Georgia linebacker D'Andre Walker recorded 40 tackles in 2017, tied for seventh on the team, but ranked second in tackles for loss (13.5) and in sacks (5.5). Defensive back J.R. Reed recorded 79 tackles in 2017, second on the team behind Roquan Smith, who left for the NFL. Reed also recorded five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. Cornerback Deandre Baker ranks second among 2018 returning players in tackles and interceptions in 2017. Linebacker Monty Rice recorded 22 tackles as a freshman

Reed set on leading, not concerned about youth on Georgia defense

J.R. Reed steps to the table, takes off his sunglasses, flaunts his glistening SEC title ring and enters the hot seat.

Reed is allowed to flaunt a bit — he’s earned his moment in the sun. A lightly recruited three-star recruit out of high school, Reed didn’t get much attention from schools such as Georgia back then. 

But after transferring from Tulsa in 2016, he became a key cog on one of the top defenses in the country, starting all 15 games last season. Coach Kirby Smart pushed back on the notion of “returning starters” earlier in the day, claiming not even he knows who will take the field against Austin Peay in Week 1. But it seems safe to pencil Reed in.

This season, with stars such as Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, and several other key contributors gone from the program, Reed will be counted on for even more. He’s among those now taking charge of a young defense.

“We’ve been just leaders, a lot of leaders,” Reed said, when asked about the strides he and his teammates have made. “We’ve asked the whole team to lead each other. Freshmen lead other freshmen, older guys lead everyone.”

Reed also said his first impression of the young players has been overwhelmingly positive.

“(They’re a) very athletic, very talented young group of guys,” Reed said. “There’s a reason why they’re the number one class. And they’re doing a great job.”

There could be as many as seven open spots on the starting defense for the defending SEC champions, many of whom will be occupied by players who are new to the bright lights and big games.

Reed, on the other hand, is now a grizzled veteran. He’s been there, seen that and come out on the other side. Asked whether it would concern him that many of his fellow defenders will be young and inexperienced, Reed, in his wisdom, was not concerned.

“Football is football.”

Quarterback Jake Fromm excelled as a freshman in the 2017 season, passing for 2,615 yards and completing 62.2 percent of his passes. Running back D’Andre Swift ranked third in rushing yards in 2017 (618) and leads all returning players in that category. Wide receiver Terry Godwin caught 38 passes in 2017, second on the team behind senior Javon Wims. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman caught 25 passes in 2017, ranking third on the team. Wide receiver Riley Ridley caught 14 passes in 2017. He caught six of the 1

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