”
Meanwhile, Grant sports the physical characteristics more traditional for Georgia outside linebackers. He’s 6-4, 245 pounds and runs well enough that he was Cairo High’s starting tailback as a senior. For that reason, the Bulldogs have the freedom to move him around as the defensive strategy dictates. He can drop back into the defensive backfield as a star as needed or shift into an inside linebacker position as well. Georgia used that strategy to great effect with Floyd his last two seasons in Athens, and it’s to Floyd that Grant is most often compared.
But wolves are vicious, as we all know, and they’re all looking to eat this season. And Georgia has brought in one of the most impressive packs of outside linebackers ever assembled in these parts.
Freshmen Adam Anderson and Brenton Cox were both consensus 5-star recruits, redshirt freshman Robert Beal Jr. received some 5-star grades coming out of high school and freshman Azeez Ojulari was a consensus 4-star and prep All-American like the others. Meanwhile, senior Keyon Richardson (formerly Brown) and sophomore Jaden Hunter are competing for playing time and contributing on special teams when they’re not on the field with the defense.
That’s a lot of wolves and not a lot of meat to go around. It reasons that whichever members of this elite unit that get on the field will have proven to be quite the alphas to have won that right.
They have some tough acts to follow. But if any of these wolves prove worthy of upholding the Wolf Pack tradition, it will be another reason Georgia could “Own the East.”