Would you like to receive DawgNation news alerts? Excellent! News alerts will be displayed in your browser.
(Steven Limentani/UGA Athletics)
Georgia's Jordan Davis (99) came through for the Bulldogs in a big way when he moved into the rotation in the interior defensive line.

SPRING PREVIEW: Georgia defense has its ‘man in the middle’ in sophomore Jordan Davis

PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

Part X: The defensive tackles

This is Part 10 in a series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.

ATHENS — Jordan Davis is a noseguard in every sense of the football term. He’s 6-feet, 6 inches tall — 6-8 when measured to the top of his hair — and weighs at least 320 pounds. That’s what Georgia lists him as weighing. He was 355 as a senior at Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High, and since he’s gotten in the weight room at UGA, he can make 330 look svelte.

Whatever his weight, Davis gives the Bulldogs what they need in the middle of their defense.

“He hasn’t arrived yet,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart warned of the rising sophomore. “But of all our kids that I’m most proud of, he’s worked the hardest to get where he is. … This kid has grinded. He’s grinded himself into a very productive, hard-to-block player.”

Davis earned freshman All-America honors while playing in 11 of Georgia’s 14 games last year, starting four. But his wasn’t an immediate impact. A 3-star prospect coming out of high school, Davis showed up to campus overweight and was not in the Bulldogs’ immediate plans. He got on the field early only against second-level competition and because Georgia was thin at his position, no pun intended.

But by running and working out extra on the side, Davis was able to achieve the goal weight that Smart set for him — 320 — and start getting into the interior line rotation on a regular basis. It wasn’t until the LSU game in the seventh week of the season that Davis started logging the majority of snaps in the interior gaps. After recording seven tackles against the Tigers, Davis started the next three games four of the next six at what is technically the “noseguard” position.

After starting against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Davis suffered a back injury in the weight room and was unable to play against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. He’s expected to make a full recovery for spring ball.

“It was just about him developing and learning the system and getting in shape and what-not,” said fellow tackle Michael Barnett. “I just think he’s a phenomenal player who takes it all in and buys into what we’re telling him when we try to coach him up. I think he’s going to be a ball player and a play-maker here in the future.”

Davis joined Barnett and Julian Rochester in a three-man rotation covering the interior gaps between the opposing centers and guards. Technically, Georgia is a 3-4 base defense built around a noseguard who plays head up on the center. But the majority of the time the Bulldogs line up in what amounts to a 4-2-5, with an outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage as an additional edge rusher.

Davis was usually on the field for first and second down, but would often be subbed out on third down for a quicker player. Davis hopes to develop into more an every-down lineman eventually.

“He doesn’t play a lot on third down, but he plays really hard when he’s in,” Smart said.

Let’s break down Georgia’s interior defensive line:

THE DEFENSIVE TACKLES

  • Returning starters: Tyler Clark, 6-4, 300, senior; Jordan Davis, 6-6, 320, sophomore; Julian Rochester, 6-5, 300, senior
  • Others returning: Michael Barnett, 6-4, 304, Sr.; Michail Carter, 6-3, 295, Sr.; Julian Rochester, 6-5, 300, Sr.; Devonte Wyatt, 6-3, 301, Jr.;  Netori Johnson, 6-4, 320, So.
  • Early enrollees: Tramel Walthour, 6-3, 280, So.
  • On the way: Zion Logue, 6-5, 295, Fr.; Tymon Mitchell, 6-3, 315, Fr., Travon Walker, 6-5, 290, Fr.
  • Analysis: Again, labeling defensive line positions in Georgia’s scheme is a maddening exercise. The Bulldogs play the match-up game when it comes to defending opposing offenses, so smaller, quicker linemen sometimes play on the interior line, and larger, stronger players sometimes venture out to line up over tackles, depending on down, distance and offensive scheme. That’s why you’ll find the versatile Rochester with 11 starts under the position heading of “multiple” in UGA’s official statistics. He’s listed as a noseguard on Georgia’s roster. Meanwhile, three of Davis’ four starts were logged as being at tackle, with the other listed under “end,” where senior Jonathan Ledbetter was a mainstay. Meanwhile, all 10 of Clark’s starts were at tackle. So obviously the Bulldogs’ defensive line situation is one size fits all. And that’s a good thing as the one attribute that Georgia can definitely bring to the defensive line position in 2019 is numbers. There are a lot of options here.
  • Bottom line: If there is one criticism to be made of the Smart Era of Georgia football, it’s in the area of interior defensive line. On the recruiting front, the Bulldogs have lost a lot of the head-to-head battles for the highest-rated prospects in the region. And while they definitely scored some victories in this latest class, interior defensive line is not generally a position at which first-year players can be expected to make a major impact. The four All-America defensive linemen from this past season, including Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, were all 21 years old or older. That said, while Georgia’s defensive front may be lacking in high pedigree, it does now have some seniority and experience, as well as depth and a tremendous amount of versatility. There would appear to be enough options here that D-line coach Tray Scott and the Bulldogs’ defensive brain trust can come up with strong lineup against any offense.

UP NEXT: The options are many for successors to Jonathan Ledbetter at defensive end.

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW