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Jalen Carter tackles Daijun Edwards suring Georgia’s practice session in the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

Jalen Carter ready for new Georgia football defensive line challenge: ‘Whatever they need me to do I’ll do it’

ATHENS —If Jalen Carter had his way, he’d never come off the field. Not just on defense, but on special teams and on offense as well.

“I love it. It’s very fun. I really wish I could play a little more,” Carter said. “Whatever they need me to do I’ll do it.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows firsthand Carter’s desire to stay on the field. In the National Championship game, Smart took Carter off of Georgia’s kickoff return unit. Smart wanted to save Carter’s legs so he could better rush the passer.

But when the Georgia coach told Carter of the idea, the defensive tackle almost went Incredible Hulk on Smart.

“He was pissed at me,” Smart said after beating Alabama 33-18. “I thought he was going to beat me up over there when I told him he couldn’t go on kickoff return.”

You can understand why given later in said game Carter blocked an Alabama field goal and then paved the way for Georgia’s first touchdown as a goalline fullback. While Carter will make his money at the next level as a game-wrecking defensive tackle, he’s shown he can do just about anything on a football field.

Related: Jalen Carter does it all for Georgia football in National Championship victory: ‘The guy is a stud’

Which is a good thing for the Bulldogs. Because after the departures of Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Travon Walker, Georgia might need him to do everything on the defensive line this season.

“The talent is oozing, it is a matter of can he play every play with maximum intensity and be able to sustain,” Smart said. “We need him to play more snaps this year. We need him to be on the field, we need him to be active, and we need him to play first, second, and third in a row.”

As Smart points out, Carter is an incomparable talent. Even dating back to his time as a recruit he’s been something of a unicorn. He would play tight end for Apopka High School in Apopka, Fla. He’d throw down windmill dunks. He was a state champion weight-lifter.

All of that adds up to being a 5-star prospect, as Carter arrived as the No. 18 overall prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle.

Thanks to Carter’s work ethic and play at Georgia so far, that ranking seems low.

“The 5-stars is cool and all but I came here with a new mindset and I have to earn everything that I do,” Carter said. “Just playing with those guys, I feel like I’ve done everything that’s needed.”

Those guys would be Walker, Davis and Wyatt, who all could be first-round draft picks later this month. The hope for Carter is that he’s able to join them a year from now after another stellar season at Georgia.

He knows that if he works as hard as Wyatt did over his Georgia career, Carter can become a top-10 pick. Davis and Wyatt have told him as much, providing Carter more motivation.

This season, Carter will go from being part of an ensemble cast to the leading man. While he’s unsure if he could be called the face of the Georgia defense, he has the potential to be the unit’s best player. A season ago, he finished second on the team in quarterback pressures with 33. He also led all of Georgia’s defensive linemen in tackles for loss, despite only playing a rotational role.

On an individual basis, Carter is on the shortlist for most dominant players in college football.

“Sadly I have,” tight end Brett Seither said of facing Carter in practice. “I don’t think I’ve won one of those matchups, but that’s another freak athlete that is not fun to go against. He’s a hell of a player.”

Related: Kirby Smart wants Jalen Carter to follow example set by Devonte Wyatt

For this coming season, he’ll be the one drawing double teams unless one of his teammates like Zion Logue, Warren Brinson or freshman Mykel Williams emerges him on the defensive line. That is why Smart wants to see Carter become a better leader.

Because it’s no longer enough for Carter to be singularly dominant. He’ll need to be an all-encompassing power, one that surpasses what even Davis, Wyatt or Walker did during the magical 2021 season.

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