Bulldogs Blog

Georgia football: Inside linebackers key in new 3-4 defense

ATHENS, Ga. — Christian Robinson’s teammates at Georgia have taken to calling him “Shemar,” saying he bears a resemblance to Shemar Moore, an actor on the TV show “Criminal Minds.”

“I don’t watch it,” Robinson said, laughing. “I’ve yet to figure out who that is.”

That may still be OK. In a month or so, it may be more important that Robinson begins looking like Akeem Dent.

During the first week of practice, Robinson and Marcus Dowtin have been working as the first-team inside linebackers, two key spots in a revamped Bulldogs defense.

Riding a bike on the side has been Dent, the senior and defensive captain whose presence was supposed to smooth the transition to the 3-4. Instead, Dent’s status for the Sept. 4 opener is in doubt after he underwent toe surgery.

The two inside linebacker spots are key in the system of new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who came from the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys’ two inside linebackers last year, Bradie James and Keith Brooking, ranked 10th and 14th, respectively, in the NFL in tackles.

Robinson and Dowtin said the 3-4 will give them a lot more freedom.

“In the 3-4, I’d say the inside linebacker is a lot more aggressive,” Dowtin said. “I’m able to free-range and make as many plays as possible.”

And there is less gap protection, staying in one spot and waiting.

“The 3-4 is basically letting players make plays,” Dowtin said. “It’s really not too much (on) assignments; it’s just, ‘Fit where you’re supposed to be and make a play.’”

Dowtin, a junior from Maryland, is more experienced than Robinson. He played in 11 games last year, starting four, and amassed 57 tackles, including nine in the Independence Bowl.

But he entered the summer behind Robinson on the depth chart at one inside spot after Robinson had a strong spring.

Robinson, a third-year sophomore from Norcross, Ga., played in 12 games last year, notching 19 tackles. He figures to go way past that this year, with increased playing time and a changed role. He also has taken over as the signal-caller on defense, or “quarterback of the defense” as Grantham called it.

So it’s been a quick rise for Robinson, who broke his arm as a true freshman, a week before the Vanderbilt game. He was broken up about it, going through an angst-ridden telephone call with his father. But now, he looks at it as a blessing.

“Unless you’re A.J. Green, I would redshirt,” Robinson said. “Because you have time to progress, and, as people move on, you can be the guy.”

For the moment, he is the guy. But looming over him is Dent and the mystery of whether he will be back for the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette or a week later at South Carolina or even later.

“I know I can’t completely fill his void with his leadership,” Robinson said. “I’m trying my best. I’m doing what they tell me until he comes back. And if he’s the best guy for the job, we want the team to win. Selfishly, you know that you’d want (to play). But, deep down, I know he’s the best guy that we have, and if he comes back fully healthy and is ready to play, they’re gonna put him out there.”