ATHENS - On a young defense which has seen a number of new players emerge this spring, James DeLoach has been a bit overshadowed. He wasn't an early enrollee earning raves from veterans and coaches, or a formerly high-rated recruit assuming a bigger role.
No, DeLoach is just a returning player who has quietly earned a starting spot.
Well, sort of a starting spot.
DeLoach, who will be a sophomore this season, will enter the preseason as Georgia's first-team strongside (or "Sam") linebacker. But that's just in the base defense, and it's very possible the Bulldogs will play a lot of nickel defense - perhaps pushing the Sam linebacker to the bench.
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Still, head coach Mark Richt indicated after Saturday's spring game that DeLoach is playing well enough to demand playing time in any defense.
"I like him there (at strongisde backer). He's a big kid, he's very athletic," Richt said. "We were thinking when we signed him he might be an inside linebacker. But he's very good out in space, out in the flat. He comes off the edge as a pass rusher. In our first- and second-down stuff he's more of a Sam linebacker, like you mentioned. But when we get in our nickel situation he provides some rush for us. So really we've got a lot of high hopes for him."
DeLoach had a very good G-Day, recording six tackles for the Black team - which was the first-team defense, playing against the first-team offense. He was also credited with a sack.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said after G-Day he wasn't sure the exact percentage but said it was "about split" between nickel and base. When Georgia was in its base DeLoach was out there, having edged past other veterans for what has been a vital spot on the defense.
Jordan Jenkins occupied it last year, emerging as the team's second-best pass rusher, and has now moved to the weakside ("Will") spot that was vacated by Jarvis Jones. Entering spring practice, DeLoach was competing with rising senior T.J. Stripling and rising sophomore Josh Dawson, each of whom was a more highly-rated recruit in their respective classes. DeLoach was a three-star prospect coming out of Jenkins County High School in Millen, Ga.
DeLoach quickly became the favorite once practice began. He'll have to keep it up when preseason practice begins, and rising senior Chase Vasser - who sat out spring practice after shoulder surgery - will be a factor. But DeLoach has put himself in good position with Grantham.
"I think I've shown him I'm a very competitive person, and if he shows me how to do something, I try to do it to the best of my ability," said DeLoach, who had four tackles in 13 games as a freshman last year. "I just keep working hard, and keep pushing myself."
Earlier in spring practice DeLoach put a hit on fullback Quayvon Hicks that still had Jenkins laughing.
"DeLoach has been making a lot of plays over there," Jenkins said. "I know when you play Sam you have to deal with that fullback a lot, and he's been taking it on, making play. I mean he spilled the mess out of Quayvon and made him fall. I think James is a good fit on the other side."
DeLoach is almost the polar opposite personality of the effervescent and quotable Jenkins. During a recent interview DeLoach just talked over and over about working hard and listening to coaches.
But there is a quiet confidence to him.
"It's time to showcase my ability and what I can do, what all I can show the coaches, prove that I can be on the field as a starter with the other 10 guys," DeLoach said.
So far he's doing just that.