ATHENS - Losing a pair of NFL draft picks in Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera hasn’t left Georgia inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler down in the dumps.
"I think at this point, we’re better right now than we were last year,” the Bulldogs’ second-year assistant said after the team’s fourth preseason practice Friday. “And we got a hell of a whole lot more depth. Depth, technique, I think we play with better technique than anybody in college football."
Georgia certainly is deeper when Leonard Floyd, a possible NFL first round draft pick next year, is playing inside. Floyd has already shown he is a playmaker at outside linebacker, but is also working at the star position in the secondary in the nickel package and inside in the base 3-4 defense where coaches have inserted him on the first team with hard-hitting Tim Kimbrough.
“Jeremy (Pruitt) has got him working all over the place,” Ekeler said of how Georgia’s defensive coordinator is using Floyd.
Floyd spends time in outside linebacker Kevin Sherrer’s meeting room and Pruitt’s secondary meetings but not with the inside linebackers, Ekeler said.
“He’s just got such great natural instincts,” Ekeler said. “I wish I could say I coached him and did that. Shoot, the guy upstairs did that.”
Ekeler said there “are a lot of guys in the mix” to be with the starters.
“We could pick a lot of guys right now,” he said.
The type of offense Georgia is going up against could heavily weigh into the decision week to week.
Wilson was a fourth round pick this spring and Herrera went in the sixth round.
The two racked up the tackles the past two seasons and combined to make 225 last season when Georgia didn’t lean on backups much.
“They left some big shoes to fill, but I think we can fill it with the group of guys we have,” said junior Reggie Carter, who played behind them last season and is working with Kimbrough in the nickel package.
Even without Floyd, Ekeler said he’s “probably got about six or seven guys that realistically have a shot to play. …What I’m hoping is we can just have a rolodex and just plug guys in. That’s what you want. You want to be able to keep guys fresh.”
Georgia can turn to senior Jake Ganus, a transfer who led UAB in tackles last season. Or early enrollee Natrez Patrick, a spring sensation who Ekeler is looking for more consistent practices from now.
Another freshman, Roquan Smith “is fast and instinctive, he’ll put his face on you. Usually it takes time for guys to come in and understand how to take on blocks and get off blocks. Both he and Juwan (Taylor) have done a great job.”
The 6-foot-1 Smith, from Macon County, is practicing at about 225 pounds. The 6-foot-1 Taylor is at 210 pounds.
“There’s enough snaps to go around,” Carter said. “We’re going to keep competing for whoever wants the most snaps. …It’s going to be a nice rotation this year with the young guys and us.”