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2008 Georgia Preview - Defense
Georgia LB Dannell Ellerbe
Georgia LB Dannell Ellerbe
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 23, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Georgia Bulldog Defense

Georgia Bulldogs

Preview 200
8 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Georgia Preview | 2008 Georgia Offense
- 2008 Georgia Defense | 2008 Georgia Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Georgia Preview | 2006 CFN Georgia Preview

What you need to know:
Considering last season was supposed to be a problem with no experience and several holes to fill, finishing 14th in the nation in total defense and 18th in scoring D, allowing 323 yards and 20 points per game, showed how quickly the team rebuilds. Now the defense is loaded with former high school all-stars who have grown into great college players. There's depth, options, and the potential for an even better rotation with a loaded defense that'll be dominant at times. The only downside is the lack of a sure-thing pass rushing end, with Marcus Howard gone, but there will be pressure from all four spots up front, led by the tackle pair of Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens, while the linebacking corps will be solid, if not spectacular. The secondary grew into something special by the end of the year, and now it should be terrific led by soon-to-be all-stars CB Asher Allen and FS Reshad Jones.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Dannell Ellerbe, 93
Sacks: Geno Atkins, 7.5
Interceptions: Asher Allen, 3

Star of the defense: Junior CB Asher Allen
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Jeremy Lomax
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Akeem Dent
Best pro prospect: Sophomore FS Reshad Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Allen, 2) DT Geno Atkins, 3) Jones
Strength of the defense: Depth, experience, tackles, safeties
Weakness of the defense:
Sure-thing pass rushing end

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Georgia defensive line revolved around a great season from its tackles, led by 6-1, 290-pound junior Geno Atkins who made 30 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. A former reserve who grew into a starting role, he was a bit undersized going into last year, but maintained his quickness off the ball while bulking up roughly 15 pounds. More than just a great interior pass rusher, he was decent against the run.

Next to Atkins will once again be 6-3, 298-pound senior Jeff Owens, a mainstay on the defensive interior over the last two seasons making 27 tackles last year along with 4.5 tackles for loss. While he isn't quite the finisher Atkins is, he gets more than his share of consistent pressure on the quarterback, while also giving the line one of its biggest and most consistent presences.

One of the team's biggest losses is at one of the ends where Sugar Bowl superstar, and NFL combine sensation, Marcus Howard is gone, along with his 10.5 sacks. Looking to step up the depth chart and take over the spot is 6-4, 247-pound senior Jeremy Lomax, a decent reserve who made 16 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He has the potential to flourish with all the attention paid to the rest of the line.

On the other side will once again be junior Roderick Battle, a fantastic athlete who had a nice year with 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but he didn't exactly make anyone forget about Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson. At 6-4 and 261 pounds, he has the size to do more against the run, and now he has to use his experience to get into the backfield on a more regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: Adding more bulk to the inside is 6-5, 316-pound junior Kade Weston, a nice run-stuffer who started in five games and made 19 tackles. While he's mostly strong at clogging up the inside, he's not bad at getting to the quarterback from time to time with just enough quickness to generate inside pressure. While he has NFL ability, he needs to be closer to 300 pounds to reach his full potential. He'll see starting time here and there, but mainly he'll play behind Geno Atkins.

Starting out behind Jeff Owens will once again be 6-4, 286-pound senior Corvey Irvin, who made 13 tackles and two tackles for loss. While he's not huge for the inside, he has no problem handling himself against the bigger linemen and is a dependable reserve who can fill in at either tackle spot.

Former JUCO transfer Jarius Wynn is back after making nine tackles with a tackle for loss, and while he's not going to push hard for starting time, the 6-5, 273-pound senior has the versatility to play outside behind Roderick Battle or inside at one of the tackle spots if needed.

One of the stars of this year's recruiting class was A.J. Harmon, a massive 6-5, 328-pound tackle with tremendous strength and good interior pass rushing ability. He might not be needed right away, but he's the future anchor the defense will build around.

