UGA LBs an Important Team Strength
By BJ Bennett
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Returning talent and continued growth should result in both more consistency and more big plays.
Georgia's collection of linebackers this fall will be athletic, deep and experienced and one of the best in the SEC. The return of seniors Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Reggie Carter, combined with the continued rise of juniors Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith, give the Bulldogs a number of proven veterans. Returning talent and continued growth in the second year under coordinator Mel Tucker and head coach Kirby Smart should result in both more consistency and more big plays.
Back in the winter, Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter joined running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in turning down a chance at the NFL to return to Athens. Their collective decisions to stay in school gave Smart's squad some very real momentum heading into this off-season. Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter have ideal size for outside linebackers, at 6'5'', 240 pounds and 6'6'', 242, respectively, and are coming off five sack-seasons each. Additionally, Reggie Carter has considerable starting experience and has played in 32 career contests.
As sophomores, inside linebackers Smith and Patrick emerged as Georgia's top two leading tacklers. Smith ultimately ranked seventh in the SEC with 95 total stops and trails only Kentucky's Jordan Jones and Mike Edwards among returning producers league-wide. He finished the year with 26 tackles in his final two games and could be spotted on some pre-season all-conference teams this summer. Patrick amassed 59 stops despite missing three games and ranked in the top 20 in the conference in tackles per game.
David Marshall and De'Andre Walker also played well as underclassmen a year ago. The arrival of Nate McBride, Walter Grant, Jaden Hunter and early enrollee Monty Rice make up an impressive recruiting class at linebacker. Multiple services slotted McBride as the nation's top prospect at inside linebacker. A couple of true freshmen could contribute early. Depth should be solid for the Bulldogs.
Spring practice, starting on March 21st, should feature good competition.
Last season, Georgia's defense ranked 16th nationally allowing 327.5 yards per game. Bolstered by the return of a top-level linebacker corps, the Bulldogs are poised to be even better this fall.