By SETH EMERSON
ATHENS -- Schemes thought to be overly complicated were a big story around Georgia’s defense last year. So with the new defensive coaches promising a simpler approach, unofficial defensive captain Amarlo Herrera was asked this summer if that was exciting.
He just shrugged.
“Nah, I’m pretty smart,” Herrera said.
It does bear noting that Herrera -- leaned on by rookies for his on-field instincts and off the field for his football acumen -- was named Georgia’s defensive MVP last year.
And yet outside of the program, Herrera might be the most under-appreciated player on Georgia’s roster.
The senior inside linebacker doesn’t have the flash of offensive stars Todd Gurley and Malcolm Mitchell. He doesn’t have the sacks of fellow defensive players Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Ray Drew. In the one statistic -- tackles -- in which Herrera excels, he was trumped (barely) last season by fellow inside linebacker Ramik Wilson, who was a consensus first-team All-SEC pick.
Then there was this: On Monday, the Bednarik Award (which goes to the nation’s top defensive player) released its preseason “watch list.” Three of Georgia’s four starting linebackers were on the list: Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Wilson.
Herrera was nowhere to be found.
Last month, Herrera discussed his reputation and the fact it’s not as high around the SEC as it is around his team. He was asked if it bothered him.
“Sometimes,” he said. “If people keep talking about it, you know, then it bothers you. But other than that, no, I know what I can do, and I know what I can do for Georgia. So that doesn’t bother me. As long as we’re winning and everybody around me is happy, then that’s all that matters.”
The problem is last year the Bulldogs weren’t winning -- or at least when they did, it wasn’t because of the defense. That is a big reason Herrera doesn’t get much recognition, despite his production.
Herrera had 112 tackles last season, third in the SEC. At inside linebacker, he did his best to provide a steady presence in the middle, helping Georgia’s run defense play surprisingly well. But the pass defense struggled, bringing down the defense basically by itself. And defensive leaders on struggling defenses don’t usually get many awards.
Herrera thinks he did what he could for Georgia last year.
“I had a pretty good season,” he said. “I was MVP of my defense. I had a lot of tackles. I was one of the leaders on the defense.”
And this year, does he see the need to get some sacks, or is that not in the job description?
“If they send me on blitzes, then I’ll try to get sacks,” he said, chuckling. “But other than that, I’m just trying to win games and get off the field and hold people to low points and low yards.”
Herrera’s public comments are usually short, to-the-point and candid. He can come off sometimes as gruff, but behind the scenes, teammates describe him as a mentor.
“A lot of people don’t see that side of him, like he’s a teacher,” said Ryne Rankin, a sophomore inside linebacker. “I’ll ask him questions in the locker room or something like that, and he’ll bring me to the linebacker room, and he’ll try to sit there with me and Reggie Carter and try to explain stuff. He’s a great guy.”
When Georgia begins practice in three weeks, no player on defense is officially assured a starting spot. Jeremy Pruitt and his fellow defensive coaches have been adamant about that.
But Herrera’s past performance and experience make him as entrenched as anybody can be. If Georgia’s defense can have a better year, Herrera will become more well-known; his awards, it would seem, are tied mostly to how his entire unit fares, rather than his stats.
“I’m just trying to be the best player I can be, and hopefully one of the best defensive players in the country,” Herrera said.
And he leaves it at that, short and to the point.