The Georgia Bulldogs’ offseason has been a whirlwind, and next week the team starts spring drills on March 17. Since December, the program has seen quite a few coaching changes, have had players leave the team, and have added some graduate transfers as well.
The biggest change was when three-year starter Jake Fromm decided to leave the program to enter his name into the NFL Draft, but it wasn’t long before Kirby Smart secured the commitment from Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman. Newman has been enrolled in classes since January and will go through spring drills with the team next week. This will be the first time the media will get to see him live in drills (pending potential closings due to the COVID-19 scare).
Newman will be working in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken‘s system, which is a bit of a change from the offense last year. Monken is known to open up the field and allow his quarterbacks to throw it all over the yard, but it’s also expected that his offense will adjust to Georgia’s proven running game, too. Newman will be working behind an almost all-new offensive line after the departure of several key starters, but new position coach Matt Luke seems to be holding it down well. Earlier this month, Smart added longtime friend and former Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran to his staff to coach special teams.
Luke and Cochran are known for their passion and energy. That will help as Georgia welcomed six new early enrollees on campus in January. After working out with the team for the past few months, these six new freshmen will finally get a taste of what it’s like to be in a Bulldog uniform.
UGA is on spring break this week, and the players have a week off. But practice starts next Tuesday, and I think this is a great time to give you my predictions for the depth chart leading up to G-Day on April 18. Today we will look at the defense, and just a reminder, this will feature all the players that are currently enrolled in classes. The rest of the 2020 recruiting class will arrive on campus in June.
!) Malik Herring (Sr)
2) Travon Walker (So)
3) Tramel Walthour (RedSo)
This matchup between No. 1 and No. 2 will be interesting to watch because both Herring and Walker are so talented. Herring comes with the experience and the ability to adapt in any defensive scheme, but Walker is one the most talented players on the roster. Last year, Herring finished with 26 total stops (five tackles against Georgia Tech & Baylor) as he started in 12 of 14 games. Walker finished with 15 total stops, including 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. That duo can cause some chaos for opponent’s offensive lines, and add Walthour to the mix. Walthour should be able to finally see the field more with his skillset.
1) Jordan Davis (Jr)
2) Netori Johnson (RJr)
3) Tymon Mitchell (RFr)
Davis will be the clear front-runner heading into both spring and the season. The biggest question for the coaching staff is who will be Davis’ backup when he comes off the field. Even though I have Johnson is slotted at nose tackle, he might get moved over to work with the offensive line. In 2018, Johnson saw action in five games. His first four appearances came as a reserve offensive lineman, but then he switched to the defensive line before the game Kentucky game. Mitchell has the skill set to be second string, but the only question is playing time. He only got to see the field in 2019 in mop-up duty, but spring practice could boost him higher up the depth chart based on his performance.
1) Julian Rochester (RSr)/ Zion Logue (RFr)
2) Devonte Wyatt (Sr)/ Bill Norton (RFr)
3) Warren Brinson (Fr)
This is a position where Georgia doesn’t lack bodies but maybe experience. Rochester and Wyatt are clearly the oldest in this group and have the most snaps. Rochester should be fully healthy this spring as he is coming off a redshirt year, and Wyatt should be available pending a recent arrest (that’s the reason I have Logue slotted over him). Speaking of Logue, he saw limited action last year but coaches have spoken highly of him. Norton was also able to see the field a few times last year, and I think their battle will only push the two seniors to play harder. Before the arrival of five-star Jalen Carter, Brinson will get to learn some valuable lessons under defensive line coach Tray Scott.
1) Azeez Ojulari (RSo)
2) Nolan Smith (So)
3) Robert Beal (RJr)
Like defensive tackle, the outside linebacker position at Georgia is deep. Last season, Ojulari was one of Georgia’s best all-around players on defense, but Smith carried his own weight while on the field. It’s what unique is that both are coming off their first season as key contributors to the defense, and seeing them on the field together will be a spectacle. Expect to see Smith on a lot of third downs, and it’s going to be fun watching grow even more as a sophomore. Beal decided to withdraw his name from the transfer portal, and with him coming back he adds even more experience to this group. I expect him to be able to have a permanent role in key situations on defense come fall.
1) Walter Grant (Sr)
2) Jermaine Johnson (Sr) / Adam Anderson (Jr)
In defensive coordinator Dan Lanning’s defense, the SAM linebacker position is a strong point for the Bulldogs. With three really athletic linebackers, it gives Georgia an edge when they in a base package. Even though Johnson improved as the year went on, I still think Grant is the better option in terms of rushing the passer or dropping back into coverage. Johnson is still very versatile and can play the JACK slot as well. I saw Anderson last year on the scout team in practice a lot, but he did have a big role in games. He was especially good on third downs, and I expect the coaches will try and keep around the 225-pound mark for that reason.
1) Nakobe Dean (So)
2) Channing Tindall (Jr)
3) Trezmen Marshall (So) / Nate McBride (Sr)
Dean suffered an injury early in the season that nagged him, but he started to pick up playing time as the season went on. He definitely has the size and speed to be dominant. Dean also the ability to change directions when a rush cuts across field. I expect after two years Tindall will finally be settled into the defense and feel comfortable enough to make plays. During practice last year, Tindall looked like one of the hardest workers on the team. I expect Marshall to fill in that third spot, and McBride will see the field sometimes but will be a huge impact on special teams.
1) Monty Rice (Sr)
2) Quay Walker (Jr)
3) Rian Davis (RFr)
I don’t expect Rice to come off the field much this upcoming season because he is one of the most talented players on Georgia’s defense. Last year, Rice played some at MIKE but spent of his snapping playing the WILL. With Dean pretty much locking up that spot, I believe Rice will excel more at this position in the middle. Walker, who had a great year in 2019, will see the field a lot in different scenarios. Davis has a lot of potential, but we didn’t see a lot in 2019 because of a nagging injury. Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to get some valuable snaps this spring.
1) Tyrique Stevenson (So)/ Divaad Wilson (RSo)
2) Mark Webb (Sr)/ William Poole (RJr)
Stevenson had a really good 2019 season, and I expect him to lock up that spot by fall. Wilson is also a candidate for that top spot because he’s just too gifted to keep off the field. Both players made some really impactful plays in some of the biggest games last year. Webb is another guy who got a lot of playing time last year, and the Philadelphia native will give Wilson a run for his money for that second spot.
1) Tyson Campbell (Jr)
2) D.J. Daniel (Sr)
3) Jalen Kimber (Fr)
Campbell and Daniel both battled for the spot last year and I think they will again this spring. These two return with a lot of experience between them, and Daniel especially because of the way he played in Campbell’s absence last season. These two will duke it out but it will only make them better in the long run. Kimber will have a lot to learn from these two young men.
1) Eric Stokes Jr. (RJr)
2) Tyrique Stevenson (So)
3) Ameer Speed (RJr)
Both Campbell and Daniel can play this position, but I believe that Stokes will be the lockdown man in the top spot come spring practice. Stokes has proven to the coaching staff that he is a very consistent player, and his decision to come back for at least one year to develop is huge. Stevenson adds some depth to this position, but I can also see Kimber being slotted here, too,
1) Richard LeCounte (Sr)
2) Christopher Smith (Jr) / Major Burns (Fr)
LeCounte is a “ball hawk” and his decision to come back for his senior season is huge for UGA’s defense. Having a presence like LeCounte at safety is great because he is the leader of the defense. Plus, Smart has referenced several times last year that LeCounte is the quarterback of the defense. He makes sure that everyone is lined up and in the right spots. Smith and Burns will battle out it for the second spot, but I think Smith will hold that backup spot. Burns is only an early-enrollee freshman, so he can only go up. It will be interesting to see if he has put on any weight in the winter.
1) Lewis Cine (So)
2) Mark Webb (Sr)
3) Latavious Brini (RJr.) / Major Burns (Fr)
Cine has already established himself as a freshman, but I think he is a superstar in the making. Cine finished the SEC Championship game with a season-high six tackles and matched that total in the Sugar Bowl. He has very long arms and loves contact. Webb adds some depth to this position, and like Cine, they both approach the ball with “big-hit” intentions. Brini has played safety on special teams some but just hasn’t had that much of an impact. I think that Burns will be switched around between the two just to find his niche.