By William Qualkinbush
In Wednesday’s secondary analysis, we took a look at particular statistics, mostly related to the passing game. This is much tougher when comparing personnel at linebacker because this player grouping is involved in the vast majority of plays on the field, whether the opponent is running or throwing the football.
Just like everywhere else on defense, Georgia suffered major losses in the linebacking corps. Four of the team’s top five tacklers among linebackers graduated after last season, leaving rising junior Amarlo Herrera—the team’s leading returning tackler with 70 stops—behind to lead the 2013 crew.
Herrera also added three tackles for loss and one interception from his inside linebacker position in 2012.
Elsewhere, sophomore Jordan Jenkins returns at outside linebacker after being a part-time starter last season. His five sacks lead all returners for the Bulldogs, and his athletic presence should benefit Todd Grantham in a tremendous way.
Depth could be a problem for the Bulldogs at linebacker this season, and particularly against Clemson. There is plenty of talent, but it is untested. Georgia fans would be wise to exercise some patience with this group.
For the Tigers, the linebacking corps begins the season with a ton of promise. All three returning starters spent ample time with the first string last season, including junior weakside backer Spencer Shuey. After spending the first part of the season as a backup, Shuey earned more snaps at middle linebacker and finished third on the team in tackles. His ability to pursue the football will be needed once again this season.
Elsewhere, senior Quandon Christian (the strong side backer) and junior Stephone Anthony (middle) appear to have the inside track on the other two starting spots. Anthony started in the middle before Shuey supplanted him last season, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables moved him back to the middle in the spring where he spent all 15 practices. Christian is a solid player who grew and matured last season with an enhanced role.
In addition, the Tigers will boast quality depth due to the presence of a pair of former blue-chip athletes in Tony Steward and Oklahoma transfer Kellen Jones. Steward’s career has been slowed by injuries, but his talent is unquestioned when healthy.
Some believe—including this observer—Jones was the best backer on the practice field last season. He will certainly impact this unit moving forward.
The Tigers actually have a number of other young players who could step in and earn some snaps early this season, which is exactly the point.
The Bottom line: In recent history, this personnel analysis would favor the Bulldogs. Last season, it would not have even been close. Georgia definitely has a ton of raw talent at the position. But experience and depth—coupled with the effects of a full season in Venables’ system—are on the Tigers’ side this season.