Georgia Bulldogs: Johnny O'Neal

UGA position groups to improve: No. 5

February, 10, 2014
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Georgia doesn't open spring practice until March 18, so we'll use the next few weeks to look ahead to those all-important workouts and preview what to watch once the Bulldogs get started.

We begin today with the first installment in a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. Today's first group is Georgia's inside linebackers.

5. Inside linebackers

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons, Connor Shaw
AP Photo/John BazemoreAmarlo Herrera (pictured) and Ramik Wilson performed well at inside linebacker for Georgia, but the duo could use some help from their younger teammates.
Battling for No. 1: Since rising seniors Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera -- players who ranked first and third in the SEC with 133 and 112 tackles, respectively -- return, the starting lineup is probably set. In his first season as a starter, Wilson posted one of the biggest tackle totals in program history, while Herrera won the team's defensive MVP award after the season. The duo played nearly every significant down on defense, hence the big tackle totals, but they could stand to perform a bit more consistently -- particularly in pass coverage. Neither player wants to come off the field, but Georgia would benefit from younger players proving they deserve some playing time and alleviating the physical burden on Wilson and Herrera.

Strength in numbers: This will be an interesting group to watch this spring as the depth chart continues to evolve behind the seniors. Georgia signed a big group of inside linebackers last season, but their contributions were largely limited to special teams. Reggie Carter (one start, eight tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss) made the biggest splash early before undergoing knee surgery, which knocked him out of the lineup for the last five games of the regular season. The other freshmen who played -- Tim Kimbrough (11 games, five tackles, one TFL), Johnny O'Neal (eight games, four tackles) and Ryne Rankin (seven games, five tackles) -- and special teams ace Kosta Vavlas (13 games, 11 tackles) barely made an impact on scrimmage downs. With a new position coach, Mike Ekeler, joining the staff to work with this group, spring will be a valuable time for Ekeler to familiarize himself with his players and begin determining who is equipped to play a bigger role in the fall.

New on the scene: After signing four inside linebackers last year -- plus a safety in Paris Bostick who converted to the position last year -- ILB wasn't a terribly high priority in this recruiting cycle. Bostick is coming off a redshirt season and will add to the depth this season, plus the Bulldogs' only inside linebacker signee, Detric Dukes, should join the team over the summer. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see Dukes redshirt in the fall. Georgia's departed coaches liked what Bostick brought to the table at his new position, so he might be a player to watch in the future.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The offseason is important for every college player, but it is particularly valuable for those hoping to make the transition from off-the-radar prospect to essential contributor.

With that in mind, let's look at five Georgia players (or groups) who need to have strong springs and summers -- once the Bulldogs move past their upcoming bowl matchup, of course -- to become useful players next season.

[+] EnlargeJonathon Rumph
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIReceiver Jonathon Rumph needs to prove he deserves playing time in 2014.
Jonathon Rumph: One of the more high-profile recruits in Georgia's 2013 signing class, the junior college transfer didn't play until midseason and didn't make his first catch until Game 9. Rumph's six catches for 112 yards thus far fall well short of the preseason expectations for a player who signed as the No. 7 overall prospect on ESPN's Junior College 100. Even after making a small impact after his debut, Rumph barely saw the field in Georgia's last two games of the regular season. He needs to prove that he belongs in the rotation next season because he clearly has not convinced receivers coach Tony Ball thus far that he deserves regular playing time.

Brandon Kublanow: With three offensive line positions open after the season ends, we could go several directions here. But let's stick to guard, where starters Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee will both be gone after this season. Kublanow was impressive enough after arriving on campus this summer that he won some playing time as a true freshman. It would not be at all surprising to see him grab a starting job next season if he has a strong spring and summer. He's a grinder, and he's going to become a solid offensive lineman at the college level.

The ILBs: Most likely, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson will be back for their senior seasons in 2014. But it's not a particularly good thing that they essentially played every meaningful down this fall. The Bulldogs need the freshmen who played sparingly -- Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Johnny O'Neal and Ryne Rankin -- to make a bigger impact next season. Carter is the most obvious choice for more playing time, but Georgia needs to develop more of the talent on the roster in order to be prepared for Wilson and Herrera's departure after next season. To this point, he's the only non-starter at ILB who has played an important down.

