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2009 Georgia Preview - Defense
Georgia LB Rennie Curran
Georgia LB Rennie Curran
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 10, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Georgia Bulldog Defense

Georgia Bulldogs

Preview 200
9 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Georgia Preview | 2009 Georgia Offense
- 2009 Georgia Defense | 2009 Georgia Depth Chart
- 2008 Georgia Preview | 2007 Georgia Preview | 2006 Georgia Preview

What you need to know:
The strengths are tremendous while the potential weaknesses aren't all that bad. However, there's one glaring problem, the pass rush, which might require the coaching staff to get more creative. End Justin Houston appears to be on the verge of stardom, but he's suspended for the first two games of the year and there's no one on the outside who can get into the backfield on a regular basis. On the plus side, the tackles are tremendous and the linebackers are fast, athletic, and extremely talented. However, the concern, along with the lack of a pass rushing end, is the lack of a playmaking corner. Reshad Jones is one of the nation's best safeties, but he can't do it all. He was the only defensive back to pick off a pass, and with Asher Allen off to the NFL, star punt returner Prince Miller and Brandon Boykin have to be stars right away. As always, the defense will be more than fine, and while there might be a few meltdown moments, like there were against Alabama, Florida, and Georgia Tech, this will be one of the nation's top 20 statistical defenses.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Rennie Curran, 115
Sacks: Rennie Curran, 3
Interceptions: Reshad Jones, 5

Star of the defense: Junior LB Rennie Curran
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Roderick Battle
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Justin Houston
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Geno Atkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Curran, 2) SS Reshad Jones, 3) Atkins
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Tackle
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, Interceptions from the secondary

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line needs to do a far better job of getting into the backfield and getting to the quarterback, and that'll start with Roderick Battle at one end. The 6-4, 259-pound senior was a spot-starter who had problems with a neck injury and only played in nine games, starting seven, finishing with just 14 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and just a half a sack. He was out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery, and while he's a terrific athlete who has the make-up and the potential to be a regular in the quarterback's face, he'll have to actually step up and do it early on to secure a starting gig.

While Battle might be a question mark, Justin Houston has created a major buzz after a dominant performance in the spring game, making three sacks, and with a good spring session overall. The 6-3, 259-pound sophomore made 19 tackles with two sacks as a key reserve, but now he appears ready to become the next great Bulldog pass rusher after getting better and better with each practice and showing off flash-of-lightning pass rushing ability against the strong Georgia O line. However, despite all the excitement, he'll have to wait a few games to get back into the mix after being suspended for violating the team's drug policy.

Along with the return of star offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant, one of the biggest positives going into the season is the return of Jeff Owens, an NFL-caliber defensive tackle who appeared ready to come into his own before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. At 6-3 and 300 pounds, the senior was out this spring but is expected to be back to 100% this fall and should be a key to the run defense. He made 27 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss in 2007.

The star of the line is Geno Atkins, a 6-1, 290-pound senior who should be in the NFL right now. While he's not huge, he's a tremendous athlete and a great interior pass rusher even though he didn't come up with a sack last season. He made 34 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss after making 30 stops with 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2007. A good reserve early on in his career, he bulked up without losing any of his quickness. This should be a salary-drive season before being a first-round draft pick in 2010.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Kade Weston might be the third tackle in the mix, but he's almost as valuable as the starters. The 6-5, 320-pound senior is a load on the inside who made 18 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve. While he's not bad at getting into the backfield, he's used mostly for his ability to clog things up against the run in a rotation with Geno Atkins. He'll be drafted, but he won't be an early round pick unless he can get to around 300 pounds and if he can get through a knee injury that limited him last season.

With Justin Houston out for the first two games of the year, that'll mean junior Kiante Tripp will have to step up and show he can handle the workload. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, he's more like a big defensive tackle or a 3-4 end. After the injury to Trinton Sturdivant, Tripp started the first three games at left tackle and saw time throughout the season. He even got in a little work as a big tight end. Now he's a defensive end after moving into the job late in spring ball. and while he's strong, big and athletic, he's not expected to be much of a pass rusher.

Demarcus Dobbs is expected to grow into a big role after a nice spring. At 6-2 and 274 pounds he has excellent size to go along with a non-stop motor that caught the attention of the coaching staff. He was a spot starter on the end last season making 19 tackles with two sacks, and now he'll do far more in a rotation with Roderick Battle and could end up starting in place of Justin Houston. While he's not going to be a top-shelf pass rusher, he'll be solid if he has to start for a long stretch.

Ready to emerge as a key factor on the inside is DeAngelo Tyson, a promising sophomore who made 11 tackles in his true freshman season. Good at providing pressure on the inside, the 6-2, 294-pounder had a good enough spring to be names the team's most improved defensive tackle. Extremely quick and very strong, he'll soon emerge as the team's best interior pass rusher and he should grow into a star behind Jeff Owens.

