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Position Preview: Outside Linebackers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Sugar Bowl - Georgia v Baylor

Departures

The Georgia defense as a whole returns the majority of their key players from last season. However, outside linebacker returns everyone that contributed in 2019, plus more. This was a position of strength in 2019 that will be even stronger in 2020.

Returning Players

Azeez Ojulari (Rs So.)

Nolan Smith (So.)

Jermaine Johnson (Sr.)

Adam Anderson (Jr.)

Walter Grant (Sr.)

Robert Beal (Jr.)

I mean, just look at this list. Ojulari returns after leading the Dawgs in sacks with 5.5 in 2019 and has been named to the pre-season Butkus Award list. There is also second-year duo Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson. Both played in every game last season and combined for four sacks. Smith and Johnson have gotten rave reviews during the offseason and should be among the conference’s best OLBs in 2020.

Veterans Anderson, Grant, and Beal also return to provide quality depth to the outside linebacking crew. Anderson was third on the team in 2019 with 18 QB pressures after playing in all 14 games, and Grant had many contributions on both defense and special teams last year. After entering the transfer portal in January, Beal decided to stay in Athens and will be looked upon to build off a promising freshman season after struggling at times in 2019.

Newcomers

MJ Sherman (Fr.)

As one of the highest ranked recruits in the 2020 class, MJ Sherman comes to Athens to join a stacked outside linebacking group. A finalist for the 2019 High School Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker, Sherman will no doubt be looked upon to contribute immediately. He will have several exceptional players to show him the ropes, and Sherman could be next in a long line of great UGA OLBs.

Coaching

Not only is Dan Lanning the Georgia defensive coordinator, but he also handles the outside linebacker coaching duties. Lanning was named a semifinalist for the 2019 Broyles Award in his first season as defensive coordinator, given annually to the top assistant coach in the nation. His coaching star is on the rise, and it’s only a matter of time before Lanning departs Athens to be someone’s head coach. We should enjoy him while he still coaches here.

Summary

The Georgia outside linebackers are a dominant group. While one knock on them have been the lack of sacks, that number improved in 2019, and look for that to greatly improve in 2020. Ojulari, Smith, and Johnson will be in the backfield A LOT, wrecking havoc and challenging for all-conference honors. Anderson and Sherman will see situational usage and be part of a quality rotation, while Grant and Beal will see work both on defense and special teams.

Overall, this group will be one of the best in the SEC and has the potential to be one of the best in the country.