Georgia’s ‘Old Head’ Tramel Walthour gives Bulldogs stability on defensive line

Georgia defensive lineman Tramel Walthour (90) goes against LSU Tigers offensive linemanEmery Jones Jr. (50) during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, December 3, 2022, in Atlanta. Georgia won 50-30. Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Georgia defensive lineman Tramel Walthour (90) goes against LSU Tigers offensive linemanEmery Jones Jr. (50) during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, December 3, 2022, in Atlanta. Georgia won 50-30. Jason Getz /

ATHENS — His teammates call him “Old Head.” Georgia coach Kirby Smart calls him a blessing.

They’re both referring to Tramel Walthour. He’s a defensive end and a sixth-year senior from Hinesville. He’s also the only player on the Bulldogs’ roster assured of being elsewhere next season.

Georgia couldn’t be sure Walthour would be back with them this season as he could’ve transferred somewhere else seeking more playing time or moved on to pursue his goal of playing professional football. But after weighing all his options, Walthour chose to stick with the Bulldogs and pursue a third national championship ring.

Smart, for one, is glad for that.

“It’s been huge for us because look at the situation that we’ve been in,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ wrapped up practice Tuesday night. “That’s the position that we’re probably the thinnest on our entire team – moreso than running back and tight end. It’s what I call the ‘Big End.’ … We have a deficiency there.”

This is not to say they have no one. Sophomore Mykel Williams started at that position for the Bulldogs on Saturday, as he did in two games last season. Williams is considered a budding star, as his inclusion on freshman All American and All-SEC teams last season will attest. A 6-foot-5, 260-pound sophomore, Williams led Georgia in quarterback sacks last season. He added to his sack total Saturday with one against Tennessee-Martin in the opener.

But when it comes to the idiosyncrasies of playing defensive end in the SEC, Williams remains a work in progress. And that progress was not helped after Williams had to have surgery to repair a toe injury that caused him to miss spring practice.

Enter Walthour.

“I’m just trying to keep improving my game and to lead the other guys and bring them along with me,” said Walthour, who was teammates with Richard LeCounte at Liberty County High. “On the whole, I feel like we’ve just got to keep setting the standard higher and higher.”

Walthour started 13 of the Bulldogs’ 15 games last season and has 20 starts under his belt during his Georgia career. Williams got the start Saturday and played 24 snaps. Walthour got 13 snaps and registered one tackle, while sophomore Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins got 10 reps.

Walthour says things like Williams is “eager to learn” and “I love his motor” about Christen Miller. But if he sounds like a coach, Walthour is not quite ready to be one.

“When that time comes, I have some plans, but right now I’m just focusing on football,” said the 6-foot-3, 280-pound senior. “Right now I’m just focused on doing the best I can at that and then seeing where my future is from there.”

Smart likes the sound of that.

“Where we would be without Tramel?” he said. “We would be forced to play undersized outside ‘backers at that position. Tramel has given us great leadership and great consistency.”

Bullard still grinding

Smart wasn’t ready to pronounce Javon Bullard’s move from the star position to safety a resounding success. He said there wasn’t enough evidence provided against Tennessee-Martin to draw any conclusions.

“He didn’t get tested,” Smart said. “The longer they hold the ball the further the receivers can run and the more the ball goes down the field. I don’t think there were a lot of down-the-field throws. What he did well was tackle. He was in the right place. He really did a nice job in the perimeter, the RPO game, which everybody runs now.”

Bullard earned defensive MVP honors in both the College Football Playoff games playing the nickel back position that the Bulldogs call “star.” Senior Tykee Smith took over at that position this year so Georgia could move Bullard to the back-third of the defense, where he was recruited to play. The 5-11, 195-pound sophomore finished with four tackles while playing 39 snaps in the 48-7 victory Saturday. Smith had six tackles, including one for a loss of 4 yards. Malaki Starks and defensive tackle Zion Logue had the only pass break-ups, and freshman Kyron Jones recorded the only interception off a tipped ball.

“He didn’t get tested on hard play-action, eye-transfer, shots in the middle of the field,” Smart said of Bullard. “That is the area that we work with him every day on so he can be really good at it because it’s the most different thing about playing safety – the deep part of the field. He didn’t get a lot of chances.”

McConkey situation ‘tricky’

Smart acknowledged being uncertain about flanker Ladd McConkey’s availability going forward. Dealing with a mysterious back ailment, the Bulldogs are erring on the side of caution when it comes to whether to play last season’s second-leading receiver.

“It’s tricky to me because I don’t understand it,” Smart said. “I listen to Ron (Courson) talk about it, and I can’t even tell you exactly what it is. It’s a really big word. But it’s frustrating for (McConkey) because he can’t control it. He runs around and everything’s fine, then once he stops moving, he has pain, and he’s back down. So, he’s battling his tail off.”

Accordingly, McConkey is considered questionable for Saturday’s game versus Ball State. Junior Jackson Meeks (foot) is doubtful. Junior Arian Smith started at flanker Saturday and likely will this week, too. But the Bulldogs receiving corps will receive a boost from the return of starting split end Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint from a one-game suspension for multiple traffic infractions this summer.

“Marcus gives you comfort as a quarterback that he’s going to do the right thing,” Smart said. “He’s just very reliable.”

Smart was very encouraging about the availability of senior running back Daijun Edwards (knee) and junior linebacker Smael Mondon (foot).

Strong words

Smart had a couple of mic-drop moments during his 17-minute exchange with reporters after Tuesday night’s practice.

Asked what he learned about his team in the season opener, he said: “Nobody says you have to be the best team after Week 1.”

As for opposing teams using the Bulldogs’ lack of quarterback sacks in recent years as a negative recruiting tool, Smart shot back: “Well, we usually fix that when we show how many players we have drafted. It gets silenced. We put Travon (Walker’s) sacks up there and say ‘he went No. 1 overall.’ We put Devonte (Wyatt’s) up there and say ‘he went in the first round.’ We put Quay (Walker’s) up there, we put Nolan (Smith’s) up there, we put Jordan Davis’ up there, and then they don’t say anything.”