Watch Out For ... Even more from the reserves. The starters are set, but the backups are more than good enough to step in and shine at any time. There's no reason to not have more of a rotation and get players like Weston and Wynn even more involved. This is a true two-deep line, and even three-deep in some spots.
Strength
:
Tackles. Atkins and Owens might not be household names, but they might form the nation's best tackle tandem. Weston and Irvin are active inside presences who'd start for most teams.
Weakness
:
Sure-thing outside pass rusher. The Georgia D doesn't have a problem getting into the backfield with 42 sacks last year and loads of quarterback pressures, but the loss of Marcus Howard took away 10.5 sacks from the ends. Battle and Lomax are good players, but who's the star pass rusher? One will eventually emerge.
Outlook:
After underachieving in 2006 and overachieving a bit last year, the line comes back loaded with talent, experience, and a boatload of depth for each spot. The tackles are tremendous and the ends are great against the run. Few offenses will be able to consistently run on this group, but it might take a little while before the pass rush emerges from the ends. There might not be much in the way of national superstar power, but that will quickly change; this could grow into the SEC's best line in a hurry.
Rating: 8.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The starting linebackers are all back led by the team's leading tackler, 6-1, 232-pound senior Dannell Ellerbe, who made 93 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in the middle. He put the problems of his sophomore year behind him, when he suffered a shoulder injury and was arrested for a DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, to grow into one of the team's defensive leaders. The second team All-SEC selection is now on the verge of much bigger things. With good size and unlimited range, he's been able to use his athleticism to get into the backfield on a regular basis as well as against the run. He's tough against power teams, and he's fast enough to chase down just about anyone from sideline to sideline.

The new star of the corps was freshman All-American Rennie Curran, who finished fourth on the team in tackles with 53, to go along with nine tackles for loss. Extremely quick on the weakside, he grew into a nice pass rusher and a strong run defender. Now he has to do more in pass coverage, and with his experience, he should only get better.

Returning on the strongside is sophomore Akeem Dent, who might be undersized at 6-2 and 218 pounds, but he's a good hitter and more than held his own against the better teams. It took a little while, but he grew into a top player by the end of the year finishing with 36 tackles with 12 in the final three games. While he's built like a safety, he's an inside linebacker.

Projected Top Reserves: Back on the weakside providing a bigger option behind Rennie Curran is sophomore Darryl Gamble, who made 13 tackles in a limited role. He was one of the nation's top outside linebacker prospects when he came to Georgia, but he still needs time before he challenges for the starting job. He has the size and athleticism, and now he'll get more playing time to develop.

Junior Darius Dewberry was slated to start on the strongside and got the call in five games, but the 6-3, 236-pounder gave way to Akeem Dent and finished with 24 tackles. A big-time prospect with a great motor and about 20 pounds more bulk than Dent, Dewberry could quickly grow into a even more of a playmaker. He'll be given an even bigger role this season if he doesn't have problem with a groin injury that bothered him this spring.

Senior Marcus Washington was the biggest linebacker in the mix at 6-0 and 250 pounds playing in the middle behind Dannell Ellerbe. Now he'll be a big loss. If nothing else, he was going to be a good, experienced, big-hitting veteran who came off a knee injury to make 40 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss with six starts. Unfortunately, he underwent shoulder surgery and will sit out the season.

Watch Out For ... The starting threesome to not be as set in stone as it might appear. After so much success at the end of last year and with a good combination found, you wouldn't think there'd be much tinkering with what worked. The problem, which really isn't a problem, is that the reserves are every bit as talented as the first teamers and could quickly emerge as bigger factors.
Strength
:
Depth. The second team isn't quite interchangeable with the first team, but it's not far off. At the very least, the second teamers would form a strong starting trio for about 100 other teams.
Weakness
:
Pass defense. The group is hardly bad against the pass, and it's not a glaring problem, but considering the overall athleticism and experience, there should be more big plays made against the good short passing teams. Of course, the trade-off has been several plays made in the backfield.
Outlook:
The linebacking corps supposedly needed a year to get ready, and as it turned out, it needed a half a season. Now the corps is ready to be special with a nice starting threesome led by star Ellerbe to lead a group of young players with fantastic high school résumés. There's speed, athleticism, and big hitting playmakers to burn, and there’s even more deeper in the rotation.
Rating: 9

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: On the verge of becoming an all-star is junior CB Asher Allen, who made the step up from being a nice reserve to a fantastic all-around playmaker with 64 tackles, good for second on the team, three interceptions and five broken up passes. He plays much bigger than his 5-10 and 198 pounds with great open-field tackling skills, while his tremendous speed and quickness makes him a strong option on any No. 1 receiver. Basically, it's all coming together. Formerly a raw talent with great upside, now he's growing into a special player.

On the other side is junior Prince Miller, a small, but tough defender on the weakside with 24 tackles and an interception last season. At only 5-8, he'll be challenged by the bigger receivers, and will be the target of most passing games as Asher Allen's reputation continues to grow.

