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February 9, 2006
Who will fill the needs on defense?
Yesterday, UGASports.com broke down the Georgia football roster heading into spring ball which begins in two weeks. Today we take a look at the Bulldogs' defense which returns five starters from the 2005 SEC Champion team. Who are the other guys in the mix? Where to the incoming freshmen fit in? While we can not answer every question with certainty, we can give you a glimpse of what the coach staff has to work with.
Two-Deep Depth Chart: After losing both Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson to graduation, Ray Gant is the only returning tackle with any starting experience. He is also the most versatile player on the team having played both end and tackle throughout his career. Probably the next guy in line is sophomore Jeff Owens who will likely get the nod at the other tackle spot. Owens played well as a true freshman last season and will probably develop into a leader with his high energy play and vocal prominence. Beyond those two, seniors Dale Dixson and Marquis Elmore have one more year to break out, but neither has had much consistency over the course of their careers. Elmore has switched positions a few times and has battled through a boat load of injuries that have hampered his progress, and he will miss this spring after undergoing offseason wrist surgery.
Working their way up the ranks: Big things are expected of Kade Weston who redshirted last season. The big man from New Jersey probably would have played last season had it not been for a need to adjust to the Southern heat and the fast pace rigors of the Bulldogs' practices. He has developed well over the course of his redshirt season and could find himself the number three tackle with a solid spring. Behind him is freshman Ricardo Crawford who enrolled at UGA in January. A sleeper by many people's estimations during recruiting, Crawford has drawn a lot of attention of the Strength and Conditioning staff and fellow players for his size and physical condition.
Bottom Line: Spring will be a big time for guys like Owens and Weston who look to cement their places in the mix--Owens on the first team and Weston in the two deep behind him and Gant. The addition of Crawford will help not only bolster depth, but give him a head start for August and inside track for the two-deep. More help is on the way this summer with the Dawgs will welcome a bunch of defensive line signees with at least one or two probably getting a look early on at defensive tackle. One last thing to mull over: a defensive end moving inside. Defensive end Charles Johnson is pretty big at 6-foot-2, 275 pounds and is doing all he can to keep his weight down. There was talk of him moving inside last summer, but at the time he said he was not fond of the idea. There has been no official word on the matter from the coaching staff, and in fact Coach Kirby Smart said on signing day that he did not know of any players that might switch positions. Only time will tell.
Recruiting for 2007: Talk about top heavy. Three of the six defensive tackles on campus are seniors, and only one of the underclassmen has any playing experience. With the three leaving after the 2006 season and with two more coming in this summer, the Dawgs will probably have about five defensive tackles heading into 2007 and that will not do. Look for the team to sign at least two true tackles as well as some jumbo defensive ends that could one day grow into tackles.
Two-Deep Depth Chart: If Quentin Moses had not returned for his senior season, this position would be in the middle of a major overhaul right about now. However, that is not the case and he and Charles Johnson return to fill the top two spots on the depth chart. The only other defensive ends with any experience that could fill the two-deep are Marcus Howard and Jeremy Lomax. Neither has a lot of playing experience, both are battling injuries, and both are a bit underweight for the position at about 225 apiece at last official weigh-in. Lomax will miss spring after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Working their way up the ranks: Roderick Battle is in a great position to make a bid for the two-deep depth chart. He redshirted last season as a freshman, but was impressive to coaches last fall. Due to a good situation with depth heading into the season, it was easy for the coaching staff to put a redshirt on him, but he continued to work hard on and off the field and is ready to go for spring.
Bottom Line: With Lomax our for spring following the surgery, the situation could not be better for Battle to make a move. If that happens, it will give the team a little breathing room until the summer when at least five incoming freshmen--Kiante Tripp, Michael Lemon, Geno Atkins, DeMarcus Dobbs, and Brandon Wood--will be in the mix. Of that group, Atkins and Dobbs could move inside. As mentioned above in the defensive tackles section, there is a chance that Charles Johnson could move inside. There is also a chance that linebacker Brandon Miller, who is bigger than either Lomax or Howard, could be moved to defensive end. There has been talk of this for a long time, but as of yet the coaching staff has not made any public announcement on the matter.
Recruiting for 2007: Depending on what happens with the five or so defensive ends coming in this fall, the Dawgs will likely be in pretty good shape at this position heading into 2007. They will lose only Moses following the 2006 season, and should have enough bodies to fill the two spots. Still, the recent trend for the team has been to recruit big defensive end prospects that could either stay outside or move inside over time as they continue to grow. It would probably be in their best interest to make any moves right away so that recruiters from other schools can not point at the roster and say, "Look, UGA just signed five defensive ends last season....."
