Nakobe Dean is coming off an impressive freshman campaign where he was used as a situational player at inside linebacker for the Bulldogs last season.
He finished the 2019 season by playing in all 14 games and totaled 25 stops on the year.
Now, as a sophomore Dean is looking to take on a bigger role in one of college football’s best returning defenses.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Dean said in a Zoom interview with reporters on Tuesday. “The 2020 defense hasn’t done anything. We haven’t even stepped on the field yet in pads so that’s all that we really need to say.”
Last season, Georgia led the nation in scoring defense by only allowing just 12.6 points per game. It also led the nation in run defense, finished No. 3 in total defense and No. 8 in defensive pass efficiency.
Even though Kirby Smart wasn’t present Tuesday for interviews, he would have liked what Dean was saying.
“There’s a disease that creeps in at Georgia where kids believe they are better than they are and they read their own press clippings,” Smart said in a previous interview. “They’ll only be as good as they can be if they stay as hungry as they are. When you’re not hungry, you become average. And some of that, I think, has affected us in the past.”
In fact, Dean seems to be not only learning from Smart but also his older defensive teammates as well.
Senior inside linebacker and 2019 leading Bulldogs’ tackler Monty Rice took to Twitter earlier this summer to relay a similar message. He said that he’s been on defenses before that were supposed to be great, but they ended up not being up to par because complacency took over.
It seems like a lot of Georgia’s defenders are mirroring what their head coach has preached. It’s evident that Smart has instilled in them that they can always improve and be better than they were a year ago.
“The goals from this year to last year aren’t too different,” he said. “You’ve just got to do it. You’ve got to execute better, get more havoc plays. You’ve got to take the ball from more people and things like that.”
Redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari, who led Georgia in quarterback pressures last season, agreed.
“We’re still working to be that great defense,” Ojulari said. “Definitely, because in all those games, we didn’t reach our goal, so there are definitely some things we can improve on.”
Dean made it clear that Georgia’s inside linebackers unit is ready to its part.
“The inside linebacker group, we’re pushing to try to be the leaders of the whole team, not just the defense,” Dean said. “We’re pushing everybody with how we stay together, and I feel like more now than ever, we can say anything to each other. Me, Trezmen (Marshall) and Rian (Davis) were the young guys last year.
“When we see somebody doing something, we might not call them out because we were young and we did not want to get in the mix. Now we call anybody out if we see them slacking and they can do the same for us. I feel like that relationship right there just helps us.”
The Horn Lake High School product said that he is also ready to see how the season will pan out.
“No matter what the order of games was I’m pretty sure we’re going to compete the same every week,” Dean said. “As a team, we’re going to practice hard. That’s what we do.”
Even though Dean seems confident, there are some obstacles in the way. As the team enters the 2020 season, staying healthy and having the right mindset are the two biggest road blocks. But that’s where leadership comes in, and that’s something that Dean said has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for himself.
UGA is set to start class on Thursday, and it will the first time the players will be interacting with the rest of the student body since last semester. Dean was adamant in challenging the rest of his peers to mirror what the football team has been doing for the past few months.
“There are concerns, just like all the students who came back to campus,” he said. “There are concerns but I want to challenge my student body and everybody here to wear their face masks when we’re going to class and things like that.”
He seems hopeful that things will work out.
“I feel like our team, our coaches, everybody, the medical staff have (stressed) wearing masks and everything, staying six feet away and everything like that,” Dean said. “I feel like it will become more of a challenge when class starts, and everyone comes here. I feel like if we just fall back on what we’ve been doing, we’ll be all good.”
Here is the video of Dean’s interview: