- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue our look at each SEC team's most important position by checking in with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Quarterback has been taken the majority of headlines, but the Bulldogs' success in 2015 might hinge on one group on the opposite side of the ball.
Most important position: Defensive line
Why: When the Bulldogs started spring ball, they only returned five scholarship defensive linemen. Zero were returning starters from last year's team. That isn't exactly the proper recipe if you're looking to make a championship run in a league like the SEC, which can devour teams with shaky play up front.
However, the Bulldogs' staff did a tremendous job on the recruiting front when it came to the defensive line. Georgia's 2015 recruiting class included arguably the nation's best defensive line class, headlined by the nation's No. 2 defensive tackle prospect in 6-foot-4, 307-pound Trenton Thompson. The Bulldogs also added to the rotation this spring with two early enrollees -- tackle Jonathan Ledbetter and end Michael Barnett.
When the Dawgs' class was all signed up, Georgia secured six players who will play along the defensive line.
That will really help this line out, as the Bulldogs added both quality and quantity up front. And it will all start with Thompson. While he hasn't played a lick of SEC ball, Thompson was an absolute beast in high school. The 2014 Maxwell Football Club’s national high school player of the year finished his senior season with 36 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also grabbed an interception.
Whether or not Thompson starts -- and many expect him to -- he'll make an immediate impact for the Dawgs this fall.
Ledbetter, who flipped from Alabama, could see time at defensive end along with senior Sterling Bailey, who returns as one of Georgia's more reliable line options. Expect a heavy rotation up front with all the depth that Georgia has.
Along with depth, the Dawgs have good senior leadership with the likes of Bailey, James Deloach and Josh Dawson. That's certainly a good thing, but the Dawgs need some stars to emerge. They haven't had real star power up front in a while, but Thompson and Ledbetter could be on the way toward that.
Georgia also needs to be consistently better against the run. In 10 wins, the Dawgs allowed just 117.6 rushing yards per game (3.3 yards per carry). Not great, but certainly not awful. But in three losses, Georgia was horrible against the run, giving up an average of 331 yards. In losses to Florida and Georgia Tech, the Dawgs surrendered 817 yards and 6.3 yards per carry.
That's on the entire defense, but it starts with deficiencies up front, and that's why this group is so important in 2015. We all know how talented Georgia's linebacker group is, but it needs help. If Georgia is going to make a legitimate SEC run in 2015, the defensive line has to flex some intimidating muscles and it must gobble up the run better than it did last season.