Georgia Tech
Sat, 11/26 on ESPN @5:00 ET
(1) Georgia

Pre-spring analysis: Strong LB play rests on Reggie Carter’s shoulders

Replacing Jake Ganus (51) is going to be difficult for Georgia, but a fully healthy Reggie Carter (45) could make the transition fairly painless.

ATHENS — On one hand, there would seem to be reasons for concern. In graduated senior Jake Ganus, Georgia not only lost their best inside linebacker, their leading tackler (102), their defensive MVP and their permanent team captain. On the other hand, one needs to look no further than the Bulldogs’ recruitment of linebackers in this past class to realize they must not be too worried about their prospects at the position.

Georgia signed just one linebacker in the 2016 class in 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jaleel Laguins of Watkinsville. Yes, they tried to sign some others, but they basically shot for the moon on those guys. The Bulldogs went hard after Lyndell “Mack” Wilson and Ben Davis, both five-star-rated prospects from Alabama whom Kirby Smart had been recruiting for the Crimson Tide. Alas, they both signed with Alabama, as expected.

The Bulldogs will likely hit that position hard in recruiting for 2017. In the meantime, they feel pretty good about who they have coming back to compete at the position this year.

Mike Ekeler, who coached the inside ‘backers for the Bulldogs last season, believes they’ll be in good shape.

“Those guys are stacked,” Ekeler said. “Roquan (Smith), Natrez Patrick, Juwan Taylor, Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin, you’re talking about a pretty darn good room full of guys who know how to play. I’m excited for these guys next year on defense. … They ought to be able to rack up next year.”

Georgia’s inside linebackers will be under the direction of Glenn Schumann, who will be making his debut as an on-field assistant after working the last four seasons at Alabama as a defensive quality-control specialist. However, he’ll be doing so under the watchful eye of Smart, who coached the position the last few years while also coordinating the Crimson Tide’s defense.

Here’s how it breaks down:

MIKE LINEBACKER

  • Returning starter: None.
  • Others returning: Reggie Carter, Jr.; Roquan Smith, So.; Ryne Rankin, Sr., D’Andre Walker, So.
  • Early enrollees: None.
  • On the way: Jaleel Laguins, Fr.
  • Analysis: Replacing Jake Ganus is going to be a tall order. He led Georgia’s defense physically, mentally and every other way imaginable. But if not for Carter’s lingering shoulder injury that required surgery, Ganus might not have been able to get past him to start all 13 games at the middle linebacker spot a year ago. Carter (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) played extensively as a backup as a freshman and sophomore and was poised to start last year before getting sidelined early in preseason camp. He tried to play through it but was limited to one game and awarded a medical redshirt. He’s now healthy, though Georgia will likely continue to handle him conservatively in spring ball. In his absence, the Bulldogs developed some depth among young players. Smith was impressive as a freshman with 20 tackles and 1.5 for losses. And while Rankin has distinguished himself as a special-teams specialist, he more than capable of taking meaningful snaps on defense.
  • Bottom line: Georgia’s not as deep as it’d like to be in terms of numbers, so injuries could wreak havoc on what is such a contact-oriented position. But if Carter’s shoulders prove sound, he and Smith not only could prevent any drop off, they could actually improve the athleticism factor.

WILL LINEBACKER

  • Returning starter: Tim Kimbrough, Sr.
  • Others returning: Natrez Patrick, So.; Juwan Taylor, So.
  • Early enrollees: None.
  • On the way: Jaleel Laguins, Fr.
  • Analysis: Kimbrough started seven games at weakside for the Bulldogs last season. But then he barely played against Georgia Tech and was suspended for the TaxSlayer Bowl. Georgia has never said publicly what was the reason for disciplinary action or how many games for which Kimbrough is suspended. Then-interim head coach Bryan McClendon would say only that anything beyond the bowl game would “be up to Coach Smart.” All indications are that the 6-foot, 226-pound senior will be ready to go, at least for spring, and that gives the Bulldogs a promising physical presence in the second line. Kimbrough has played in 37 games for Georgia and always can be counted on for at least one chin strap-rattling hit per game. But the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat in Kimbrough’s absence as Patrick started the last two games. The 6-3, 248-pound converted outside linebacker had six tackles in the last two games and excited the coaches with his blend of size and speed. Taylor (6-foot-1, 199 pounds) has also turned heads with uncanny quickness and the ability to fight off blocks without losing his gap.
  • Bottom line: Georgia has recruited well at this position the last couple of years, which has given it a lot of depth and the ability to rotate multiple players into games. That depth is enhanced with the versatility of being able to interchange some outside linebackers, such as Chuks Amaechi, Johnny O’Neal and Walker. But they’re still searching for some of the star power they’ve lacked since Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson moved on to the NFL.

Next: Defensive tackles.

PRE-SPRING ANALYSES

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