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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pass the Mike

If two's company and three's a crowd, Georgia's got a veritable convention at middle linebacker in 2009.

Despite the loss of senior Dannell Ellerbe, the Bulldogs still have a wealth of talent looking for playing time alongside junior Rennie Curran this season, and at this point, it's anyone's guess how the playing time will be distributed.

Following spring practice, the leader in the clubhouse seems to be junior Akeem Dent, who played primarily at Sam linebacker last season, but impressed coaches so much with his consistency that he was pegged as the likely starter in the middle this spring.

"This spring I've been mainly focusing on Mike and just learning, trying to learn everything there is to know about Mike," Dent said. "As long as I get to play, I feel pretty good about it. At Mike you get a lot more action, so yeah, I'd like to play Mike."

If Dent has the inside track on starting duties, that leaves a battle royal for the remaining snaps.

Darryl Gamble was impressive as the substitute for Ellerbe last season, putting up several big games including a two-interception performance against LSU. But while Gamble has made a habit of making big plays in his career, he has yet to show the consistency that has endeared Dent to his coaches.

During the spring, Gamble saw limited action at Mike, working mostly at Sam and also handling rush duties at defensive end -- a role he's likely to continue in the fall. With so many teams running spread offenses, Georgia is running a nickel package on defense regularly, leaving the Sam linebacker off the field. But with limited depth at defensive end, head coach Mark Richt sees an obvious solution.

"The more that people spread the less that you're going to play the Sam linebacker," Richt said. "We've got to get those Sam linebackers working."

That means Gamble could see as much action as a rusher in 2009 as he does at linebacker. The same could be true for middle linebacker Marcus Washington, who worked as a stand-up rusher this spring, too.

Washington is likely to see a good bit of action at Mike, too, but further down the depth chart, sophomore Marcus Dowtin has forced himself into the discussion as well. Dowtin showed glimpses of his immense promise as a freshman in 2008, and he got the majority of the spring reps at Mike while Gamble was working elsewhere.

"Dowtin needs a little more reps right now, so he's getting them. Darryl's a guy who can play any one of the three with his knowledge and his ability," Richt said. "These guys are getting to the point now where they really know what they're doing, so it's wise to just start training them in other spots. Darryl's not going to forget how to play Mike."

And that's the idea. With so many linebackers and so few snaps to go around, the best bet for everyone is to be prepared to play almost anywhere. When game day comes around, Georgia's middle linebackers will be ready, and ideally, the opposition won't know what hit them.

"I feel like it's good for us to crosstrain at linebacker because for one, it gives us depth," Dent said. "We can play any position at any given time during the season."

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