The 2018 Georgia Bulldogs are looking to build off of last season’s success, which came from having one of the country’s best defenses. However, that will be easier said than done, as Lorenzo Carter, Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, Malkom Parrish, Trenton Thompson, John Atkins, Reggie Carter, Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders have moved on to the next level.
Without question, the Bulldogs have some outstanding talent on defense that received playing time last season. However, replacing the big names from the magical 2017 campaign is much more complex than simply replacing numbers and stats.
For the 2018 defense to be great, a handful of players must now become the leaders of the pack. Of course, leadership comes in all shapes and forms, but it’s a must-have attribute for teams wanting to play at a championship level.
Thankfully, there are five guys that are showing excellent signs of building on the legacy left by those before them.
First up … Jonathan Ledbetter
Despite his share of ups and downs throughout his time as a Bulldog, Ledbetter began to take on a leadership role as the 2017 season progressed. His ability to overcome off the field issues earlier in his career at Georgia is what has helped to mold him into a great leader for the Bulldogs on the defensive line.
He looked very impressive throughout spring camp. He has excellent movement and look for him to be the guy that takes on the role left behind by Thompson. The defensive line is the point of attack and last year’s defensive success stemmed from the work of this group. This season, Ledbetter is the man to lead these guys.
Second up … D’Andre Walker
Walker has already started to look more in tune in taking on the leadership role under new outside linebacker coach Dan Lanning. During spring drills, Walker always took the first leadership rep in practice and the group seems to follow his lead.
When transitioning from a role player to a leader, on-the-field success can certainly help and Walker has just that, as he was second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks. With all signs appearing for him to be a starter, expect those numbers to only go up from last season’s totals.
Third up … Monty Rice
Rice is in the middle of a tough inside linebacker competition and he showed out on G-Day as he led both teams in tackles with 14. This type of production should be eye opening to not only the fans, but also the coaching staff, as they look for someone to replace what is being left behind by Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith.
Rice will also have to find a way to replace the leadership qualities that Smith had and that will come with time, but his production alone should be a statement enough for now to make him a leader for these Bulldogs.
Fourth up … Richard LeCounte III
LeCounte has always been vocal since his time in high school and he was a leader in the Bulldogs 2017 recruiting class. Expect him being vocal to transition onto the field this year as he should be the favorite to take up the safety position left behind by Dominick Sanders.
LeCounte is a supreme talent and coach Kirby Smart has been challenging him all spring to step up in this role. It would appear Smart’s demands are not to make LeCounte look bad, but rather to motivate him to achieve becoming an elite player. If he steps up, then the Bulldogs secondary should be in good hands.
And last, but certainly not least … J.R. Reed
Reed’s role in the Bulldogs defense was definitely a question mark when he first arrived in Athens, but now he has worked his way to being a premier talent for the team. Reed also has become more and more vocal throughout his time with the Bulldogs and he should lead the secondary this season.
Reed’s performance on the field in 2017 was also impressive as he was second on the team in tackles only trailing Roquan Smith. Reed should only improve on this total and standout even more this season.
The Bulldogs may have a lot of talent to replace on the defensive side of the ball, but these five guys should ease the minds of the Bulldog nation as they should step up and be the Dawgs on defense.