2007 Georgia Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 3, 2007

Preview 2007 Georgia Bulldog Defense Preview

Georgia Bulldogs

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7 - Defense

- 2007 Georgia Preview | 2007 Georgia Offense Preview
2007 Georgia Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Georgia Preview 

What you need to know:
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has his work cut out for him. After losing star corner Paul Oliver to academic ineligibility, the defense is woefully short on sure-thing veteran stars with only three returning starters. There's plenty of potential, speed, and athleticism, but several things have to happen for this to be nearly as good as the number eight defense it was last year. The pass rush should be there in time, but it might take the wheels of outside linebackers Darius Dewberry and Dannell Ellerbe to generate some consistent pressure early on. The secondary needs to unearth more big play options, and a number one corner has to quickly emerge. While undersized, the line is tough and should grow into a rock as the year goes on. This will be a far, far better defense after a few games. By then the coaching staff will have the right combination.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Kelin Johnson, 48
Sacks: Kelin Johnson, 2.5
Interceptions: Kelin Johnson, 2

Star of the defense: Senior SS Kelin Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Asher Allen
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman FS Reshad Jones
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) DT Jeff Owens, 3) DE Roderick Battle
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, outside linebacker speed
Weakness of the defense:
Experience, veteran depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The big key to the defense will be replacing the star defensive ends, Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson. First two step in will be sophomore Roderick Battle, a 6-4, 256-pound athlete who made four tackles and two sacks in a limited role. While not huge, and not expected to be a star run stopper right away, he has the speed and burst off the line to get into the backfield on a regular basis.

On the other side will be 6-2, 220-pound senior Marcus Howard , an undersized reserve with 38 career tackles. He has yet to show his speed, and now the former South Carolina high school all-star sprinter has to do fear more to get into the backfield. He started out his career as a linebacker, and he'll have to quickly prove he can hold up on a regular basis up front.

Back at one tackle spot is 6-3, 292-pound junior Jeff Owens after making 26 tackles and three tackles for loss. While he's not huge, and he only came up with one sack, he's a fantastic interior pass rusher, able to generate good pressure. A good defender from day one of his true freshman season, he needs to be the rock on the line as the most experienced and consistent returning lineman.

Another slightly undersized, but quick tackle is 6-1, 275-pound sophomore Geno Atkins, a good reserve who made nine tackles and now will play a much bigger role. A great athlete, the former high school linebacker has to quickly show he can handle himself consistently against the run.  

Projected Top Reserves: When more size is needed on the inside, 6-5, 315-pound sophomore Kade Weston will step in for Atkins after starting in size games and making 13 tackles with 14 quarterback pressures. His issue is his size; there's often too much of it. He has NFL potential with the quickness to get into the backfield along with the strength to stuff the run, but he needs to hover around 300 pounds and can't get much bigger than his current weight.

Pushing for time on the outside will be JUCO transfer Jarius Wynn, a 6-5, 275-pound run stopper who added more size to the front. He isn't a natural pass rusher, but he's expected to be a key player in the rotation behind Battle.

Combining to battle for time behind Howard will be 6-4, 222-pound junior Jeremy Lomax and 6-3, 260-pound redshirt freshman Michael Lemon. Lomax has more experience, but he only has six career tackles with a sack. Lemon is the far better prospect with the size and talent to grow into the next great Bulldog end.

Watch Out For ... Battle. The line needs a sure-thing pass rusher to replace Johnson, and Battle might be it. He has to show he can be more than just a situational pass rusher, and he has to play up to his size at all times, but he has the potential to be great.
Depth options. While there might not be much in the way of backup experience, there are several interesting options. Georgia is great at loading up on linemen, and it has several decent options to push for time while hoping for a few to emerge.
Tackle size. Usually, Georgia brings the beef on the inside with NFL-ready tackles who clog things up. That's not the case with this year's group unless Weston plays a huge role.
The line underachieved last year, and now this years group has to overachieve. There's a need for strength in numbers at end, hoping for a a few pass rushers to quickly emerge, while the athletic tackles have to play big. The Bulldogs always get production up front, but it might take a little while before everything jells.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Star linebackers Tony Taylor and Jarvis Jackson need to be replace. 6-4, 257-pound senior Brandon Miller has been waiting in the wings for a few years and will get Jackson's starting job in the middle. Extremely tough, he's fought through injuries in the past and came up with 23 tackles last season as a reserve, but the jury is still out on whether or not he has the athleticism and talent to be a top defender on the inside.

Getting the starting nod on the weakside, in place of Taylor, will be 6-1, 232-pound junior Dannell Ellerbe, a phenomenal athlete who has the potential to shine with a bigger role. He only made seven tackles and struggled to see time after coming off shoulder surgery, and getting thrown in the doghouse, after getting arrested for a DUI and leaving the scene of an accident. He took the starting job by the horns this spring, and now should be one of thee team's top tacklers.

Taking over on the strongside will be sophomore Darius Dewberry with 6-3, 230-pound size and excellent speed. A big-time recruit last year, he made just six tackles but showed good promise in practices. With all the tools, he should be a top all-around defender and a terror into the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 245-pound junior Marcus Washington would be a top candidate for the starting job in the middle, but he's coming off a knee injury. He has yet to make an impact anywhere but on special teams, but he has the size and the hitting ability to provide a big challenge to Miller at some point this year.

Ready to push for time on the weakside is 6-2, 240-pound redshirt freshman Darryl Gamble, one of the nation's top outside linebacker prospects last year. While he'll need plenty of time before he figures out what he's doing, he has the quickness to be a good pass defender and the size to become a rock against the run.

