Jarvis Jones! Jarvis Jones? Jarvis Jones. But Jarvis Jones? Well, Jarvis Jones. And Alec Ogletree! Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. And Jones. And Ogletree. Tree. Jones. Treejones. Jonestree. Jarvalec Jongletree.
Whew... sorry, had to get that out of my system. No single position on the Georgia Bulldogs roster has lost as much name recognition and star talent from 2012 as the linebacker spot. Last year, the top 5 leading tacklers at the linebacker position were:
The only player on that list that is returning this year is Herrera. In addition, the Treejones duo were our two leading tacklers on the entire team. Combined, the four players we've lost accounted for 28% of our entire number of team tackles on the year. Clearly, we have lost quite a bit of depth. Too much to be fully replaced, in fact.
Now, I'll come right out and admit that I'm not an "X's and O's" kind of guy. But it seems to me that a solid linebacker squad is pretty important to a 3-4 system like the one Todd Grantham runs here. And in spite of our losses, the cupboard is not exactly bare, either in terms of talent or experience. Our best returning linebackers, in order of # of 2012 tackles, are:
- Amarlo Herrera (Jr.) - ILB - Herrera played in all 14 games last year, and has the most 2012 tackles of any returning LB. He started 9 games last year and performed particularly well in the Florida game (which, of course, endears him to me like almost nothing else could). Amarlo is well prepared to pick up where our departing players left off. Unfortunately, he's basically the only returning inside linebacker that has much experience.
- Jordan Jenkins (So.) - OLB - Jenkins made a splash as a Freshman, coming on early and playing hard in the early games last year
when Jones and Tree were suspended. That earned him significant playing time in all 14 games, and he certainly was a strong contributor all year. Strong Freshman seasons have frequently turned into "Sophomore slumps," however, and we badly need that not to happen with Jenkins. We need Jenkins to be one of our rocks on the outside this year. He's not Jarvis Jones, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to be as good as Jones as a Sophomore. The question will be whether he can be "good enough" as a replacement. We need to be able to sustain that outside pressure over an entire game, and we have to hope that Jenkins will be our man to do that.
- Chase Vasser (Sr.) - OLB - Vasser is one of only two rising Seniors in this year's LB squad. He only played in 5 games last season, since he was suspended for the first 2 games for a DUI arrest and then had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery for a torn labrum suffered during the Kentucky game. We need Vasser to step up and be a senior leader this year, and his numbers in those paltry 5 games from 2012 show that he definitely has the potential to do so.
- Kosta Vavlas (Jr.) - ILB - Vavlas is literally our only other returning ILB besides Herrera with game experience. Now, he did play in all 14 games last year, and he did have 7.5 tackles over the year... but only having 2 returning ILB's with any experience at all? That ain't good. The word "step up" comes to mind...
- T.J. Stripling (Sr.) - OLB - Stripling bounced back from a bad knee injury (is there such a thing as a "good" knee injury?) in 2011 to have a pretty good season in 2012. He's the last player on this list to have played in every game last season, and he was a solid contributor.
- Ramik Wilson (Jr.) - O/ILB - Wilson is a big unknown factor. He reportedly came out of spring practice #1 on the ILB depth chart, but if my records are correct, he had mostly played OLB up to this point. There are many stories through UGA history where guys started slow, but improved over their first two season to become major impact players by their Junior and Senior seasons. Let's hope Ramik is one of those guys.
- Josh Dawson (So.) - OLB - Dawson is listed at DE currently at Georgia's website, but he's been an OLB in the past, and has been working out in both positions so far in the fall. To be honest, I don't know that much about him. He apparently did play in 13 games last year, though... bully!
- James DeLoach (So.) - OLB - I also know almost nothing about DeLoach. He played in 13 games and had 2 tackles against the Nerds, so that's a strong mark in his favor.
In addition to our returning players, the Dawgs will have incoming freshmen Leonard Floyd, Johnny O'Neal, Ryne Rankin, Tim Kimbrough, and first 3 days of fall practice. Richt also mentioned that Johnny O'Neal had looked good in practice. We have to start our season with our hair on fire, though, so in all honesty, let's hope that we don't have to rely on one or more true freshmen to be making big plays in our first 2 games, which will be 2 of the biggest games we'll play all year.. It's too soon to know how much impact the new kids will have, but Floyd was particularly singled out by several players, including Mark Richt, as looking really good during the
Like I said, the cupboard is not even close to being bare. We've got some great talent out there. Unfortunately, they're replacing even greater talent. Our core 4 appear to be Herrera, Wilson, Jenkins, and Vasser. Only time will tell if they're able to gel together and collectively fill the void left by our departing stars. We won't have to wait too long to find out if they can, though, since we open our season against two top 10 teams in Clemson and South Carolina.
In my opinion, the talent is there to at least have a serviceable LB squad for Todd Grantham's scheme. After all, if our offense takes care of its business, we won't have to be pitching shutouts. Keep your head up, do your job, and get better every week. If these guys can keep doing that, I think this group can help put us in the position to accomplish great things this season.