ATHENS — It was late in a Georgia spring practice last month, and the offense was going against defense. A pass was thrown, but a defender had jumped the route, and picked it off. Normally that would be a defensive back, but this time it was an inside linebacker Tae Crowder.
“Tae’s blessed with size, speed and great athletic ability,” fellow inside linebacker Reggie Carter said. “He ran aggressively on offense, and he plays defense aggressively.”
That kind of athleticism and playmaking ability – Crowder came to Georgia as a tailback – offers a lot of intrigue on defense. But whether it translates to him ever playing much could say a lot about the future of inside linebacker at Georgia.
There are two tiers entering the 2017 season: Carter, Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith comprise the top tier, as basically co-starters. Patrick and Smith are the first two, but Carter also sees a lot of snaps and fills in when one is hurt, which unfortunately has been somewhat often the past couple years.
The second tier is a group of talented but unproven young players: Crowder, junior Juwan Taylor, sophomore Jaleel Laguins, freshman early enrollee Monty Rice and incoming freshman Nate McBride.
“Everybody’s been pushing, trying to be that fourth guy,” Patrick said.
Patrick is among those who speaks highly of Crowder, who went from buried on the tailback depth chart to getting a lot of second-team work at inside linebacker.
“He’s been making a lot of gains,” Patrick said. “He was one of the guys who came over from the offensive side of the ball. So now he’s getting into his own, he’s getting the plays down, he knows where to be. He’s getting a feel for it. …
“Everybody’s not able to do it, and he is. So he’s special.”
Last year it was Johnny O’Neal who emerged as “that fourth guy” at inside linebacker. But O’Neal was a senior and he’s gone now. So keep an eye on who that ends up being this year, because that could very well be a future starter.
The post-spring depth chart series began with the secondary.
Now let’s delve (a bit more) into the inside linebackers:
- Returning starter: Natrez Patrick, Jr., and Reggie Carter, Sr.
- Notable reserves: Tae Crowder, Soph.; Monty Rice, Fr.; Jaleel Laguins, Soph.; Juwan Taylor, Jr.
- On the way: Nate McBride, Fr.
- Analysis: Patrick has had injury and off-field troubles, but this year has been healthy and has seemed to emerge as one of the defensive leaders. (He’s one of the few often selected to appear for media interviews, a show of confidence by the coaching staff.) Carter also took advantage this spring of being a first-teamer, with Smith out with an injury.
- Bottom line: The question this year is to what level each of the three co-starters can take their game. Carter is very solid and a leader, while Smith and Patrick have all-SEC type ability. Will they get to that level?
- Returning starter: Roquan Smith, Jr. and Carter.
- Notable reserves: Crowder, Rice, Laguins, Taylor.
- On the way: McBride.
- Analysis: Now let’s dive into how the second tier shakes out. Laguins and Taylor need to make a move soon, with Rice gaining experience and McBride also highly-touted. While it may seem only a matter of time before Rice and McBride make their ascent, that was the assumption with Laguins and Taylor too. Sometimes it just takes players a bit longer.
- Bottom line: If the season started now it seems Crowder would be the favorite to make second team, but there’s plenty of time for one of the someone else to make a push. The guess here is that would most likely be Rice.