On paper, Georgia’s linebacker situation appeared to be a weakness coming into spring practice. The Bulldogs were looking to replace three of the four starters, including career starters Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble and All-SEC pass rusher Justin Houston. But what defensive coordinator Todd Grantham saw on the field over the course of 15 spring practices has him convinced the position will be a team strength come fall.
The reason? Two moves, mainly.
Grantham moved rising sophomore Alec Ogletree from strong safety to inside linebacker. In turn, that allowed him to move Southern Cal transfer Jarvis Jones from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
“Those two moves were definitely the right thing to do,” Grantham said following the G-Day game this past Saturday. “It gets us more linebacker-type guys on the field and, in a 3-4, those guys make plays for you.”
The linebacker corps definitely looks to be a more sleek, swift unit. Ogletree (6-3, 225), Jones (6-3, 234), Christian Robinson (6-2, 226), Richard Samuel (6-2, 234) and Chase Vasser (6-3, 225) all combine prototypical linebacker size with defensive-back quickness.
But make no mistake about it, Ogletree was the linchpin for the success or failure of this experiment.
“If you watch him on film, ‘Tree’s’ running around making plays everywhere,” said Jones, who also played outside linebacker for the Trojans. “He’s pretty much making a play on every down. You can see it on film. I saw it. Coach saw it. He knew what he wanted. This is definitely an improvement and we can’t do anything but get better from now on.”
Said Grantham: “There’s no question in my mind Tree is going to be an outstanding linebacker. It really started back when we started doing our [video] cut-ups [after last season]. When he played safety, sometimes we played him in the box, which really is no different than a linebacker. Just watching the way he could run and hit and the way he struck guys, I started having visions of him playing linebacker full time. With our line-backing situation, I thought it was pretty much a no-brainer. You’ve got a young guy who’s going to be very big, he’s very physical and he can run. I mean, I’m looking forward to seeing him play in our system.”
If Ogletree is a former AJC Super 11 selection and five-star prospect as a safety from Newnan. If he was resistant to the position change, he hasn’t admitted it.
“I feel pretty good about it,” he said after tying Vasser with a game-high seven tackles Saturday. “I knew there had been a lot of talk about it or whatever, so I just had to talk to my family about it. They felt like it was OK if I decided I wanted to go down there. I decided to do it and I feel like it’s going to be a pretty good move for me.”
Ogletree’s playing style has drawn early comparisons to Rolando McCain, who was all over the field in Alabama’s 3-4 defense two seasons ago. People often forget Grantham’s ties to Nick Saban. He was assistant head coach and defensive line coach for Saban in the late 1990s at Michigan State and shares his defensive philosophy. Chiefly that is to be strong and athletic — and smart — up the middle.
“Once I got to see Tree line up in the box and take on blocks and diagnose those plays, I felt good about it,” Grantham said. “He’s a smart guy; he’s got instincts. And, because he played safety, he kind of understands the fits with the coverage rotations and things like that. So that part of it gives him some insight. We’ve got to work him hard because he’s a young guy that’s just going to get better.”
The hope is, so will the Bulldogs’ overall defense.
By Chip Towers, The UGA Blog