A.J. Turman: After redshirting as a freshman, Turman is in an awkward position as 2014 approaches. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are established stars. Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green were productive this fall while playing as true freshmen. Now verbal commits Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are on board to join the team before next season. Turman has some running skills, but he'd better do something to make himself stand out -- soon … like this winter and spring -- or he'll place himself in jeopardy of getting lost in the shuffle.

Jordan Davis: Another 2013 redshirt, Davis has the opportunity to garner major playing time next fall. Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams will be gone and only Jay Rome will remain among the Bulldogs' 2013 regulars at tight end. Davis should be able to carve out a role -- and he could do himself a favor if he does so before highly-touted verbal commit Jeb Blazevich can establish himself. Davis is a diligent worker and should eventually become a serviceable traditional tight end, whereas Blazevich looks more like a player whose greatest strength will be his receiving skills. The Bulldogs need both skill sets to be present among players at the position.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Kirk Olivadotti paused last week when asked how many freshman inside linebackers he’d be comfortable playing before responding with a deadpan wisecrack.

“Shoot, I’ve still got two weeks, right?” Georgia’s inside linebackers coach said, breaking into a grin before elaborating on his initial reply.

[+] EnlargeReggie Carter
Tom HauckFreshman linebacker Reggie Carter could have a big role in the Bulldogs' defense in 2013.
“That’s what training camp and summer camp is all about is who you’re going to be comfortable with and what roles you’re going to be comfortable with them in,” Olivadotti added. “We’re still in that process right now, just figuring out exactly what guys are good at, what they need work on. You don’t have to be great at everything to help you win a football game.”

Those two weeks have trickled down to just more than one until the Bulldogs open the season at Clemson on Aug. 31. The coaches’ plan for the freshmen is starting to come into focus, although the positional pecking order still seems to be juniors Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, freshman early enrollee Reggie Carter, followed by everyone else.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, however, suggested that all of the newcomers could play a role this season, and Wilson agreed that was a likely outcome.

“Everybody in our room’s going to have a role. Everybody,” said Wilson, who tied Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with four tackles in Wednesday’s final preseason scrimmage. “Just because everybody’s been working hard and competing and showing their talent.”

Carter made the most of his opportunity when he enrolled in January, impressing Olivadotti with his work ethic as well as his physical ability. But Carter said that summer enrollees Tim Kimbrough and Johnny O’Neal were also picking up Georgia’s defensive scheme quickly.

“I’m happy that I enrolled early because it helped me understand the defense more and [Ryne] Rankin did the same thing and it helped him learn the defense more. But the guys that just got here, they’re learning, too, and they’re actually doing a way better job than me and Rankin in the spring of picking up the scheme.”

Olivadotti complimented the newcomers, too, adding, “Nobody’s surprised in a negative way, which is a good thing. Everybody’s working, and they’re the people who we thought they were.”

Perhaps Georgia coach Mark Richt provided a glimpse into where things stood on Wednesday when he rattled off stats following the team scrimmage. He informed reporters that Carter tied with Herrera for second on the team with three tackles and later added that O’Neal had made a few impressive hits while playing with the scout team.

Kimbrough, meanwhile, has just returned from a right knee sprain that kept him out of a number of recent practices after making a positive impression early in camp.

Playing on the scout team during the scrimmage doesn’t mean much, however, since Georgia’s limited numbers at inside linebacker mean all or most of the freshmen could find a role on either scrimmage downs or on special teams. Grantham confirmed as much recently.

“Reggie’s a guy that’s really improved and I think he’s going to be helping us in there. I think Kimbrough’s a guy that was showing really good progress until he got hurt,” Grantham said. “I’ve been pleased with it. We’ve obviously got to get him back and continue to develop him. If he continues to improve the way that I’ve seen him, he can be ready to function in a game. Johnny has shown to be big and physical and stout and he has the qualities to be a physical linebacker.

“Linebackers to me are guys that are good special teams players and I think if you get your feet wet that way sometimes it helps you in your defensive play. So if those guys can help us, then we’re going to play them.”

