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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Post-spring position review: OLB

By David Ching

Editor’s note: Our DawgNation post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the outside linebackers:

Returning players/stats: Jordan Jenkins, So. (Six starts in 2012, 31 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery); Chase Vasser, Sr. (Two starts, 19 tackles, four TFL, 1 FF); T.J. Stripling, Sr. (Eight tackles, one TFL, one sack, one FF); Brandon Burrows, Jr. (No tackles); Josh Dawson, So. (five tackles, 1.5 TFL); James DeLoach, So. (four tackles)

Newcomers: Davin Bellamy, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 299 overall prospect, No. 25 defensive end. Expected to enroll this summer); Leonard Floyd, Fr. (The four-star prospect had no position rating as a player from Hargrave Military Academy. Expected to enroll this summer); Shaun McGee (No. 43 DE. Expected to enroll this summer.)
Key storyline: So who’s going to supply the pass rush off the edge? Georgia recorded 32 sacks -- led by outside linebacker Jarvis Jones’ school-record 14.5 -- last season, but the returning players accounted for only nine of those sacks. Jenkins (five sacks) is the obvious first choice to fill Jones’ shoes, but he can’t do it alone. The Bulldogs might need DeLoach or Vasser or a newcomer like Floyd or Bellamy to provide a boost, as Georgia’s defensive line has not been particularly effective at bringing down quarterbacks in recent seasons.

James DeLoach
Rising sophomore James DeLoach comes into the spring with game experience at linebacker and defensive end.
Breakout candidate: Everyone expects a bigger season from Jenkins as a sophomore, so he doesn’t qualify here. We’ll take DeLoach, who got a long look as the Bulldogs’ strongside linebacker in their base 3-4 defensive package. Vasser has an experience advantage at the position, but DeLoach will certainly battle for the starting spot and will figure into the Bulldogs’ defensive plans in some capacity even if he isn’t a full-time starter.

Reviewing 2012: Jones followed his 2011 All-America debut with an even more productive 2012. The fourth-year junior led the nation with 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles and should become a first-round pick in this week’s NFL draft. In other words, replacing him will be no easy feat. Jenkins came on to play an increasingly large role as a freshman, ranking second on the team with five sacks and 23 quarterback pressures. He said at the end of last season that anything less than 10 sacks in 2013 would be a disappointment. Vasser was relatively effective in a supporting role before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, so he could be a player to watch once the Bulldogs return to the practice field in August.

Projecting 2013: Georgia boasted either the SEC’s No. 1 or No. 2 sack artist in each of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s first three seasons (OLB Justin Houston in 2010 and Jones in 2011 and 2012) on staff. Jenkins expects to continue that streak this fall, and we won’t bet against him. A bigger question is who else will produce alongside the sophomore. Georgia has some impressive young talent at the position -- DeLoach and Dawson are going to become solid college players, sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is going to figure into Grantham’s situational plans at the position and Floyd was a difference-making pass rusher last season at Hargrave Military -- but Jenkins is the closest thing the Bulldogs have to a proven player. The Bulldogs need him to emerge as a force in order to take some pressure off position mates stepping into bigger roles.