2012 Georgia Preview – Defense
Georgia LB Jarvis Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Georgia Bulldog Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: It might be hard for a defense to stand out in the SEC, but Georgia's was able to do it last year finishing fifth in the nation in yards allowed. It wasn't always great at keeping the better offenses under wraps – allowing 75 points to LSU and Michigan State to close things out – but overall it was a good D. Now it should be even better. The front seven in the 3-4 alignment has the potential to be a killer with a loaded line led by the tackle rotation of John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Pass rushing terror Jarvis Jones is one of the nation's top outside linebackers in an athletic and active corps. And then there's the secondary. After losing a slew of young players to suspensions and transfer, there were even more problems with three starters getting hit with suspensions for a variety of reasons. After the first few weeks all will be fine, but it could take a bit of adjusting early on to find the right combination.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Jarvis Jones
Tackles: Shawn Williams, 72
Sacks: Jarvis Jones, 13.5
Interceptions: Bacarri Rambo, 8
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB Malcolm Mitchell
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Alec Ogletree
Best pro prospect: Senior DT John Jenkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jones, 2) Jenkins, 3) S Bacarri Rambo
Strength of the defense: Defensive Front Seven, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Secondary Suspensions, Good Passing Games
The defensive line was terrific against the run and decent at getting into the backfield, but the job of the front three is to hold up against the power teams with senior John Jenkins the perfect anchor to be the main man to work around. The 6-3, 351-pound former superstar JUCO transfer wasn't a disappointment in his first year, but considering the hype and potential he wasn't quite the dominant force he was expected to be. Very big and very active, he made 28 tackles with three sacks and six tackles for loss showing the ability to hold up well against the run. Good last year, he appears to have upped his intensity and looked this offseason like he's ready to take his game to an All-America level.
While Georgia will mostly work in a 3-4, it could easily play a 4-3 with junior Kwame Geathers strong enough to be used as a second starting tackle if and when he's not backing up Jenkins. At 6-6 and 350 pounds he's a massive body on the inside who made 14 tackles as a part of the rotation. After a terrific offseason he should be a fantastic run stopper on the nose with just enough quickness and athleticism to get behind the line from time to time.
The linebackers will take care of the pass rush, but that doesn't mean that senior Abry Jones won't be asked to get to the quarterback. A 6-3, 309-pound tackle playing end, he made 48 tackles with three sacks and seven tackles for loss, and now he's auditioning to become a prototype 3-4 end at the next level with excellent size and quickness off the ball. He'll be backed up by 6-3, 294-pound junior Garrison Smith, another tackle-sized end who came to Georgia to play in the interior but worked at end making 22 tackles with three tackles for loss as a spot starter.
Former linebacker Cornelius Washington was tried out at end this offseason, and while it's been rocky at times in practices, the move appears to have worked as he finished spring ball looking like a natural. At 6-4 and 260 pounds he's built for the job and he should be able to shine as a pass rusher after making five sacks with 29 quarterback pressures along with 17 tackles. He has the speed, and now he appears to be in the right position, while fellow linebacker Ray Drew will also be given a shot at an end job after making eight tackles with half a sack. At 6-5 and 263 pounds he has good size to go along with excellent athleticism.
Watch Out For … the outside linebackers. Washington should shine in his new spot and Drew might have found a home. They both have prototype size for an NFL end, and with so much size and so much activity in the front seven, they should see plenty of one-on-one blocking to exploit.
Strength: The defensive tackles. Right now there are more than a few NFL teams that wouldn't be too upset with Jenkins and Geathers in their rotation. These are two very big, very promising run stuffers who appear ready to become even more effective all-around playmakers. Don't be shocked if these two get on the field at the same time.
Weakness: Teams that could run. It might be a far different story this season, but last year the Dawg front line got shoved around by LSU's offensive front, had problems with the South Carolina ground game, and struggled with the Georgia Tech ground game like everyone else does. Consistency is a little bit of a problem.
Outlook: If Jenkins and Geathers really are a little bit better, then all of a sudden the line should go from great to special against the run, while getting more of a pass rush from Washington on the end would be a nice boost. The linebackers will end up being the flashy stars in the front seven, but the front three should turn out to be a brick wall.