While Allen is growing into a fantastic player, the star of the show should eventually be sophomore free safety Reshad Jones, a 6-2, 203-pound next-level hitter who does a little of everything well. He only started in two games last year, but he was the team's best all-around defensive back for long stretches finishing with 57 tackles, good for third on the team, with two interceptions. Considered by many recruiting services as the No. 1 safety in America in 2006, or at least in the top five, he could become the team's most complete NFL prospect on a team loaded with them.

Senior strong safety C.J. Byrd isn't the player Jones is, but he's a good athlete with the versatility to play either safety spot. Good in pass coverage, he found his niche as a hitter making 44 stops and two tackles for loss as a free safety. At 6-2 and 193 pounds, he's not necessarily built like a strong safety, but he's physical enough to hold down the job with enough experience to be the quarterback of a veteran group.

Projected Top Reserves: It seemed like a lock for junior Bryan Evans to be a starter throughout last year, but he quickly lost the hold on his starting job and finished with 17 tackles with an interception in the Auburn game. He had a better freshman season making 26 stops with six broken up passes, he'll likely find more of a role in nickel situations and in the weak corner rotation with Prince Miller.

Sophomore Quintin Banks, one of the team's superstar recruits of a few years ago, has bulked up to a rock-solid 210 pounds providing more heft to the strong safety spot than C.J. Byrd. Expected to be a starter sooner than later, at the very least he's all but certain to be the big-hitter who'll set the tone for the secondary in 2009. At least that's the hope. Many thought he'd be the starter by the end of last year, but he only finished with eight tackles.

Watch Out For ... This veteran secondary to get even more time to grow. The defensive backs shut down and shut out the great Hawaii linebacking corps, but that was mostly because the front seven was earholing Colt Brennan from the first play. This is a good secondary, and it'll get an even bigger chance at getting even better with opposing quarterbacks getting little time to work.
Strength
:
Tackling. When your top corner, Allen, is the second leading tackler, you have a group that can hit. With Jones about to emerge as something really special, the safeties will be terrific.
Weakness
:
A sure-thing second corner. Prince Miller is fine, but he didn't do quite enough on the other side of Allen. He's good, but with the other three spots set with excellent starters, Miller has to prove he can be up to their snuff.
Outlook: The secondary was a major concern going into last year with top corner Paul Oliver kicked off the team, but the pass rush saved the day early and allowed the young prospects to jell into a strong unit. While there's no questioning the talent, teams that could protect the passer were able to produce on the Dawg back four. Tennessee's Erik Ainge was effective, and so was Troy's Omar Haugabook, but once the DBs got their feet wet, they were nasty. Georgia picked off only two passes in the first eight games, and 13 in the final five; by then it wasn't just because of the pass rush. FS  Jones will be one of the SEC's best, Allen is one of the league's best all-around corners, and Byrd and Miller are solid.
Rating: 8.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Brian Mimbs will handle the punting duties after averaging 42.4 yards per kick and putting 16 inside the 20, and he'll start out with an early line on replacing irreplaceable PK Brandon Coutu, who hit 18 of 23 field goals. While Mimbs has a big leg, he'll have to battle with true freshman Blair Walsh, who won't be in the mix until fall camp. Redshirt freshman Drew Butler, son of Georgia legend, Kevin Butler, will also get a look.

Top corner Asher Allen is also the team's top return man averaging 24.6 yards per kickoff return. He'll take over the punt return duties, with Prince Miller also seeing a little bit of work.

Watch Out For ... The placekicking situation to be unsettled until the start of the season, and then it still might not be in place. Brian Mimbs is a strong punter, and the last thing the team needs is for his production to drop if he has to spend too much time on placekicking.
Strength
:
Coverage units. The kickoff coverage is fine, allowing 20.2 yards per return, but the punt coverage team was fantastic allowing just 4.9 yards per return. Part of that was due to Mimbs, who has a nice leg and can hang it up, but the Dawgs were simply good.
Weakness
:
Brandon Coutu. Having a kicker who can bomb from beyond 50 yards and is clutch from anywhere inside 50 is rare in college football. Coutu had a few misfires, but he was still a weapon who'll be missed. A solid kicking game could be the difference between a run for the SEC title and a big upset.
Outlook: Georgia's special teams are always good. The return game is consistently among the best in America, the punting of Mimbs will be fine, and eventually a steady placekicker will emerge, most likely true freshman Blair Walsh, to take over for Brandon Coutu. Even with work needed to be done this off-season, Georgia will have have some of the best special teams in the nation.
Rating: 8