Watch Out For ... Tyson. The tackles are too good for Tyson to grab a starting spot, but he'll be too good by the end of the year to keep off the field. While he might not be huge, he's big enough to handle himself well on the inside and he's extremely quick.
Strength
:
Tackles. Atkins should be off figuring out what to do with his millions, but instead he'll be one of the SEC's top all-around tackles. Weston and Tyson are fantastic backups who'd start at most places, while the returns of Owens is a big boost.
Weakness
:
The pass rush. This was a problem last season and it's probably not going to be a plus until Houston is back in the mix. With Oklahoma State and South Carolina to start the season, the Bulldogs will have to be extremely creative when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
Outlook: The line was fine against the run but couldn't get into the backfield and couldn't get to the quarterback. Unless the star tackles can make plays behind the line on a regular basis, there might not be too much of an improvement in the sack total until spring star Justin Houston gets back from suspension in the third game of the year. On the plus side, the tackles should be sensational with Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens, Kade Weston and DeAngelo Tyson forming a rotation that should be a brick wall.
Rating: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Forget about a sophomore slump for Rennie Curran, a 5-11, 222-pound tackling machine who followed up a 93-tackle first season with a team-leading 115-stop 2008 campaign. While he's not all that big, he's extremely tough and he doesn't miss an open-field stop. One of the team's best pass rushers, with three sacks and ten tackles for loss, he's all over the field and looks like he's shot out of a cannon when sent into the backfield. While he could stand to do more in pass coverage, that's nitpicking for the SEC's leading returning tackler.

Taking over in the middle for Dannell Ellerbe will be Akeem Dent, a nice all-around playmaker who got eight starts on the strongside making 46 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He's not huge for the inside position at 6-2 and 226 pounds, but the junior can make plays in bunches, like he did at the end of the 2007 season. Extremely quick, he took to his new role this spring and was all over the place in the spring game. His unlimited range should make him one of the team's top tacklers.

With Dent moving positions, junior Daryl Gamble will hold down the full-time role on the strongside after spending part of the season in the middle and getting two starts on the outside. At 6-2 and 250 pounds his size makes him best suited for the middle, but he has the athleticism to be a star on the outside. One of the nation's top outside linebacker prospects when he came to the program, he started to reach his potential last year finishing third on the team with 60 tackles with three tackles for loss and three broken up passes. The coaching staff is expecting even more this year.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Marcus Washington was one of the stars of spring ball highlighted by a three-sack spring game. One of the team's biggest linebackers at 6-0 and 256 pounds, he found a role this offseason as a pass rusher after missing all of last year recovering from shoulder surgery. Staying healthy has been a problem suffering a knee injury a few years ago but bounced back to make 40 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a spot starter in 2007. He's a big hitter who should be in for a big year in the middle playing behind Akeem Dent.

Senior Darius Dewberry missed spring ball with a shoulder problem but will be ready to return to the strongside this fall. A big-time prospect with a great motor when he first came to Georgia, he has yet to come close to living up to his prep hype making just three tackles in seven games of action. Part of the problem was a groin injury that limited him early on, but if he's healthy, he has the experience and the 6-3, 231-pound size to be more of a factor.

6-2, 219-pound sophomore Nick Williams saw time in every game, mostly as a strong safety, making ten tackles. A good high school quarterback who also played linebacker, he moved from the secondary to linebacker this offseason and was excellent in several practices and stood out in the spring game. Extremely quick on the weakside, he makes up for his lack of size with great range and sure tackling ability.

Watch Out For ... Washington. He might not be able to stay healthy for a full season, but when he's on the field he should be a terror. If this spring was any indication, he'll be used to make up for a lack of a pass rush from the front four.
Strength
:
Depth. Curran is a star who would have a hard time being replaced, but Washington, Dewberry and Williams could step in and start and there wouldn't be a drop off in production. The corps is loaded.
Weakness
:
Pass rush. It's not fair to blame the linebacking corps in any way for the problems of the front four, but the Bulldogs were mediocre last year when it came to getting into the backfield and did next to nothing to pressure the pass on a regular basis. The linebackers have to do more to change that up.
Outlook:
If the offensive line isn't the strength of the team, it'll be the linebackers. Led by Rennie Curran on the weakside, there's a nice combination of experience, size, and rising stars. The parts aren't exactly interchangeable, but there are several versatile players who could move around where needed without much of a drop off in production. There's quickness to burn and more than enough athleticism to clean up anything missed by the line or the secondary.
Rating: 9

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: There are some holes to fill in the secondary, but the return of junior Reshad Jones will pick up the slack until the new starters are ready to roll. The 6-2, 214-pounder started 12 games at free safety last season making 76 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading five interceptions, but now he'll move to strong safety where he'll be an intimidating force and more of a run stopper. Considered by many services to be the No. 1 safety recruit in America in 2006, he has the full range of skills to grow into a top NFL player with versatility, speed, and big-time tackling ability.