Unit Rating: 8.5
There was never a question mark about junior Jarvis Jones' talent. The 6-3, 241-pounder came to Georgia from USC with a world of skill and upside, size, and elite skills, but there was a huge concern about his health after injuring his neck in 2009. Cleared and ready to go, he exploded for the Dawgs making 70 tackles with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss as the leader of a strong defense. He started out hot with 11 tackles against Boise State and was steady all the way through the regular season, but he only came up with three stops against LSU and one in the loss to Michigan State. With his skills and burst he'll be turned loose even more and he should be one of the nation's most dangerous pass rushing terrors.
With all the attention paid to Jones on one side, the hope will be for 6-3, 227-pound junior Chase Vasser to dominate on the other. Mostly a special teamer when he started out his career, he's smart, quick and very, very active. While he only made 16 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss as a spot starter and key reserve, he should be used even more as a pass rusher.
6-3, 236-pound junior Alex Ogletree is a safety playing inside linebacker, and is shows making 52 tackles with three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in just eight games after coming back from a broken foot suffered in the opener against Boise State. Great in the open field, he came up with ten solo stops against Georgia Tech and 12 against Michigan State. He'll be backed up by senior Christian Robinson, a veteran starter who made 47 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Able to play in the middle or in more of a strongside role, he's a bit smallish at 6-2 and 226 pounds but can move.
Senior Michael Gilliard turned into a nice starter finishing third on the team with 65 tackles with two sacks and seven tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 220 pounds he's built like a defensive back, but he's a great hitter who has no problems getting physical and holding up well against the run. While he's not necessarily spectacular like other Georgia linebackers, he's steady. At 6-2 and 231 pounds, sophomore Amarlo Herrera is a bigger option who started eight times making 37 tackles and three tackles for loss. He's not a pass rusher, but he's a solid part of the system.
Watch Out For … Vasser. The hype for Jones is through the roof, and while teams targeted him more and more as last season went on, now there will be even more of an effort to keep him under wraps and the chances should be there for Vasser to become a bigger playmaker. He'll have to battle to stay the main man in the rotation on the outside, but he should be able to do it.
Strength: Pass rush. While the defensive line should be excellent at getting into the backfield, it's Jones and the linebackers who'll be the most disruptive part of the defensive front. The Dawgs have tremendous speed and athleticism at all four spots.
Weakness: Size at some spots. It's nitpicking for a strong linebacking corps, but with Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew moving to defensive end the size is a bit thin for the middle four. On the plus side, Vasser and Gilliard run like beefed up safeties,, but they're not exactly massive. Again, it's nitpicking.
Outlook: As long as Jones is being Jones, the linebacking corps will be among the best in the SEC. Three starters are back and Vasser appears ready to make a big impact. Considering how good the front three will be, this group will be turned loose to do even more in the backfield and be stronger at swarming around the ball.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Eventually the secondary will be a major plus, but first the team has to get through a slew of suspensions and other problems after defections have made a possible strength into a concern. Eventually, All-America free safety Bacarri Rambo will be back in the mix after making 55 tackles with eight picks coming off an 82-tackle 2010. The 6-0, 218-pound senior has great rang and the versatility to play just about anywhere in the secondary to become a statistical star, but first he has to get back in the mix after being slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the school's drug policy. While Rambo is out, 5-10, 208-pound sophomore Connor Norman will play a significant role. Able to play strong safety or free, the walk-on has mostly been a special teamer so far making 13 tackles last season. While there's a huge drop-off from Rambo to Norman – a HUGE drop-off – the numbers should be there against the run.
Also facing a suspension will be veteran corner Branden Smith, a 5-11, 176-pound senior who'll miss the opener after being arrested for pot possession. A jack-of-all-trades who's versatile enough to see time on offense if absolutely needed as a running back, he's one of the team's best athletes with cut-on-a-dime quickness and great speed making 24 tackles with two picks. While Smith is out, sophomore Damian Swann, an excellent athlete who can play anywhere in the secondary, should make a nice impact. He got his feet wet as a true freshman making five tackles with a tackle for loss, but he should be ready to handle himself well.
