Kirby Smart-Georgia football defense-2022
041622 Athens: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart talks with Georgia defensive lineman Warren Brinson (97) during the G - Day game at Sanford Stadium Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Kirby Smart on 2022 Georgia football defense: ‘We just want to be No. 1 in the country’

Georgia coach Kirby Smart knows his defense will look different this season. It has to, after seeing five players from the 2021 unit taken in the first round of last month’s NFL draft. That doesn’t even include Nakobe Dean or Derion Kendrick, who started every game for the Bulldogs a season ago.

Yet the expectations still remain high for what he wants out of his defense this season. In speaking with Paul Finebaum on Friday, Smart shared he still has lofty expectations for what he wants from his defense this coming season.

“We want to play defense better than everybody else,” Smart told Finebaum. “What that number looks like, I don’t know. We just want to be No. 1 in the country. We want to be good at it.”

The number Smart mentions could be a reference to comments he made after the Clemson game last season which proved to be Georgia’s defensive mission statement for the season.

“Everybody thinks we’re crazy,” Smart said after the 10-3 win over the Tigers. “They think, ‘You’ve never going to hold anyone to under 13 points in this day and age.’ Why can’t we?”

Georgia went on to hold opponents to 10.2 points per game, the best mark in the country in terms of scoring defense. The Bulldogs also notched 49.0 sacks, the most in a season under Smart.

In addition to replacing all that talent from last season, Georgia also must replace its defensive coordinator. Dan Lanning is now the head coach of the Oregon Ducks, who face Georgia to open the 2022 season in Atlanta. Smart tabbed Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp with co-defensive coordinator responsibilities. Schumann will also continue to work with the inside linebackers and Muschamp has been spotted working with the safeties.

Georgia also has two new defensive assistants in Fran Brown, who will work with the defensive backs, and Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who will coach the outside linebackers.

As for the talent, Georgia is still better off than most on the defensive side of the ball. Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, Chris Smith and Kelee Ringo all return from last season and should be seen as the leaders of the 2022 Georgia defense. Leading pass rusher Robert Beal is also back for Georgia.

Related: Robert Beal makes Georgia football pass rush an underrated strength in 2022

The Bulldogs are also looking to get greater contributions from some promising prospects. Inside linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, defensive linemen Zion Logue and Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins and cornerback Kamari Lassiter all seem poised for bigger roles coming out of spring practice.

The big questions when it comes to Georgia’s 2022 defense come at inside linebacker and the safety position. Dumas-Johnson, Trezmen Marshall and others make up a promising core but there is no replacing the football experience that Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall possessed. It will take time for those in Schumann’s room to get up to speed.

As for safety, Georgia must replace Lewis Cine. While Chris Smith will certainly take on a larger role, there are real questions about who Georgia’s other starting safety will be. Dan Jackson got the start on G-Day, while Tykee Smith is still recovering from an ACL injury he suffered last October. Georgia signed two safeties in the 2022 signing class in Malaki Starks and JaCorey Thomas.

The Bulldogs would also consider adding a safety via the transfer portal, provided the right player became available. Georgia has not yet brought in anyone via the transfer portal this offseason.

Georgia wrapped up spring practice in April and will begin summer workouts after Memorial Day. It will be a key summer for Georgia, given all it has to replace.

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