With Jones moving spots, it'll be up to Bryan Evans to take over at free safety after making 24 tackles with five starts at corner. He has lost his hold on a starting job two years in a row and would fit a bit better in a nickel role, but with his experience and his range he should be fine in his new job. He's not huge at 5-11 and 190 pounds, but he can hit. Depending on the emergence of other players, Evans will likely move around a bit.

Trying to replace Asher Allen, who took off early for the NFL, will be Brandon Boykin, a 5-10, 182-pound sophomore who got his feet wet with five tackles in his limited time. He stepped up his game in a big way this offseason with a consistent spring to get him the starting job. With excellent speed, he can stay with the faster receivers while his 42" vertical will help him against the bigger ones.

Working on the weak corner will Prince Miller, who took over the job five games into the season and finished fifth on the team with 50 tackles with two broken up passes. A smallish, tough defender, the 5-8, 198-pound senior made 11 stops against Kentucky and held his own in the open field time and again. He didn't pick off any passes, even though teams stayed away from Asher Allen on the other side, and now he'll have to be more of shut-down corner.

Projected Top Reserves: Bringing more size behind Brandon Boykin at the strong corner is Sanders Commings, a promising 6-2, 214-pound redshirt freshman who could see time at either safety position if needed. He's the team's biggest corner option and should handle himself well against the more physical targets.

A spot starter last season, getting the call at free safety against Arizona State, John Knox is one of the team's most experienced backup defensive backs. The 6-2, 205-pound sophomore only made eight tackles and didn't do much of anything when the ball is in the air, but he has the size and range to start being far more dangerous.

Is it time for junior Quintin Banks to finally come through? One of the team's superstar recruits of a few years ago, he bulked up to a rock-solid 213 pounds on 6-2 frame, but he missed almost all of last year with a torn up knee. He is expected to become a major contributor to the safety rotation working at strong safety behind Reshad Jones, but he's a big hitter who could be a tone setter once he's healthy.

Watch Out For ... Evans to not be all that secure in his starting spot for more than a few games. He's not bad, but he hasn't been able to do enough to show he's worthy of the starting job for a full season. He'll be pushed for his free safety spot.
Strength
:
The combination of skills. Jones is a special defensive back who should be one of the SEC's best all-around playmakers. Meanwhile. there's a nice mix of speed and physical hitters at the other three spots.
Weakness
:
Proven depth. There are good prospects waiting to shine but there are few sure-thing producers. The secondary will rely on redshirt freshmen Bacarri Rambo and Commings to grow up right away, while Knox has to do more when he's on the field and Banks has to play up to his prep hype.
Outlook: Every year it seems like there's some issue with one of Georgia's top defensive backs, and last year was no exception with Asher Allen bolting early for the NFL, and every year there are new stars who step up and shine. Reshad Jones is the one everything will revolve around, while the spotlight will be on the corners with Prince Miller and Brandon Boykin certain to be tested right away until they can prove they can make teams pay. The Bulldog secondary came up with just five interceptions, and all came from Jones. The corners have to do far more when the ball is in the air, but considering the lack of pass rush and the potential for the same lack of support this year, the defensive backfield could be one of the keys to the SEC season, not just Georgia's.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore Blair Walsh stepped in as a true freshman and came up with a nice year hitting 15-of-23 field goals with two bombs from beyond 50 yards highlighted by a 52-yarder. He wasn't always consistent, and two kicks were blocked and he didn't miss an extra point.

Sophomore Drew Butler will take over for Brian Mimbs, who netted 39.9 yards per kick. Butler averaged 22.3 yards per boot on his three tries with just one put inside the 20 despite supposedly being an accuracy specialist. Consistency is a key with one of his kicks going inside the 20 and two put into the end zone. He'll be good in time, but he needs more reps.

Corner Prince Miller was one of the nation's premier punt returners averaging 21.2 yards per try with a 92-yard return for a score. Teams stayed away from him, he only got nine tries, but he'll be deadly again whenever he has the ball in his hands. Brandon Boykin and Carlton Thomas will combine on kickoff returns after the team averaged a mediocre 21.1 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... Walsh to be better. It was asking a lot for him to be a rock-solid star right away as true freshman in the SEC, but he was fine. Now, with his big leg and his experience, he should grow into more of a weapon who'll win a few games on his own.
Strength
:
Punt returns. Miller is the star of the lot, but Logan Gray and Reshad Jones could also be fantastic when they get their chances. Georgia always gets production out of the punt return game.
Weakness
:
The loss of Mimbs. Georgia got 17 kicks put inside the 20 and 13 forced fair catches from Mimbs. More than that, he was solid and reliable. Butler should be fine with a little bit of time, but he has to show he can be the type of bomber who can bail the team out of jams.
Outlook: Georgia's special teams are always good, and even with some key question marks from the consistency in the kicking game to the need for a bit more from the kickoff coverage, everything will be fine. Prince Miller will be a game-changing punt returner, again, while there will be more production on kickoff returns after averaging a pedestrian, for Georgia, 21.1 yards per try.
Rating: 7.5