And so continues our countdown of Georgia's important players for 2014. A reminder: This is not a ranking of the team's best players. Rather it's a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
And now we get to ...
8. AMARLO HERRERA AND RAMIK WILSON
WHY THEY ARE VITAL: OK, we’re cheating a bit here. But Herrera and Wilson are such similar players that we feel we can get away with it. It’s similar to Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, who have some differences but are each senior receivers who will be among the 10 most productive players on this year’s team, and probably play on Sundays in 2015. Herrera and Wilson will as well. But unlike Bennett and Conley, who play at a very deep position, you look behind Wilson and Herrera and only see questions. If one of them went down, would Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough or Ryne Rankin be able to fill the void? It’s best for Georgia that they not have to find out. Herrera was the defensive MVP last year, as voted by the team, and Wilson was a consensus first-team all-SEC pick. They are not spectacular players, and won’t lead the team in sacks or interceptions. But they will provide leadership and man the middle of the field, especially against the run. If each gets better in pass coverage, it would also be a huge help to the defense.
QUOTABLE: “I mean, tackles are tackles. He has things that he can work on, but he’s getting guys on the ground, and that’s kind of a big part of the job description. I didn’t realize that was the perception out there. Thank goodness I don’t read stuff.” – Former Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, late last season when talking about the perception that Wilson racking up tackles was overrated.
BEST CASE: Wilson and Herrera answer all doubts and lead a resurgence of Georgia’s defense. They rack up just as many tackles despite not being on the field as much – Pruitt takes at least one of them out for passing downs – but increase their sacks and make more plays overall. And their pass coverage improves, though the defense doesn’t depend on them as much because of the better use of dime packages.
WORST CASE: Georgia’s defense again struggles, and Wilson and Herrera don’t adjust well to the new defensive philosophy. Their tackle numbers go down because they’re not on the field as much, and their pass coverage doesn’t improve.
FINAL WORD: You could argue that Herrera deserves more attention and Wilson deserves less, but the truth is they’re both very solid defensive players, and it’s hard to see the defense doing well if one of them goes down. There’s a reason Herrera was voted the defensive MVP last year, and that Wilson is being mentioned by NFL scouts. This season, Georgia doesn’t need either of them to take their game to another level. It just needs them each to improve slightly in some areas. They can easily do that and both contend for all-SEC honors. br>