It’s no secert at this point that the outside linebacker room is not up to past standards. The season-ending injury to Nolan Smith has put the position group in a real bind, with most of the snaps going to Robert Beal and Chaz Chambliss.
Beal and Smith will be off to the NFL next season, making it imperative for Georgia to go out and add high-quality prospects that could both add depth and help immediately.
“When we’ve been at our best, we’ve had a lot of speed and athleticism in that room, and we’re trying to get back to it,” Smart said. “We hope these guys can do that and provide some defensive end help as well when it comes to playing 4-3 and having two guys out there.”
First-year outside linebacker Chidera Uzo-Diribie did just that, as the Bulldogs signed Damon Wilson, Sam M’Pemba and Gabe Harris at the position. Harris may play some defensive end, but all three help upgrade the talent in the room.
“It’s one of those deals where we have to add some depth, and we have to have guys that can play early for us at those positions,” Smart said.
Harris and M’Pemba were teammates together at IMG Academy this past season, while Wilson starred in the highest classification in Florida. He is the highest rated in the entire Georgia signing class, as Wilson is the No. 17 overall player per the On3 Consensus rankings.
While being interviewed by ESPN after picking Georgia over Ohio State and Alabama, Wilson explained that the ability to play early was a factor in him choosing Georgia. Of the outside linebacker signees, he is likely the closest to being able to help Georgia next season. Georgia is likely to bring back Chambliss as well as promising freshman Marvin Jones Jr. MJ Sherman will be entering his junior season.
The Bulldogs have moved Darris Smith around at times this season, playing the freshman with the defensive backs at times. And inside linebacker Jalon Walker has taken reps with the group as injuries have mounted.
M’Pemba is on the fringe of 5-star status as he is the No. 34 overall prospect. He’s new to the position, as he grew up playing soccer and spent the early part of his high school playing tight end.
He’s raw in Smart’s words but he has as much talent as anyone in the class.
“He is a tremendous talent when it comes to athleticism,” Smart said. He is going to have to learn how to play the position as well because he has kind of played all over as a football player.”
While many will be eager to see Wilson, Harris and M’Pemba help out with next year’s defense, Smart was quick to mention there are other ways they could help the team that don’t require significant strides.
All three will be early enrollees, with Harris already on campus this week as Georgia goes through bowl practice.
“You know, there was a time when there were three or four really high draft picks in that room,” Smart said. “That’s what you want in that skill set. That helps you on third down. Those body types help you on special teams.
“The 6′2″-plus, the 240-plus is a position that can cover kicks, can cover return punts in terms of holding people up. So much value in that room, packages you can do on defense.”
The future of the outside linebacker position is brighter today than it was when Uzo-Diribe arrived at Georgia from TCU. It will take some time and growing for Wilson, M’Pemba and Harris to grow into possible draft picks.
But for the first time since the 2019 signing class when Georgia brought in Smith and Jermaine Johnson a year after signing Azeez OJulari, Georgia has a very bright future at the edge rusher position.
Kirby Smart proud of Georgia football outside linebacker signing efforts
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