Ranking Georgia's impact freshmen 

June, 27, 2013
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It’s Rankings Week at DawgNation. Each day this week, we’ll rank some aspect of Georgia’s football program and the teams and players the Bulldogs will face in the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Tray Matthews could be one of the SEC's top freshmen this fall.
Today we’re ranking the top 10 freshmen we believe are most likely to make an impact this fall. On Friday, we’ll look at Georgia’s top five areas of need in the 2014 recruiting class and some of the players the Bulldogs are pursuing to fill those holes.

1. Tray Matthews: The most obvious choice on the list, Matthews enrolled in January, was a breakout performer during spring practice and put himself in position to start at free safety by the end of the spring. The big hitter with solid coverage skills is a lock to contribute and could be one of the SEC’s top freshmen this fall.

Coach's take: Johnny O'Neal 

May, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- West Laurens coach Stacy Nobles believes Johnny O’Neal has everything Georgia is looking for from an inside linebacker -- if he can remain slim enough to play the position.


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DawgNation Mailbag 

May, 1, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- With the spring camp over and the spring evaluation period underway, this seems as good a time as any to reopen the DawgNation Mailbag. We missed two weeks with the release of the ESPN 150 rankings and all the fireworks last week with the commitments of Sony Michel and Jeb Blazevich so let us get back to your burning questions.

gilly5134: I know it's hard to judge but how do you think the ACL injuries will affect Michael Bennett and Tramel Terry next year? I know it takes a lot of guys a while to get that mental edge back after realizing they can break.


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UGA ILB to watch: Ramik Wilson 

April, 23, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Predicting a player with 10 career tackles will be one of the key performers on Georgia’s defense this fall is risky business.

However, that might be the case with Bulldogs junior Ramik Wilson, whose performance at one of the starting inside linebacker positions could have a big impact on how the rebuilding defense functions in the first several games.

Georgia signed four talented inside linebackers in its most recent recruiting class, but leaning too heavily on the youngsters might be a problem in the early going with the Bulldogs facing Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first month of the season. That leaves the onus on Wilson and fellow junior Amarlo Herrera -- the team’s top returning tackler with 70 stops a season ago -- to perform capably while the freshmen learn on the job.


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Post-spring position review: ILB 

April, 23, 2013
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Editor’s note: Our DawgNation post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the inside linebackers:

Returning players/stats: Amarlo Herrera, Jr. (Nine starts in 2012. 70 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one interception); Ramik Wilson, Jr. (6 tackles, one TFL); Kosta Vavlas, Jr. (9 tackles)

Newcomers: Johnny O’Neal, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 153 overall prospect in the 2013 class, No. 5 ILB. Expected to enroll this summer); Tim Kimbrough, Fr. (No. 289 overall, No. 11 ILB. Expected to enroll this summer); Ryne Rankin, Fr. (No. 296, No. 13 ILB. Enrolled in January); Reggie Carter, Fr. (No. 32 ILB. Enrolled in January).


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Georgia ILB position taking shape

March, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As valuable as this spring will be for early enrollees Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin, it will be just as important for Ramik Wilson.

Ramik Wilson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comAfter appearing in 10 games in 2012, Ramik Wilson, left, has worked his way into a starting job at inside linebacker this spring.
The rising junior has finally settled at inside linebacker -- after shuffling between inside and outside over the past two seasons -- and believes he is making rapid progress at the Mike position, where he is responsible for making defensive calls.

“It helps me out a lot,” Wilson said after leading the defense with seven tackles in Tuesday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium. “I can just learn one position and just keep going from there. I haven’t got to keep doing double duty and just focus on my time at mike. It’s coming real good.”

So good, in fact, that he has established himself as an early favorite to start alongside fellow junior Amarlo Herrera this fall.

“I’d be thrilled if Ramik continued to improve like he has,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s playing inside now. He was playing outside before. I think he’s comfortable in there. I think that’s probably more of a natural position for him. Hopefully he’ll keep coming on.”

Wilson, Carter and Rankin all have a valuable opportunity this spring to earn playing time before two more inside linebacker signees, Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, arrive this summer. With 2012 regulars Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard now pursuing their dreams of playing professional football, only Herrera remains from last season’s rotation -- so position coach Kirk Olivadotti knew this spring would involve major turnover.

