Inside linebackers have become much more than run stoppers.
Gone are the days when middle linebackers racked up an insane amount of tackles with all of the inside runs offenses used to call. With the game much more spread out, the ideal college inside linebacker has changed quite a bit.
These days, the ideal inside linebacker can not only fit run plays but pursue the quick pass game while recognizing when opposing offenses are trying to attack the edges. He also needs to be able to drop back in coverage to defend the pass against tight ends and slot receivers.
And that's what Roquan Smith showed he could do last season. Smith was a tackling machine for the Bulldogs and seemed to be around the football on almost every play. He and Natrez Patrick figure to form a formidable starting duo once again.
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Smith sat out of spring practice but should be able to pick up where he left off. This position is yet another on Georgia’s defense that will have a ton of expectations placed upon it.
Coming out of the spring, here is a look at where the inside linebackers stand.
Post-spring depth chart
Mike linebacker: Patrick, Reggie Carter, Tae Crowder, Monty Rice
Will linebacker: Smith, Carter, Juwan Taylor, Jaleel Laguins
Those on the way
With Rice enrolling early, Georgia has one remaining inside linebacker slated to join the program in the class of 2017.
That would be Vidalia'a Nate McBride, who will certainly add some exceptional speed to the position group.
McBride just finished his high school athletic career as a GHSA Class AA track and field champion in the 100-meter dash (10.77 seconds) and the 200 (21.71). McBride has the kind of sideline-to-sideline speed that coaches covet in an inside linebacker.
Given Georgia's depth at both the Mike and Will linebacker positions, it may take a little while before McBride sees the field as a defender.
But given his size (6-foot-1, 223 pounds) and speed, McBride should be an immediate contributor on special teams.
In 2016, Georgia's top two tacklers were Smith (95) and Patrick (59). Whether it was against the run or in the short passing game, the inside linebackers were usually present around the ball.
Smith missed the spring due to an upper body injury but should be ready for preseason practice in August. Smart has routinely praised Smith for how he practices, which is at as high of a speed as he would compete in a game.
As a result, Smith has emerged as one of Georgia's go-to leaders on the entire defensive side of the ball.
Patrick has made that jump in leadership, too, and recorded all of his tackles despite missing three games in 2016. Patrick appeared to be much more vocal during the spring and could be in for a big junior campaign.
While Smith and Patrick have received a lot of attention, it's easy to forget how valuable Carter is to the position group. As a fifth-year senior, Carter is the old man of the room who the position group looks up to.
He can step in at both the Mike and Will positions seamlessly, making his presence important when the Bulldogs look to substitute.
Much like the defensive line, Georgia boasts a veteran and experienced group at inside linebacker.
It features three starter-caliber players who can be counted on to make sure tackles up the middle and in the open field. With Smith, Patrick and Carter, Georgia should be able to play sound defensive football against every opponent on its 2017 schedule.