Take A Look: Inside Linebackers
Contributed by Brian Butcher
Georgia inside linebacker Quay Walker (25) during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2021. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)
Over the next couple of weeks, DogWatch will be examining each position group as spring practice nears, and Georgia gets started on prepping for the 2021 season.
So, let’s continue with the inside linebacker position.
A proven track record
UGA has an excellent track record over the last several years of putting inside linebackers in the NFL.
Former Butkus Award Winner and NFL All-Pro Roquan Smith has been a star in the league from day one. Tae Crowder and Natrez Patrick, two linebackers who played under Georga head coach Kirby Smart, also are in the NFL.
Whether it’s Dannel Ellerbe, Alec Ogletree, Akeem Dent or others, UGA knows how to put linebackers in the league. Monty Rice is the latest edition, and with his impressive Pro Day in Athens on March 17, he surely will end up getting drafted.
So, after losing another talented backer, who does UGA have on the defensive front for this position heading into 2021?
One of the inside linebacker positions is settled and done as junior Nakobe Dean may be playing his last season for the Dawgs. The Mississippi native was a semi-finalist for the 2020 Butkus Award. Last season, he led the Dawgs with 71 tackles, while adding 13 quarterback pressures. Dean received a lot of attention out of high school and earned time in all 14 games as a freshman in 2019. Hopefully, Dean will prove to have an impactful year as Smith did in 2017.
The other position at inside linebacker is up for grabs, and these two candidates should the favorites to win the spot: seniors Quay Walker and Channing Tindall.
Why Walker will win the job: Walker won the hearts of Bulldog fans when he initially put on a Tennessee hat during his commitment announcement, only to chuck it away and reveal he was wearing a power ‘G’ under his jacket. As a freshman, Walker won the Special Teams Newcomer of the Year award. As a sophomore, he was a co-winner of the Defensive Most Improved Award.
While he didn’t win a team award last season, Walker played in every game in 2020 and was the fourth-leading tackler on the team, despite only starting two games. He led the team in tackles against Alabama. This being his senior year, Walker has the chance to take a step forward and end his UGA career as a starter. Walker has improved every season and has the pure athletic ability to play with anyone in the country.
Why Walker won’t win the job: While he’s not short on talent, Walker has shown himself to be a boom or bust linebacker. He makes as many mind-blowing plays as he does head-scratching ones. He tends to over-pursue when tackling, which means he can lose sight of what’s in front of him and try too hard. Other times, it means he winds up out of position. Until Walker can prove that he can be as disciplined as he is athletic, he may find himself continuing to rotate in rather than be in the starting lineup.
Why Tindall will win the job: Tindall was recruited as an outside linebacker but has stayed on the interior each season at UGA. The senior has seen action in 35 games over his career and has shown that he has the ability to rush the passer. He had three sacks last season, notching two against Tennessee. Tindall was chosen as a captain when he returned to his hometown of Colombia, South Carolina. He responded by notching a tackle for loss towards the end of the game.
Former teammate Jermaine Johnson sang his praises last year, “Channing’s a great player, a great kid, a great teammate, most of all. He never complains about playing time or anything like that. He goes out there and does what he’s got to do when his name’s called. So, when you’ve got a teammate like that who plays like that, good things will definitely come his way.”
If Tindall can continue to pressure the quarterback from the inside position, he stands a chance to see good things coming his way this season, indeed.
Why Tindall won’t win the job: Despite playing in a lot of games, Tindall hasn’t lit up the stat sheet just quite yet. His 15 tackles last year only gives him a total of 22 for his career. He’s shown himself to be serviceable in the rotation, but is not an every-down backer. He hasn’t played as much as Walker and isn’t quite as athletic as he is. Even with his disadvantages, Tindall is still strongly in the running for the starting job this season.
Rian Davis, Trezmen Marshall and Smael Mondon are the other inside linebackers on the roster. Davis and Marshall have been contributors on special teams the past two seasons. Mondon was a very sought-after recruit. Chaz Chambliss is also on the roster, but I’m not sure if he’ll end up at inside or outside linebacker.
This one is certainly a toss-up, but my gut says Quay Walker gets the job. His athletic ability gives him the potential to do everything that Dan Lanning asks of him. Athleticism can’t be taught, but discipline can be. I’m hoping he will improve and show himself to be a worthy partner alongside Nakobe Dean.
Check out the other Take A Look previews: