Nolan Smith: The progression of Georgia’s outside linebackers, how they need to be more consistent

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Nolan Smith: The progression of Georgia’s outside linebackers, how they need to be more consistent

Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith (4) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith (4) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

If someone were to ask any Georgia defender in the offseason what the unit could improve on in the 2020 season, the answer probably would have been: creating more havoc and getting constant pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback.

Georgia’s pass rush so far this season has been a pleasant surprise. The Bulldogs are currently ranked second in the SEC with 18 total sacks as they average 3.0 per game. The position group that deserves the most credit is the outside linebackers group, which includes Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith, Jermaine Johnson and Adam Anderson.

Against weaker opponents this season, Georgia’s been able to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but versus Alabama and Florida that wasn’t the case.

Look back to the game against the Gators, signal-caller Kyle Trask was able to pick Georgia apart on short passes across the middle. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was able to beat Georgia on long balls to his elite receivers. Those two quarterbacks were able to have all that success because the Bulldogs weren’t able to apply constant pressure in the backfield.

Smith said this past week that the Bulldogs’ defense has been working on being more consistent in the unexpected off week, especially against better competition.

“We try to get better from week to week,” Smith said. “Personally, there’s a lot of things that I can work on. I’m not a perfect player by any means. Working on our pass rush, knowing our coverages and stuff like that and how we can really help with games. Just really pocket push from me, and being able to separate from blocks.”

Georgia’s group of outside linebackers are extremely talented and have carried the defense in terms of those numbers. That position group has accounted for 11.5 of Georgia’s 18 total sacks. Although, Smith claims that the outside linebackers aren’t really trying to light up the stat sheets. Those four guys are really there to help the defense achieve success.

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“It’s 100-percent a different attitude,” Smith said. “It’s never, ‘I need to get mine when I have to.’ It’s ‘I do it for my brothers and the team.’ If I see Azeez [Ojulari] get a sack, I’m going to be yelling from the sideline, ‘great job Azeez.’ I know when I get a sack, he’s yelling the same thing. That’s really a selfish mentality and there is nothing like that on our team.”

Smith is only a sophomore and is still developing his game, but has looked impressive over his short collegiate career. Georgia should be able to retain Anderson next year because he’s only a junior and doesn’t have much NFL Draft stock yet. The big question in the outside linebacker position group is if Georgia can keep Johnson and Ojulari.

Smith said regardless that his teammates just to want to see the defense improve this season.

“You take every day, one day at a time,” Smith said. “You shouldn’t need motivation. We were fighting to play a football season, and now we get an opportunity to. Like you said, what is your motivation? You get to play football, so we have to come in and prepare every day like it might be our last day. You’ve seen guys get banged up, hurt, in other conferences that don’t get to play a down anymore, and you just try to take it one day at a time.”

Here is the video from Smith’s interview:

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.