Georgia football-outside linebacker-BJ Ojulari
LSU defensive end BJ Ojulari (18) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. LSU won 32-31 in overtime. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)
Tyler Kaufman

BJ Ojulari helps highlight the present, future issues for Georgia football outside linebacker room

ATHENS — Azeez Ojulari tried his best. He wanted his younger brother, BJ, to play for Georgia. He was a 4-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle and had the option of following in his brother’s footsteps of being an outside linebacker at Georgia.

But BJ didn’t want to walk the same path as his older brother. That is what helped lead him to LSU, where he has racked up 5.0 sacks this season for the Tigers. In his three years at LSU, he’s notched 16.0 sacks for the Tigers, becoming an extremely productive player.

One Georgia could certainly have used, especially given the current situation at outside linebacker.

“My brother, he tried hard to get me to Georgia. I was very close, as well. But my heart said different,” Ojulari said. “Coach O (Ed Orgeron) and his staff did an amazing job just showing me how special I was to them, how bad they wanted me to come play for LSU. At the end I think I made the right decision for myself.”

It’s hard to argue with Ojulari’s logic, given his statistical output.

As for Georgia’s outside linebackers, the group is dangerously thin heading into this weekend’s game against Ojulari’s Tigers. Nolan Smith, unquestionably Georgia’s best outside linebacker, was lost for the season after he tore his pectoral muscle in a win over Florida.

This past weekend, freshman Marvin Jones Jr., suffered an ankle injury, potentially cutting even further into the number of available bodies for Georgia at the edge rusher position. Just what was needed before getting to face a mobile quarterback like Jayden Daniels.

Related: Kirby Smart gives latest injury report for Georgia football heading into 2022 SEC Championship Game

“Extremely, extremely athletic. Smooth,” Smart said of Daniels. “Great release. He’s quick and he’s fast. There’s a difference. He’s both. We’re trying to prepare for these guys and watch tape. Very impressive composure and demeanor.”

At the moment, Georgia is relying heavily on Robert Beal and Chaz Chambliss to help fill the void left behind by Smith. The senior outside linebacker is still helping the group from the sidelines, pointing things out and providing motivation. Georgia brought Smith on road trips to Kentucky and Mississippi State, even though he could not play for the Bulldogs.

But there are only so many things you can do to help bring down a quarterback as mobile as Daniels. Georgia will need Beal and Chambliss to not just pressure the quarterback, but do all of the other things Smith did, such as set the edge or occasionally drop back into coverage.

“They both bring size, speed, toughness, and awareness of our system, understanding how our system works,” Smart said of Beal and Chambliss. “They were both playing already, so really it’s just increased the load a little bit, went from dividing among the three guys snaps to really two guys playing snaps, and I’ve been very pleased with what those guys have done.”

Georgia has gotten creative in trying to find a solution to some of their problems at edge rusher. They’ve moved Jalon Walker around, having him slide from inside linebacker to an edge rusher position on Georgia’s third-down packages. His speed and get off helps provide extra pressure, while Mykel Williams continues to emerge as a defensive end opposite Walker.

Related: Freshman Jalon Walker continues to carve out key role for Georgia football: ‘He packs a punch’

Smith’s injury has also highlighted the importance of the 2023 recruiting cycle for this position group. Smith and Beal will both be in the NFL next season. That leaves, at the moment, just Chambliss, Jones and MJ Sherman as possible options at the position, with Darris Smith playing and practicing with the defensive backs this season.

Sherman was the edge rusher Georgia ended up taking in the 2020 signing class over Ojulari. Georgia had signed five edge prospects in the 2018 and 2019 recruiting cycles, limiting the need for Georgia to load up in the 2020 cycle. That meant Georgia couldn’t land all three of Sherman, BJ Ojulari and Will Anderson, who also came from the state of Georgia.

Smith is the last player from the 2018 or 2019 signing class still on campus. With the early signing period fast approaching, how new outside linebackers coach Chidera Uzo-Diribe closes will be worth watching. Georgia holds a commitment from 4-star prospect Gabriel Harris and is waiting on decisions from 5-star prospects Samuel M’Pemba and Damon Wilson. M’Pemba is set to announce his commitment this coming Sunday, after Georgia’s game against LSU.

For as strong as Georgia’s defense has been this season — it ranks first in scoring defense and rushing defense — the outside linebacker position is the biggest concern at the moment. Injuries and recruiting misses have left this once-strong position with some serious questions, heading into Saturday and beyond.

Were Ojulari on this Georgia team, the Bulldogs’ worries wouldn’t be what they are. Instead, the Bulldogs will be figuring out how to try and slow the talented edge defender.

“Yeah, we’ve been talking ever since we found out that we were going to be the SEC West champions,” BJ Ojulari said. “He’s been just giving a little banter here and there since he went to Georgia. But he’s all positive. He wants to see me succeed. But I know he’s going to be rooting for Georgia.”

Kirby Smart shares thoughts on the Georgia football outside linebacker position

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