Editor’s note: Saturday Down South has selected an all-decade offensive and defensive team for all 14 SEC programs.

Kirby Smart’s calling card has been defense. He has lived and breathed it all his life, from his time as a safety at Georgia to becoming arguably the top defensive coordinator in the country at Alabama.

So why would that change as the head coach of his alma mater?

And it has worked. The 2019 edition of the Bulldogs has thrived on an elite defense, centered around stopping the run and daring opponents to beat them through the air, barely putting a foot wrong. It’s not just this year that has had its share of standouts, though: Plenty of names in the recent past have written their own narratives. But which ones are at the forefront this decade?

As we did with the offense, anyone who played between 2010-19 is eligible to make the list, regardless of his longevity. While there is a bias in favor of those who played the bulk or all of their careers in the 2010s, an exception or two can be made.

Nose tackle: John Jenkins, 2011-12

It didn’t take long for the 346-pound Jenkins, a JUCO transfer, to make his mark on the Georgia defensive line. His 2011 campaign saw 6 of his tackles result in lost yardage while he recorded 3 sacks. His tackle numbers went up in 2012 as he and Kwame Geathers combined for 90, another line of attack with one of the best linebackers in the country in Jarvis Jones behind them.

Backup: John Atkins, 2014-17. Atkins was “only” 322 pounds, but he was still hard to miss on Georgia’s defensive front. His best statistical season was as a senior in 2017, when he made 38 tackles. There are many players from that 2017 campaign who will be remembered for years, but Atkins deserves credit as well for helping the Dawgs come one win away from their first national championship in football since 1980.

Defensive end: Jonathan Ledbetter, 2015-18

The 2010s began with the sunset of the career of one of the all-time great defensive ends in Georgia history in Justin Houston. It ended with Ledbetter, a talented edge rusher who made life miserable for opposing running backs.

Ledbetter totaled 12 tackles for a loss over his final two seasons with the Dawgs, part of a run defense that allowed 126 yards per game in 2017 and 134 yards per game in 2018. He placed on the All-SEC second team for his efforts as a senior, with his best game being a 10-tackle performance against LSU.

Backup: Garrison Smith, 2010-13. Smith was part of a disappointing season in 2013 but was a noticeable member of a defense that included Amarlo Herrera, Jordan Jenkins, Ramik Wilson and Leonard Floyd. His 6 sacks were half a sack shy of Floyd’s total, while his 10 TFLs ranked third.

Defensive tackle: Tyler Clark, 2016-19

We might be approaching this selection with a bit of recency bias, but Clark has been one of the centerpieces of the Bulldogs’ resurgence under Smart’s leadership. This season, he was part of a rather elite Georgia run defense as he recorded 8 tackles for loss as one of the anchors of the 3-4 defense. He sits at 19.5 TFLs for his career, all but 1.5 of those accumulated from his sophomore season on.

He’ll end up on an NFL roster when it’s all said and done, and while he was never able to win a title after coming so close in 2017, he’s part of the reason the Dawgs nearly got there in the first place.

Backup: Trenton Thompson, 2015-17. A bridge between the Richt and Smart eras, Thompson was a heralded recruit who helmed a DT rotation that included Clark for a pair of years. Injuries held him back in 2017, which prevented him from matching a 2016 campaign that saw him tack on 9.5 TFLs and 5 sacks, but while he never quite reached the potential that was cast on him as the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015, he had some success in Athens.

Outside linebacker: Jarvis Jones, 2011-12; Leonard Floyd, 2013-15

Jones spent his freshman year at USC in 2009 and sat out a year in 2010 after transferring to Athens. In just two seasons, he established himself as one of the best linebackers in Georgia history: 13.5 sacks in 2011, 14.5 in 2012. His 28 sacks are tied for third in the program’s record books.

And there was something about Jacksonville that really made Jones raise his game. In the 2011 Georgia-Florida matchup, he sacked John Brantley 4 times in Georgia’s 24-20 win. The next year, he added 13 tackles, 3 more sacks and 2 forced fumbles in the No. 12 Bulldogs’ upset of the No. 3 Gators. Even when he didn’t record a sack, he made his presence felt in other ways: his 44 career tackles for loss are third most in program history.

Jones’ departure meant that Leonard Floyd would be called upon to anchor the position, and he did just that.

Floyd, along with Jenkins later on, was an extremely important cog in the defensive machine of Jeremy Pruitt’s system, finishing with 17 sacks in three seasons, 11th in program history. He also recorded 26.5 tackles for a loss as he and Jenkins built off the legacy Jones set prior to their arrival by combining for 36 sacks in their careers.

Backup: Jordan Jenkins, 2012-15; Davin Bellamy, 2014-17. Jenkins and Bellamy continued the tradition of talented OLBs long after Jones left. Jenkins slid right into one of the slots and finished with 19 sacks and 39 tackles for loss as he developed a reputation as one of the best at his craft in the country. Bellamy, who backed up Jenkins, made a name for himself toward the tail end of his career as he took on a starter’s role, posting 10 sacks and 16.5 TFLs in his final two seasons.

