The series continues with this friendly reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success this season based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at certain positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
No. 12 on this list was freshman receiver Terry Godwin.
No. 11 was senior kicker Marshall Morgan.
Which, neatly enough, brings us to …
10. REGGIE CARTER/TIM KIMBROUGH
WHY THEY’RE VITAL: Is it cheating a bit by lumping these two together? Why yes. Is it also forgetting Jake Ganus, Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith? No, we’re not forgetting them either. The inside linebacker spot is very, very wide open and each of those five are pretty certain to see action. But if you had to predict starters right now you’d go with the most experienced guys: Carter knows the defense the best, and has a nose for the ball. Kimbrough is a big hitter who was named the most improved player on defense this spring. Ganus won the hustle award too, Patrez won raves, and Smith comes with his own expectations. So there’s a lot of potential here, and a need for a couple guys to emerge quickly. Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, each drafted by the NFL in April, weren’t perfect players by any means, but they were reliable tacklers and experienced leaders on defense. This year figures to be more of a committee approach, so it’s hard to see anyone having the same statistical productivity as Herrera and Wilson. What Carter, Kimbrough, et al need to do is avoid making the inside of Georgia’s defense a weakness. That would force Jeremy Pruitt to scheme differently, rather than using the weapons he has at outside linebacker.
QUOTABLE: “Reggie and Tim are going to do great things here. You are going to see real soon that they are smart and fast. They are not going to miss a beat.” – Ramik Wilson
BEST CASE: Wilson is right. Finally given extended action, Carter proves to be a heady player who racks up tackles, is a great leader and forces the occasional turnover. (He was known for doing it in scrimmages as a freshman.) Kimbrough, described as a “thumper” by Mark Richt, proves to be just that, and is solid in other areas as well. Ganus proves to be a great contributor as well, drawing a huge amount of snaps. Patrick and Smith prove too good to sit on the bench, and provide the upperclassmen relief off the bench, without any drop-off.
WORST CASE: The worth of Wilson and Herrera, in retrospect, turns out to be severely underestimated. Carter’s size works against him. Kimbrough is too raw. Ganus isn’t good enough, or at least not ready enough, for the SEC. Patrick and Smith aren’t either. So the middle of Georgia’s defense proves a big liability, one which offenses exploit. Pruitt has to scheme around, taking away from other potential strengths of the defense.
FINAL WORD: There’s too much talent and potential among this group for there not to be at least two solid SEC inside linebackers. The trick is going to be pinpointing who should start, which combinations to use at which points in the game, and how to disperse the playing time. Pruitt and inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler have no doubt already been spending a lot of time on it. How it all works out won’t by itself dictate the direction of Georgia’s defense in 2015. But it will be a critical part of it.