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DawgNation mailbag 

March, 1, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Welcome to the pre-spring practice edition of DawgNation Mailbag. Georgia starts spring practice on Saturday, so we will begin to see a clearer picture of what the 2013 Bulldogs are going to look like. In the meantime I answered the questions sent in from our premium message board -- The Pound, as well as from Twitter and Facebook.

Perry.James: Who are your top 5 "MVRs" (Most Valuable Recruits) from this past class?


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UGA spring preview: 5 positions to watch 

February, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Coaches always emphasize the importance of competition during spring practice, and there will certainly be more than enough at Georgia once the Bulldogs start spring drills on March 2.

The competition on the defensive side of the ball will be the story of the spring, as coordinator Todd Grantham and company work to find replacements for the 12 departed regulars who figured heavily into the Bulldogs’ defensive plans last fall.

Here are five positions that bear close watching this spring:

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Now that the pens have been put to paper, the classes have been announced and most of your attention has turned to the 2014 recruiting season, it's time to take a look at how each school in the SEC did when it came to immediately filling needs.

We're checking out what all 14 teams did to fill holes, and we're looking at which holes still remain. We'll start with the SEC East:

FLORIDA

Needs filled: LB, OL, DB, WR, DT -- The Gators had one of the most complete classes out there, finishing second in the ESPN class rankings. Florida landed the top cornerback prospect (No. 3 nationally) in Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, linebackers Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris. The Gators also added five wide receivers, including ESPN 150 members Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood.

Holes remaining: DE -- Will Muschamp seemed thrilled with his class, but he probably would have liked to get a least one more defensive end. The Gators missed on a few, including Tashawn Bower, who almost picked the Gators before signing with LSU. Four-stars Jordan Sherit and Antonio Riles were the only defensive ends in this class.

GEORGIA

Needs filled: ILB, S -- The Bulldogs had to replace a few bodies at middle linebacker, and did so by signing four. The star of the group is four-star ESPN 300 member Johnny O'Neal, who is the No. 5 inside linebacker in the county. Tim Kimbrough and Ryne Rankin, both ESPN 300 members, also signed with the Dawgs. Georgia also signed five safeties, including two junior college standouts. The top safety in this class is ESPN 150 member Tray Matthews.

Holes remaining: Elite OT, elite RB, elite DT -- Mark Richt was pleased with his 32-man signing class, but he knows it could have been better if a few elite players had signed with Georgia. The Dawgs barely missed on top offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), No. 4 running back Alvin Kamara (Alabama) and No. 2 defensive tackle Montravius Adams (Auburn).

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DawgNation signing day live blog

February, 6, 2013
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Welcome to DawgNation's live coverage of national signing day for the Georgia Bulldogs. We'll be with you throughout the day providing up-to-the minute updates on Georgia's Class of 2013.

Watch live coverage on ESPNU | Talk signing day in "The Pound"

Follow the live blog after the jump.

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Last two classes made instant impact 

February, 5, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s coaching staff proved in the last two seasons that it is more than willing to play a newcomer in order to address glaring needs. And as they prepare to put the finishing touches on their 2013 signing class, the coaches can only hope that the newest Bulldogs can be as effective as their predecessors from that last two years at addressing Georgia’s depth concerns.

Mark Richt’s critics might once have had a point when they observed that his coaching staff gave veterans too much of a benefit of the doubt when it came to playing them over talented young players. The last two seasons have neutralized those criticisms, as it’s hard to imagine Georgia having won the last two SEC East titles without extensive contributions from brand new Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley #3 and Keith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFreshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in the 2012 season.
Think back to 2011, when John Jenkins’ emergence at nose guard was one of the leading factors in Georgia’s defensive resurgence that carried the Bulldogs to their first division title since 2005. Or how tailback Isaiah Crowell led the team with 850 rushing yards en route to SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Or how Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley both made their share of big plays at receiver, as did Amarlo Herrera at linebacker.

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Coaches' take: Ryne Rankin 

January, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- There were obvious benefits to Ryne Rankin becoming the rare Georgia early enrollee to participate in the Bulldogs’ pre-Christmas bowl practices, but there were drawbacks, as well.


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