Of all the positions at which Kirby Smart and his staff have stockpiled talent over the past three recruiting cycles, it’s possible that none has become more stacked than the depth chart at linebacker.
While the outside linebacker rotation at this point consists of many unproven yet highly decorated former recruits, the inside linebacker unit will be led by a pair of productive veterans backed up by a handful of extremely exciting up-and-comers.
Tae Crowder returns for his fifth season in Athens. The former tailback turned linebacker came on strong in 2018 and has cemented himself as a veteran leader. Crowder has a great nose for the football, probably owing to his offensive background. Georgia created more turnovers in 2018 than in 2017 and Crowder was a big part of that transformation, tying with Deandre Baker and J.R. Reed for the team lead in interceptions (2) and forcing a fumble. Also, for what it’s worth, when we talked to former Bulldog Natrez Patrick in the leadup to this spring’s NFL Draft, he singled Crowder out as a guy who will almost certainly take a big step forward in 2019.
The other inside linebacker spot will likely be manned by Monty Rice. The junior was conspicuous in his absence when struggling with injuries in 2018. Georgia just plays better defense, especially run defense, when Rice is on the field. He has evolved into a true sideline to sideline tackling threat with the size to stuff the inside gaps. Rice is also a vocal presence with a solid grasp of what the ‘Dawgs want to do defensively. Keeping him healthy and on the field will be one of the keys to optimal performance for this unit.
Behind the starters the recruiting stars are stacked up even if the experience is not. True freshman Nakobe Dean has worked with the second team at both inside linebacker spots during fall camp so far. Assuming he stays healthy it will be impossible to keep Dean off the field. He brings the kind of lightning speed and downhill aggressiveness that Georgia last had inside in the form of Butkus award winner Roquan Smith in 2017.
Also in the rotation will be sophomore Channing Tindall. Tindall saw significant action in 2018 and his profile is likely to only increase the season. Tindall has outstanding length and closing acceleration. That combination makes him a valuable every down piece of the puzzle for the coaching staff.
Sophomore Quay Walker will also be battling for snaps. The 64, 240 pound Cordele native looks like a solid heir apparent to Rice in the future. After playing in all 14 games during the 2018 season and making significant contributions on special teams, Walker now looks to establish consistency and get on the field more as part of the defense.
Junior Nate McBride is looking to make a move as well. McBride has played in every game of his Bulldog career, though his contributions have come mostly on special teams where his impressive speed has come in very handy. The mission for McBride this season will be to remain healthy, and prove that he too can be a consistent contributor.
Freshmen Trezman Marshall and Rian Davis add some additional wild cards to the game. Marshall is an impressive athlete, a guy the Bulldog coaches could have slotted in at a variety of positions upon his arrival in the Classic City. It will be interesting to see if he stays at inside linebacker or ultimately winds up on the outside or even at defensive end. Davis, a four-star prospect out of Florida, underweent knee surgery this spring and will be trying to return to health in order to get the reps necessary to secure the coaches’ confidence. It’s going to be a crowded room, so if either of the true freshmen sees significant time after the first four games, it would be cause for excitement about the future.
The Georgia Bulldogs have an illustrious history at the linebacker position. There is no reason to believe that this group will not live up to that legacy. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the unit is the mix of skill sets and the depth on display. It is no stretch to expect that Coach Glenn Schumann could regularly rotate 6 players at the position as we get into the second half of the season (more assuming the freshmen just refuse to be redshirted). That will be important if the ‘Dawgs are fortunate enough to find themselves playing an SEC title game, a playoff semifinal, and perhaps a national title matchup against the likes of Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State.