Two-Deep Depth Chart: With Brandon Miller and Jarvis Jackson returning on the outside and Tony Taylor holding down the fort in the middle, the first team linebacker spots are solid. Add Danny Verdun into the mix and you have another player that is starter material as well. The only other two linebackers to help fill the two deep depth chart are Marcus Washington and Olaolu Sanni-Osomo. Washington played well as a true freshman last season and will be Taylor's backup in the middle. Sanni-Osomo, who was converted from safety to linebacker last season, will vie for one of the outside spots.
Working their way up the ranks: There are no other scholarship linebackers on the roster than those on the two-deep depth charts.
Bottom Line: As stated, the top four have plenty of experience and should be fine. Washington shows plenty of promise while Sanni-Osomo has yet to really make a move. Aside from the position switch, Sanni-Osomo has missed a lot of time over the past four years injured and has never seen significant playing time. The loss of Dannell Ellerbe, who is suspended from the team indefinitely, for spring ball hurts, but chances are good that he will be back in time for fall camp. August will be a big time for the linebacker corps as they welcome four freshmen to the mix. Darrius Dewberry will probably make an immediate impact coming out of Hargrave Military Academy, while Akeem Hebron, Darryl Gamble, and Akeem Dent will each get a shot to work their way into the rotation. In the defensive end section of this story we mentioned that there has been talk (remember, just talk and nothing official at this time), that Miller could move to defensive end. If that were to happen, it looks like at least two of the four incoming freshmen will need to play not only for depth reasons, but to get valuable experience for 2007 when they will all be called upon to fill the two-deep.
Recruiting for 2007: In terms of numbers, the situation looks pretty good heading into the 2006 season for the Dawgs. However, three of the top four linebackers are seniors and the other is a junior. Redshirting a couple of the incoming freshmen would be nice for class separation, and then look for the Dawgs to bring in two or three linebackers for 2007.
Two-Deep Depth Chart: Juniors Paul Oliver, Thomas Flowers, and Mikey Henderson have plenty of experience with Ramarcus Brown not too far behind. Of the group, Oliver has the best chance of cementing a first team spot this spring as he has been the most accomplished on the field. Flowers would probably be the odds on favorite at the other corner spot by virtue of the second most experience. Henderson and Brown are speedsters, but need to show more in coverage.
Working their way up the ranks: Redshirt freshmen Bryan Evans and Donovan Baldwin were able to spend the last nine months learning the ropes and getting as many reps as they could in practice and on the scout teams. Both will be getting their first big chance this spring to make their mark. Also in the mix is true freshman Asher Allen who enrolled at UGA in January. One of the top rated cornerbacks coming out of high school, Allen could very easily find his way into the rotation with a solid spring.
Bottom Line: Replacing Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter will not be easy, but the good news is that there are some talented guys running around Athens and even more on the way next fall. Led by Oliver, the three other returning players with experience should be able to hold down the fort--that is if they can fend off the three younger players. Given the fact that there are quite a few guys there to fill the two spots, and the addition of Prince Miller this summer, coach Willie Martinez should have plenty to work with for the cornerback positions.
Recruiting for 2007: Everybody will be back for 2007. So, while there is not immediate need, the Dawgs will probably try and bring in a corner or two just to keep the pipeline full.
Two-Deep Depth Chart: Tra Battle, a former walk-on, leads this bunch with Kelin Johnson likely to fill the other first team spot heading into spring. Behind them, sophomore is C.J. Byrd who saw quite a bit of playing time on special teams last season as a true freshman. Antonio Sims will probably round out the two deep.
Working their way up the ranks: Antavious Coates was looked at as a guy that might be able to play as a true freshman last year until he was injured and redshirted. He has good size, speed, and the coaches are high on his ability. This spring will be his first big test.
Bottom Line: Battle has been a solid player over the past four seasons. How often is it that a walk-on makes it into the nickel package as a true freshman, and then goes on to earn a scholarship and be a starter? Not very, but Battle did it and he will be the senior leadership for the secondary this fall. Johnson appears to have that spark of a head hunter ala Greg Blue, Thomas Davis, Sean Jones, Jermaine Phillips, and Terreal Bierria, but he is still young. Those two will probably hold down the first team spots at safety and free safety, respectively, through spring. Byrd, Sims, and Coates will battle it out for a second team slot, or even challenge for a first team slot if Battle and Johnson are not giving it their all this spring. Fall camp will see the addition of two more safeties to the roster--the number one rated player at the position in the land Reshad Jones and Quintin Banks.
Recruiting for 2007: The safety spots look pretty good for the Bulldogs in that only one of the seven players on the roster for 2006 will leave due to graduation following the upcoming season. Still, the team will need to bring in a couple to make up for losses and keep the depth chart populated.Steve Patterson has been covering the Georgia Bulldogs for nine years and is as close to the program as anybody in the media. To read more of Patterson's stories, as well as that of other UGASports.com staffers, sign up for a free 7 day trial subscription to UGASports.com today.