After Azeez Ojulari, Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell all showed impressive performances at Wednesday’s Pro Day, reality will start to set in for Georgia. After two days of spring practice, the program will have to move on and look to what will bring success in 2021.
The Bulldogs are as experienced on offense as they ever have been during Kirby Smart’s reign. While that is exciting for Georgia fans who can and will expect a lot of points on the scoreboard this fall, it also masks some of the holes that Georgia will have to work on defensively.
“Since I’ve been here it seems we’ve had a really experienced defense a couple times,” said Smart. “It’s showed for two days, we’ve been behind defensively and been ahead offensively.”
One of the biggest ways Georgia can improve defensively is being active and effective with its pass rush. The Bulldogs were third in the SEC with 32 sacks last season. Nine of those sacks came from Ojulari, but Adam Anderson was also fourth in the SEC in sacks with 6.5 of his own. Anderson should play a huge role this upcoming season.
Anderson is a physical specimen, standing at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. The former 5-star recruit from Rome is quite versatile as well. He does a tremendous job of rushing the passer as an edge rusher but has also learned to set the edge better against the run as he’s gotten more experienced. Smart said that Anderson has also experimented at the STAR position, where he sees Anderson being able to use his skill set there as well.
“When you’re an outside backer, you are a STAR,” said Smart. “Every snap that we play 3-4 [defense], we have a STAR that is an outside backer. You have to build your defense around a structure around what you want to do. We think that he can help us from a rush standpoint, what we’re experimenting with right now is him having to cover.”
When most think of the STAR position they think of slot cornerbacks or nickelbacks, which is why Anderson playing there initially raised some eyebrows. Smart’s explanation makes plenty of sense though. He emphasized that they use the STAR position to blitz a lot of the time anyway, so it allows for the Bulldogs to avoid having to put another defensive back on the field, a position they are currently limited at.
Anderson should make an impact wherever he is on the field. Nolan Smith is another guy that will have to step up. Like Anderson, Smith was also one of the highest-rated recruits in his class. Last year though, the sack numbers were not as impressive as some hoped. He finished with only three sacks, but did have 20 quarterback pressures despite not starting the whole season. Smart did not put all the pressure on Smith though.
“I think everybody just assumes with Azeez [Ojulari] being gone, that it’s Nolan’s job. It’s not like that for us,” said Smart.
Smart pointed out that Travon Walker is a player that will have to step up with Ojulari and Malik Herring headed to the NFL. Walker has the versatility to play defensive end and move inside if necessary.
With the inexperience that Georgia faces in the secondary and with a new defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae, pressure up front will be key for Georgia’s defense. In fact, Lovasea Carroll has been getting snaps at cornerback. Carroll was recruited as a running back out of IMG Academy. Georgia is very deep at running back, so perhaps Carroll can leave his mark at a position of need. So, if Georgia can build on an impressive 2020 sack campaign, they can take some pressure off the young secondary.
“I thought last year was probably one of our best years ever in terms of sack production,” said Smart. “Dan [Lanning] has done a good job making that a priority by the way he schemes the defense and the way he calls the defense. We had productive rushers, but a lot of that was what he called and trying to scheme to get guys one-on-one.”