Inside linebacker: Roquan Smith, 2015-17; Amarlo Herrera, 2011-14

There was no getting through Roquan Smith on his best day. Probably not on his worst day, either.

There was the 2016 season, when he ranked seventh in the conference in tackles. Then in his junior season in 2017, he achieved yet another level of skill, being named a consensus All-American and winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s most outstanding linebacker. He reached double-digit tackles on eight occasions and had 7 or more in 20 games. His best performance was probably in the 2017 SEC Championship against Auburn, when he recorded 13 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, a sack and a pair of fumble recoveries. The only thing missing from his mantle: a national championship.

Before Smith was Herrera, who got off the starting blocks strong with 37 tackles as a freshman in 2011. But that was only the beginning, as he made his mark as not only one of the decade’s most dominant ILBs for Georgia but possibly among the best in program history. His final two years saw him combine for 227 tackles and 15 TFLs, and he departed at No. 10 in program history in total tackles with 334. While fellow linebacker Ramik Wilson may have put up better numbers in their final two years, it was Herrera who was the heart and soul of the defense.

Backup: Alec Ogletree, 2010-12; Ramik Wilson, 2011-14. A broken foot was to blame for sidetracking his sophomore season in 2011, but Ogletree returned to full health a season later and formed an outstanding linebacker unit with Jones and Herrera. He led the team with 111 tackles in 2012, fifth most in the SEC, while adding 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Wilson embraced his starting role over his final two seasons, when he totaled 243 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 6 sacks as he formed one of the top ILB corps alongside Herrera.

Strong safety: Dominick Sanders, 2014-17

Sanders will be remembered for his overtime interception of Baker Mayfield in the 2018 Rose Bowl that helped the Dawgs punch their ticket to the CFP National Championship. But with the highs came the lows: He was one of the players tasked with covering Alabama’s DeVonta Smith when the latter made the championship-winning, second-and-26 catch from Tua Tagovailoa in overtime at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

That shouldn’t cancel out his body of work as one of the program’s leading defensive backs. Sanders’ career saw him make 16 interceptions, tied with Jake Scott and Bacarri Rambo for the most in program history. He also forced 3 fumbles, notched 11.5 tackles for loss and registered 2 sacks. But there’s another number that stands out: 54, the number of games he played as a Day 1 starter for the Georgia secondary. (He received a targeting penalty in one game and had to miss the first half of the next, meaning he started all but one.)

Backup: Shawn Williams, 2009-12. Williams was second on the 2012 team in tackles with 98, behind Ogletree’s 111. He had 4 interceptions in 2011, when he was forced to shift to linebacker. While he may be noted for his comments on what he considered a “soft” defense in 2012, Williams certainly did his part in trying to help it improve.

Free safety: Bacarri Rambo, 2009-12

Before Dominick Sanders came Rambo, a ball-hawking free safety who rewrote the record books himself. His 8 interceptions in 2011, the most in the country that year, are tied for fifth most in program history for a single season, and he was named a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC pick. He is knotted with Scott and Sanders with 16 for his career; only two players in SEC history have had more. To add to that, he had 3 pick-sixes to his credit and is seventh in SEC history in interception return yards with 293.

He was suspended for four games as a senior, but he still finished 2012 with 73 tackles as he was the focal point of what turned into an elite secondary.

Backup: Richard LeCounte III, 2017-present. While the book’s not fully written on LeCounte’s career, he has made quite the impact in his three seasons here. He recorded a team-high 74 tackles in 2018 and has forced 4 fumbles, made 3 interceptions and defended 6 passes over the past two years.

Cornerback: Deandre Baker, 2015-18; Brandon Boykin, 2008-11

His passes defended — 23 — made him one of the top shutdown corners in college football during his career. He’d leave having landed on a number of first-team All-America lists and as the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the best defensive back in the country.

Baker was a matchup nightmare for opposing wide receivers. And he knew it.

“I know during big-time games, I step up,” he said following a game against South Carolina in 2018 when he recorded a 55-yard interception return. “That’s just who I am. I do my thing. I let everyone else do all the talking, I just let the work on the field show for itself.”

And for Baker, it showed time and time again.

While Baker’s career holds up on its own, it’s Boykin who set his own standard for the position during his time in Athens. He posted 3 interceptions in each of his final three seasons at his “short cornerback” post, while his tackles for loss grew from 2.5 in 2009 to 11 in 2011. He was also one of the best return men in football with 4 kicks run back for scores in 2009 and 2010 combined.

All told, Boykin finished with 159 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 9 interceptions, but his contributions were so much more than in the secondary. He holds the program’s record for most return yards in a career with 2,843, while his 4 kickoff returns for touchdowns are also a school record.

Backup: Damian Swann, 2011-14; Aaron Davis, 2014-17. Swann was on the field for the famed “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” in 2013, but that should hardly define what was a fine career. His best season was as a senior, when he recorded 4 interceptions and 8 passes defended, forced 4 fumbles and recovered 1 for a touchdown. He added 65 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.

Davis started across the field from Baker in the secondary during his career, but he can’t be overlooked thanks to his own contributions. He completed his career with 184 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 12 passes defended, and he was part of a defense that allowed just 168.9 yards passing per game in 2017.

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