The 2019 University of Georgia defense will endure some critical losses from the 2018 team, with seniors Deandre Baker, D’Andre Walker and Jonathan Ledbetter among those whose eligibility is up. But a large crop of talented young players will be put in a position to succeed as the Bulldogs look to get over the national title hump in head coach Kirby Smart’s fourth season.
Georgia’s defensive front should be a deep group in 2019. Ledbetter is the only significant loss, with key returners being rising sophomore Jordan Davis, rising seniors Tyler Clark, Julian Rochester and David Marshall, and rising junior Malik Herring.
The Bulldogs also added several big bodies in their 2019 recruiting class. Five-star Travon Walker is the biggest prize that could be a star down the line. He’ll be joined on the line by four-stars Bill Norton and Zion Logue, and three-stars Tymon Mitchell and Tramel Walthour. Walker, Norton and Logue are all at least 6-foot-5.
The early frontrunners to start would likely be Davis, Clark and Herring, but the Bulldogs will have options with a lot of bodies to rotate in behind whoever earns the starts.
All four linebacker positions appear to be up for grabs, as rising junior Monty Rice appears to be the only major contributor returning at any of the four spots.
On the outside, Walker’s eligibility is up and the Bulldogs did not find a consistent answer on the opposite side of him with sophomore Walter Grant, freshman and former five-star recruit Brenton Cox and redshirt freshman Robert Beal all seeing time there. All three of those players will contend for starting roles on the outside next season but will be pushed by some other blue-chip players.
Rising sophomore Adam Anderson, a former five-star recruit, has the look of a future star with his length and rushing skills. Incoming freshman Nolan Smith, the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2019 according to the 247Sports Composite, will also push for significant playing time early in his career. No. 1 overall junior college prospect Jermaine Johnson could also be an immediate impact player at outside linebacker. Freshman Azeez Ojulari also got valuable playing time in the Sugar Bowl, and could be in for a second-year leap.
At inside linebacker, the departures of Juwan Taylor and Natrez Patrick open the door for others to seize more consistent roles. Rice would look to be the frontrunner at the position, with rising senior Tae Crowder and rising sophomores Channing Tindall and Quay Walker looking to be factors in the race for the other starting spot as well. Five-star freshman phenom Nakobe Dean could also make some noise. Four-star freshmen Trezmen Marshall and Rian Davis are also talented prospects coming in, and it seems anyone could emerge in such a crowded race.
Linebacker spots are as wide open as any on the entire roster but Rice appears to be a near lock to start on the inside. Outside of him, though, there are a lot of talented contenders for the remaining three starting spots.
There is some degree of certainty in areas of Georgia’s secondary, but also an area of major concern.
The Bulldogs appear to be fairly set at safety in 2019, with J.R. Reed announcing he will return for his senior season and rising junior Richard LeCounte, Georgia’s leading tackler in 2019, returning as well. Georgia also brings back rising sophomore Otis Reese, a big safety who will surely push for more run next season.
But at cornerback, there is a lot less experience. Georgia lost Baker, the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award winner, and will have to rely on young players to replace him. The favorites to start appear to be rising redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes and rising sophomore Tyson Campbell, the two players who split most of the starts across from Baker this past season. But rising junior Mark Webb could also be in the mix.
Tyrique McGhee will be back for his senior season and had some effective games at the “star” position. Rising redshirt freshman Divaad Wilson could also earn some time in various roles, and played in the Sugar Bowl after missing almost the entire season with a torn ACL suffered in spring practice.
The Bulldogs have locked up two cornerbacks in their 2019 recruiting class: junior college transfer D.J. Daniel and four-star Tyrique Stevenson. Both appear talented and have good size for the position, and figure to push for some degree of playing time right away.
Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization, based in Athens, Georgia. For more UGA sports news, visit www.redandblack.com/sports.