A Good Problem to Have

ATHENS – Asher Allen thinks Georgia's defensive coaches have their work cut out for them this week. Sure, they'll be busy preparing for Saturday's showdown with Florida, but there's another pressing-but-pleasant problem they'll need to solve, too.

With sophomore Darryl Gamble developing into one of Georgia's top defensive playmakers over the past three games, and preseason All-SEC selection Dannell Ellerbe nearly set to return from a knee injury, the Bulldogs may actually have too many linebackers.

"I guess we'll have to start a new defense," Allen suggested. "I don't know, maybe put four linebackers out there."

Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez isn't likely to invent an entirely new scheme this week, but if Ellerbe is able to play, he will need to develop a strategy to keep both players on the field as often as possible.

Gamble started the season as Georgia's top Sam linebacker, but against teams that emphasize the spread formation or four-wide receiver sets like Florida, that position gives way to the nickelback instead – leaving just two linebacker spots available. Since sophomore Rennie Curran has the Will linebacker job locked down, there will be a number of plays when either Gamble or Ellerbe will have to watch from the sideline.

"I guess it's a good problem to have," Allen said.

Gamble spent much of fall camp learning the middle linebacker position so he would be able to play more often against spread offenses, but the experience proved essential when Ellerbe sprained his knee against Alabama last month. Gamble has started the past three games at middle linebacker while Ellerbe recovers, and he has shown he's more than just a part-time fill-in.

In his three starts at Mike, Gamble has 25 tackles – including 13 last week against LSU – and is currently second on the team in tackles with 45.

More than the takedown tally, Gamble keyed the Bulldogs' win over the Tigers with two interception returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record for linebackers.

On the game's opening play, Gamble made a perfect read and picked off a Jarrett Lee pass, returning it 40 yards for the score. While Gamble said that interception was based purely on strong preparation, he added a second pick in the fourth quarter on his own.

"I have to take the credit for that," Gamble said. "It was just the spur of the moment. He underthrew it, and I broke on the ball, and I took it the distance."

The performance drew rave reviews from his teammates, but as the Bulldogs prepare for Florida this week, no one seems quite sure if Gamble will be back in the starting lineup to work on a repeat performance Saturday. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't welcome Ellerbe back if he's ready.

"I think last game may have been (Gamble's) breakout game," linebacker Darius Dewberry said. "I mean he's had some good games but two interceptions for touchdowns speaks for itself. With Dannell coming back, it just adds more flame to the fire. Now we just got more people to do it with."

Considering the seemingly endless string of injuries the Bulldogs have battled through this season, a little extra depth at any position is a plus. But given Gamble's quick development, it's hard not to wonder if there could be a small spark of controversy over playing time.

If that happens, however, it won't be because Gamble is unhappy. While the rest of the team might not know where the sophomore belongs on the depth chart, Gamble knows he still has some work to do before he has a resume to match Ellerbe's.

"I think I played really good," Gamble said. "But Dannell, he's a proven player, and I'm trying to get there. I don't know who's going to start next week, but I'm just hoping I get my opportunity to come back out and start another game."


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