Watch Out For ... Dewberry and Ellerbe on the outside. They're hardly household names in the SEC world, but they're very quick and very promising with tremendous potential to fill in the starting holes right off the bat.
Speed and quickness. As always, the Georgia linebackers can move. These aren't just beefed up defensive backs playing linebacker, these are strong linebackers who'll make plenty of big plays.
Experience. The corps might look like a typical group of Georgia linebackers, but there isn't a whole bunch in the way of proven full-year experience. This is the team's most unproven area.
Outlook: This might be the team's make-or-break area. The outside linebackers should be great with a little bit of time, but Miller is hardly an All-SEC caliber player in the middle. The proven depth is almost non-existent, and it was made worse with the loss of Akeem Hebron, who was suspended for the season. Give it a year. After the coaching staff gets a change to play around with all the combinations, the corps should be a strength going into 2008.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The Bulldog defense took a huge hit when it lost all-star corner Paul Oliver, who didn't go to class, and now it'll be scrambling for a number one coverman. 5-11, 179-pound sophomore Bryan Evans might be the team's best corner by default. Slated to get the starting job on the weakside opposite Oliver, he came up with a nice first season as a reserve with 26 tackles, and a sack with six broken up passes. More quick than blazing fast, he's at his best when he has to get to the ball to make the stop.

On the strongside, in place of Oliver, will likely be 5-10, 192-pound sophomore Asher Allen after making 24 tackles as a top reserve. He didn't do nearly enough against the pass, but he has the athleticism and raw speed to handle most non-elite receivers. If he's not the team's fastest player, he's second. Even so, he'll be tested early and often. He's also the team's top kickoff returner.

The one returning starter is strong safety Kelin Johnson, a 6-1, 194-pound senior who has experience, but not a world of talent compared to past Bulldog safeties. Mostly a special teamer in his first two seasons, he was third on the team with 60 stops last year. However, he's not a huge hitter and is average in pass coverage.

Junior C.J. Byrd has a tenuous hold on the free safety job after a decent spring. He has the 6-2, 190-pound size, good speed, and enough raw talent to do more than make the eight tackles he came up with last year. To cement the starting spot, he has to make more big plays and has to do more to come up some big hits.

Projected Top Reserves: It's not a question of if, but when and where 6-2, 194-pound redshirt freshman Reshad Jones starts. The best defensive back throughout spring ball, he had the coaches raving about his speed and nose for the ball. While he'll go into the fall behind Byrd at free safety, he might end at corner just to get him on the field as soon as possible.

6-2, 197-pound redshirt freshman Quintin Banks was one of the team's top recruits last year and will be the team's starting strong safety next year, if he doesn't push Johnson out of a job this season. He's the hitter the secondary needs, while he has the athleticism to play free safety if needed.

Back after missing almost the entire season with a foot injury, senior Thomas Flowers has to shine at corner after being expected to start last year. A superstar punt returner, he has next-level speed and decent size at 5-10 and 186 pounds. He'll start out behind Allen, but he'll play a big role somewhere.

Watch Out For ... Jones. In a secondary void of obvious playmakers, Jones was a breath of fresh air throughout spring ball. It's going to take four big performances from the starters in fall camp to keep the redshirt freshman out of a spot.
Past production. It's a new secondary with three new starters, and there's no Oliver or Tra Battle to count on, but this was still the nation's fifth best pass defense last year. While things might appear to be sketchy, it's only that way because of Georgia's high standards for great secondary play. This is a better group than it'll likely get credit for going into the year.
Difference-making safeties. Johnson is serviceable and Byrd is fine, but nothing special so far. One of them must turn into an All-SEC caliber playmaker for the secondary to be special.
Outlook: Losing Oliver might be a killer. He was arguably the SEC's best defensive back and would've erased one side of the field. Now, it'll be up to Evans, Allen, Flowers and Prince Miller to combine to get the job done. The secondary will only be as good as the pass rush allows it to be; it'll need as much time as humanly possible to work.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Brandon Coutu is one of the nation's best kickers, following up a great sophomore campaign, when he hit 23 of 28 field goals, by nailing 10 of 11 before tearing up his hamstring. He has a huge leg, connecting on a 55-yarder, and now he's back and healthy. He'll be one of the team's top offensive weapons.

The punting situation is a bit murky with the loss of solid, but unspectacular, Gordon Ely-Kelso. Junior Brian Mimbs has a big enough leg to air it out from time to time, but he'll have to prove he can be accurate and consistent to hold off freshman Drew Butler, the son of Georgia kicking legend, Kevin Butler.

Watch Out For ... Coutu to be used early and often. The coaching staff pressed a little bit offensively because the backup kickers weren't nearly as reliable as Coutu. Now there will be several long field goal attempts. Considering the Dawgs played in eight games decided by seven points or fewer in 2006, Coutu could grow into the SEC's MVP.
Punt returns. Thomas Flowers is one of the best punt returners in America averaging 14.4 yards per try over the course of his career, while Mikey Henderson was special last season averaging 14.7 yards per try with two touchdowns. The lightning fast Asher Allen should be fantastic on kickoff returns after averaging 22.1 yards per try.
Difference-making safeties. Johnson is serviceable and Byrd is fine, but nothing special so far. One of them must turn into an All-SEC caliber playmaker for the secondary to be special.
Outlook: If Mimbs is even average, the special teams will be among the best in the country. There aren't many better than Coutu, Henderson and Flowers, while the coverage units should be decent as long as there more pop on kickoffs. Coutu will take care of that.
Rating: 9


Related Stories
2007 Georgia Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 2, 2007
2007 Georgia Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 2, 2007
2007 Georgia Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 2, 2007

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