Recruiting is the lifeblood of success in college football. Player retention, presuming the ‘crootin’ has provided a seat at the table, combined with bringing in elite talent yearly is what delivers the glory. These days the transfer portal, where moving from school to school without sitting out a season, equates to de facto yearly free agency, thus player retention has taken on even greater importance.
With all of the stellar work on the recruiting trail that sixth year head coach Kirby Smart and his staff have done at his alma mater, undoubtedly his most important commitments were those of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb – plus Lorenzo Carter and a few more – to return for their senior seasons of 2017.
Led by a stellar group of veterans, the Bulldogs won the Southeastern Conference championship, defeated Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and played for the national championship. That wouldn’t have happened without that group of seniors and the dynamic junior linebacker Roquan Smith, who won the Butkus Award, was unanimous first-team All-American, and the Most Valuable Player of the SEC Championship Game.
Smith made the big plays, the game-changers.
Georgia has had some dandy defenders since, but Roquan had the skills and instincts that could turn third and shorts into blocked field goals.
There’s been a bunch of good news surrounding Georgia football going back to the December early signing period and the thrilling Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati in Atlanta. It should be noted that getting a win in that building should serve well the next time a championship is on the line inside the domed stadium.
Much of the good news involved the return of players, veterans hungry for one more run at a truly special season.
On the offensive side, Jamaree Salyer, the best lineman on the team is back for his senior year, and starting guard Justin Shafer is back as a “Super Senior,” taking advantage of the Covid-baed rule where that 2020 season didn’t count against eligibility for those fourth and fifth year players.
The Bulldogs got some especially good news on the defensive front. DeVonte Wyatt and Julian Rochester are back as super seniors on the defensive line. Teaming with Trayvon Walker, Jalen Carter, some talented understudies, and highly touted incoming freshmen, the prospects for the defensive line were certainly shaping up very good.
Then came the REALLY big news.
Mammouth nose tackle Jordan Davis, who missed several games in 2020 due to injury, announced that he would return for his senior year. An anchor in the middle, Davis is a run-stuffing, pocket collapsing force who requires a lot of attention in the middle of the line. He is a true difference maker. Two of Davis’s most successful performances came in the 2018 (his first start) and 2019 victories over Florida in Jacksonville. He, along with Richard LeCounte and several other Bulldogs, was injured and sorely missed against the Gators this past season.
With the talent around him, and Davis demanding the double team, the return of big No. 99 gives that Georgia defensive line the potential to be the best of Smart’s highly successful tenure in Athens.
As for the player who can make the big play with everything on the line, all eyes will be on superb junior linebacker NaKobe Dean. He was excellent as an understudy in 2019 and amongst the best ‘backers in the SEC a year ago. The same things were said about Smith. Now, can he make the jump and be one of the best players and big play makers in the league, and, again like Smith, be a coach on the field.
Smart sure seems to think so.
Even though Dean has been sidelined for the spring to heal up an injured shoulder, he has grabbed his head coach’s attention.
“I’ve never had a player in probably all of my career in coaching that was more engaged,” Smart said of his ace linebacker. “Nakobe is calling everything out, he’s calling plays from the sidelines.”
If this is going to be a great season, Georgia’s defensive line and linebackers must live up to their promise. The secondary, which was hit hard by attrition, has had some nice additions but will be viewed as the weak link on the Bulldogs defense, at least early in the season. The Bulldogs guys have to be guys, and that starts with Davis and Dean, who will do their best to spark some memories while making their own en route to something unforgettable in 2021.