2013 Defensive Preview: Outside Linebackers

Dawg Post's Jonathan Branch will preview a new position group each week. We continue this week with outside linebackers.

Picture this:

A double-digit sack artist leaves Georgia for the NFL after his junior season. Questions abound as to who will step up and take over as the Bulldogs' top pass-rusher in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme.

Out steps a top-rated recruit from the western border of Georgia.

Two years, 28 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, and a bevy of game-changing plays later, Columbus native Jarvis Jones left Georgia as one of the most decorated defensive players in school history. His presence and play-making ability quickly calmed the question of who would replace Justin Houston, drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs after collecting 10 sacks in his junior year back in 2010.

Now, with the 2013 season approaching, Georgia finds itself in a similar predicament as the offseason before 2011 after Houston's departure. Coincidentally, Bulldog coaches think they may have another once-heralded prospect with the initials ‘J.J.' ready to break out.

When Jordan Jenkins, a talented outside linebacker from Alabama-bordering Harris County, selected Georgia over Alabama on National Signing Day in 2012, Georgia had its heir-apparent to Jones. Jenkins' true freshman season did nothing to disprove that expectation. The 6-foot-3, 257-pound Jenkins finished 2012 with 31 tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery—all in the shadow of Jones. With Jones out of the picture, Jenkins will be the one to watch next season.

The real question is who takes Jenkins' place on the opposite edge.

Chase Vasser, a rising senior, had a good start to 2012, posting 19 tackles in five games, but an injury cut his season short and kept him out of spring practice. Still, Vasser should provide a pivotal role next season in the way of playing time and as the experienced veteran in a young group of outside backers.

Early in spring practice, rising sophomore James Deloach has established himself as the forerunner for the starting spot opposite Jenkins. Head coach Mark Richt recently spoke highly of DeLoach, "DeLoach looks very good at (the strong-side linebacker) spot. He's very athletic... He moves very well." DeLoach, at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, should be able to get off blockers and get to the next level. He can also move well, as coaches nearly moved him to inside linebacker after he arrived on campus. His size and athletic ability could mean a dangerous pass-rushing tandem for opposing quarterbacks.

From Southwest Dekalb High School, T.J. Stripling arrived on campus as one of the top pass-rushers in the Southeast. The lanky 6'6" Stripling suffered a devastating knee injury against Colorado in 2010 that stalled his development. Thus far in his career, Stripling has been limited to special teams, where he has been a solid contributer. In 2013, Stripling, who notched a sack last season against Florida Atlantic, should fight for playing time against Vasser, DeLoach and the rest. At a lean 235 pounds, he can be used to rush the quarterback on third downs or other obvious passing situations.

Brandon Burrows signed as a defensive end in 2010 after tearing his ACL during his senior year at Walton High School. A redshirt season, injuries and position changes have kept Burrows from significant playing time thus far in his career. He played in three games in 2012, while listed as an inside linebacker on the roster. When spring practice started last week, Burrows was working at outside linebacker, and it appears he may stay there. He worked with the No. 2 unit during the first practice, and he may finally crack the lineup at his newfound position. Still, newcomers and Vasser's return will give Burrows strong competition when the fall rolls around.

Like Jenkins and DeLoach, another talented youngster is Josh Dawson, a rising sophomore who backed up Jenkins and Jones last season. Dawson is a big body that could even line up at defensive end in certain situations. In 2012, the Tucker native played in 13 games, racked up five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. That production came on limited scrimmage snaps, but his role should increase in 2013. With his performance in 2012 and a strong spring and summer, Dawson should be a lock in the two-deep at outside linebacker when the fall rolls around.

One February signee that should get snaps in game one is Leonard Floyd from Dodge County by way of Hargrave Military. Floyd tore up the competition at Hargrave and was one of the top prep/JUCO talents in the 2013 class. His skills translate nicely to Grantham's scheme and the 3-4 outside linebacker position. At 6'5", 217 pounds, Floyd is long and athletic. He improved on an already good base skill set in his one year at Hargrave and could be one of the most impactful newcomers from the 2013 signing class.

Davin Bellamy is another fall arrival that could contribute in 2013. Bellamy is a talented pass-rusher who is still raw in terms of technique development. Bellamy (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) has ideal size for the position, and Grantham promised Bellamy the two would do big things together. Whether that happens in 2013 or down the road will be largely dependent on how quickly Bellamy grasps the college game.

Stay tuned for next week's breakdown, when we put a hand in the ground and preview the defensive ends.

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