Addressing massive losses on defensive front top priority for Georgia

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

SPRING PREVIEW 2022: DEFENSIVE LINE

ATHENS — The NFL and its most fervent fans were shocked and amazed at the performance of Georgia’s representation last week at the scouting combine, particularly the three defensive linemen who all ran sub-4.8 40s. That included defensive end Travon Walker, who clocked a scorching 4.51 seconds.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

You know who was not shocked and amazed? Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart. Same goes for defensive line coach Tray Scott and anybody else involved with the design and execution of Georgia’s defense on a week-to-week basis last season.

They knew what they had, and now they know what they don’t have anymore.

There is talent left to mine among the latest incarnation of D-linemen. In fact, some say that rising junior Jalen Carter is even more athletic than those other three. Among those saying that are Walker, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt.

Time will tell. But the initial issue facing the Bulldogs is there simply aren’t as many “hosses” minding the front as last year. In Walker, Davis and Wyatt, Georgia arguably had the three best players at end, nose guard and tackle, respectively, in the SEC. Outside of Carter, whom the Bulldogs wisely utilize in myriad ways, the newer guys are going to have to prove they’re worthy of such distinctions.

So, it’s inevitable that the Bulldogs will take a step back as they cycle in a new group of down linemen. The key will be that they play at or near the level of the last bunch toward the end of the season.

As the combine conveyed, that might be impossible.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Returning starters: None
  • All eyes on: DT Jalen Carter
  • Outlook: It all starts with No. 88. That would be the 6-foot-3, 310-pound rising junior Jalen Carter. Nothing probably speaks more to validate Georgia’s tremendous depth along the defensive front last year than the fact that Carter started only two games for the Bulldogs last season. Those starts came against Alabama-Birmingham and Kentucky, and one was at tackle and the other at nose guard. But that’s what makes Carter so valuable. Georgia can utilize him anywhere along the front, and you can bet it will. As it was, Carter played in all 15 games for the Bulldogs, and only Wyatt (39) had more tackles among the down linemen than Carter’s 37. He also had three sacks and 30 QB hurries. As for who will fit in and where around Carter, that will be the primary objective of spring ball. The candidates are many, as Georgia has been preparing for this transition. Georgia has at least 14 scholarship defensive linemen to choose, 15 if one includes outside linebacker Marvin Jones, who could get some looks at end. The problem is most of their linemen aren’t long on age or experience. Senior Tramel Walthour and junior Zion Logue both played in all 15 games last season. Warren Brinson and Nazir Stackhouse participated in 12 and 10, respectively. Bill Norton and Tymon Mitchell made 11 late-game appearances combined. Typically, freshmen don’t make big contributions on the defensive line. Bear Alexander, one of the Bulldogs’ highest-rated signees, will miss spring following labrum surgery. So Georgia will lean hard on Carter to carry the D-line banner and figure out best it can this spring who he’ll go to battle with. Whoever makes the cut, it’s doubtful they’ll be on the level of the guys who just left.
  • Up next: Inside linebackers

PREVIOUSLY ...

Spring Preview 2022 is a 10-part series that will take a look at each of Georgia’s position groups daily until the Bulldogs open spring practice March 15.