Georgia's defensive line struggled in 2010 but looks fairly well-stocked with reinforcements heading into 2011. The linebacking corps finds itself in the opposite situation: They actually had a pretty decent year in 2010, gradually getting comfortable with their new role as the engine behind the defense's QB pressure, but loses a wealth of talent and experience. Other than the RBs, no single corps of players on Georgia's roster is as likely to see contributions from the '11 recruiting class as the linebackers are.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
INSIDE LINEBACKER (WEAK SIDE)
1. Jarvis Jones (6'3", 234), RSoph.
2. Richard Samuel (6'2", 234), Sr.
3. Michael Gilliard (6'2", 225), Jr.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (STRONG SIDE)
1. Christian Robinson (6'2", 217), RJr.
2. Amarlo Herrera (6'1", 224), Fr.
3. Kent Turene (6'3", 230), Fr.
Who's coming back. Christian Robinson and Cornelius Washington had both put hammerlocks on starting positions by the end of last season; they return along with a couple of Washington's backups, Reuben Faloughi and Chase Vasser. Converted running back Richard Samuel and Michael Gilliard are familiar faces at ILB, and both will be in the mix for playing time, if not the starting job. On the outside, T.J. Stripling returns as a sentimental favorite after an ugly knee injury suffered at Colorado ended his 2010 season prematurely.
Who's not. Five of the top six tacklers in the LB corps are gone, headlined by sack impresario Justin Houston, who surprised exactly no one by foregoing his senior season to take a shot at a likely first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Also departed are graduating seniors Akeem Dent, Darryl Gamble and Akeem Hebron, as well as junior Marcus Dowtin, who left the team under dicey circumstances in January.
Who's new. The headliner of the rookie class is certainly Ray Drew, an ordained reverend from Thomasville who put his preaching skills to work urging other recruits to join him on Georgia's "Dream Team" after committing in late January. The Dawgs, however, will be more interested in his tackling skills, particularly since he's been pegged as the heir apparent to Justin Houston. Fellow Dream Teamers Amarlo Herrera and Kent Turene also have a decent shot at playing time thanks to shaky depth on the inside. But don't forget about Jarvis Jones, a Columbus prospect the Dawgs missed out on in 2009, only to get him back when he announced he was transferring from USC. Jones sat out 2010 due to the NCAA's transfer rules, which gave him plenty of time to fully heal up from the neck injury that keyed his departure from the Trojans.
Outlook. Robinson and Washington performed well enough last year that they can expect to maintain their starting positions on the depth chart in 2011. Beyond that, not much is certain, and while there's tons of raw talent on this roster, there's precious little experience. At least at this point, Ray Drew and Jarvis Jones seem to have the inside line on the other two starting positions, though it's fair to say that this is based more on their lofty reputations as recruits than anything they've done on a college field -- Drew, of course, will be a true freshman, whereas Jones had a promising freshman season at USC but only got seven games under his belt before a neck sprain took him out of commission for the rest of the season. There is massive pressure on both players to perform, particularly Drew, who is angling to become the first freshman Mark Richt has ever started at linebacker -- and having to fill Justin Houston's shoes in the process.
Because of a shaky depth situation across the board, though, Drew might not be the only 2011 recruit to make a strong bid for playing time. Either Amarlo Herrera and Kent Turene, the former a four-star prospect, could earn the job of being Robinson's backup by the time the season starts. At the other inside spot, Richard Samuel has reportedly looked good in practice, but it's important to remember he's never played a down of actual game time at this position (he redshirted last year after being moved over from running back).
Of course, the end positions should see a fair bit of rotation, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham loves to mix in 4-3 alignments with his standard 3-4 set; Drew, who played defensive end in high school, has already indicated he's excited about playing a potential hybrid LB/DE position for the Dawgs, and fellow '11 DE recruit Sterling Bailey may figure into this mix as well. One thing, though, is clear -- with the unit still adapting to its new roles in Grantham's defense, he and new inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will need as many warm bodies as they can get.