The other big loss early on will be junior Sanders Commings, a 6-2, 217-pound veteran lock-down defender who made 55 tackles with a pick, a sack and 12 broken up passes. More of a free safety than a corner, he can play anywhere in the secondary and can handle the bigger receivers without any sort of a problem, but he'll miss the first few games serving a suspension after some off-the-field issues. Stepping in during Commings' suspension will be receiver Malcolm Mitchell, a 6-1, 184-pound sophomore who finished second on the team with 45 catches for 665 yards and four scores. Big, fast and strong, he has the tools and he has the ability, but it will be asking a lot for a polished first few games at his new position. He looks the part, though.
With so much hullabaloo over all the suspensions and all the problems, unfortunately, 6-1, 220-pound senior Shawn Williams hasn't received the attention he deserves. Considered a possible corner with the ability to step in where needed at safety, he ended up leading the team with 72 tackles with five tackles for loss and four picks at strong safety. Very athletic for his size and with a great nose for the ball, he's a great tackler who was more steady than spectacular.
Watch Out For … all the suspensions. Starting out the year against Buffalo won't be bad, but going to Missouri on September 8th should be a problem with three of the key defensive backs likely out of the mix. Georgia has a slew of athletic options to fill in the gaps, but the consistency and continuity aren't going to be there early.
Strength: Depth and talent. Few teams in college football could lose a slew of players to suspension and have as many players out of the mix and still be solid. Mitchell is going to be more than a nice fill-In from the offense while Williams should help make up for some of the bigger losses early on. Eventually, three starters will be back to one of the nation's most productive secondaries, but …
Weakness: Reality. The secondary is great, but there's a reason the stats were so sensational. Georgia finished fourth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and tenth in pass D, but that's partly because there were only a few teams on the slate that could throw. Boise State's Kellen Moore and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins were able to come through when they had to, combining for 579 yards, while Tennessee's Tyler Bray was able to throw for 251 yards.
Outlook: Give it a little time. The defensive front seven should be strong enough to make up for the problems in the secondary over the first month of the season, while there's enough versatility to make sure that four restaurant quality defensive backs are on the field at all times. Eventually the Georgia defensive backfield will be among the best in the nation, and like last year, it'll get a big break with few good passing teams on the slate. The rating is based on what the secondary will eventually be.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Gone is PK Blair Walsh, who went from being one of the nation's most reliable kickers to hitting just 21-of-35 shots last year. Senior walk-on Jamie Lindley will get a long look at the job after looking just strong enough this offseason to potentially be ready to handle the work. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's not going to be asked to bomb away if he gets the job. However, on the way is freshman Marshall Morgan with the idea that he's going to be the main man from Day One. With a cannon, the 6-3, 195-pounder is a big kicker with 50+ range and the talent to be expected to come through on big bombs after nailing a 59-yarder in high school.
Former Ray Guy winner Drew Butler averaged 44.2 yards per kick and put 21 inside the 20, but he didn't get much help from the coverage team. This year, true freshman Collin Barber is expected to step in and shine as one of the nation's better punting prospects. He has the size and the leg to be good from the start, but it's asking for way too much to be Butler. Also getting a look is walk-on sophomore Adam Erickson, who'll also compete for the placekicking job.
Brandon Boykin was everything to the return game averaging 12.9 yards per punt return with a 92-yarder for the score in the bowl game and averaging 22.4 yards per kickoff return. Corner Branden Smith averaged 7.8 yards per punt return on nine tries and 18.7 yards per kickoff return, but several options will be tried out with Smith suspended early on.
Watch Out For … the freshmen vs. the walk-ons. Morgan and Barber were recruited to take over starting jobs right away, but they'll have to battle with Erickson and Lindley after they earned spots on the depth chart after this spring.
Strength: History. Georgia always finds ways to come up with strong special teams with more than enough good speedsters to return kicks and great kicker prospects ready to roll. Morgan and Barber will be fine.
Weakness: Kick coverage. Overall experience is a concern, but more than anything else the Dawg coverage teams have to improve allowing 14.9 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kick return with two scores.
Outlook: Georgia came into last season hoping to have the best special teams in America, but it didn't really work out with the coverage teams a disaster and the kicking game a bit weaker than hoped for. Now there's a total overhaul at kicker and punter and it's going to take a little bit to find the right options for the return game. Expect the special teams to eventually be fine with a little bit of time and work.
Unit Rating: 6
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