ATHENS – Roquan Smith’s emergence is happening about right on schedule. And Georgia’s defense definitely needs it.
The departure of Tim Kimbrough, termed a mutual decision, didn’t take away a starter. Kimbrough had fallen behind Reggie Carter and Natrez Patrick. But it did take away a very capable and experienced reserve, whose 67 tackles last year were the most for any returning player.
The result: Smith can bank on having a key role on this year’s defense.
It may just be as the first inside linebacker off the bench. But if either Carter or Patrick get hurt, or aren’t as productive as hoped, then Smith will find himself in a much bigger role.
Smith, a former top-50 recruit who played sparingly last year, says he’s ready now.
“Knowledge, knowing the game, and knowing what to expect,” Smith said. “I do more film study, and knowing the playbook. Last year I wasn’t too far into the playbook, but now it’s a little different.”
Smith appeared in 12 games last year, making 20 tackles and recording 1.5 sacks, but it was mostly on special teams and at the end of blowouts. The team had eventual defensive MVP Jake Ganus, Kimbrough and Patrick – who was also a freshman, but as an early enrollee had a head start on Smith.
Sitting and watching was a big adjustment for someone that made every national top 100 recruit list.
“It definitely prepared me to know what games and atmospheres would be like, as far as getting out there and getting a few snaps at the end of the game. That prepared me for knowing what to expect.”
Over the past year Smith has also added some weight: After playing at around 217 pounds last year, he said he’s now 230. It was necessary in order to be a linebacker at this level.
“I actually move the same at 230 as I did at 217. Probably faster,” he said.
Up until this point, Smith has been more well-known how he became a Bulldog: The signing day commitment to UCLA, only to find out the assistant who recruited him there was taking an NFL job, and then the wait of more than a month to switch his commitment to Georgia.
But then Smith didn’t sign a letter-of-intent, keeping his options open. He said he “didn’t feel like he was hurt” by not signing a scholarship. It also made him know what it was like to be the focus of a big story.
“You’ve got to take everything into consideration and make the best decision for you at the end of the day,” Smith said.
Georgia is very glad that staying in state ended up being that decision. Now it’s going to see what he can do.