What would Kirby Smart's All-Georgia defensive team look like?
So who would make Kirby Smart’s all-defensive team of players coached during his 4 full seasons coaching Georgia football?
Some selections were fairly straightforward. Others? Not so much. There are a few names that will be suiting up this year that you might recognize. Other names, if we were to revisit this list in a year or 2, could be replaced.
All in all, though, it’s always fun to look back at the players who have come through over the past several years. If nothing else, it drives home the fact that Smart already is about to enter his 5th season coaching the Bulldogs.
Here’s a look at Smart’s all-defensive team since taking the reins from Mark Richt following the 2015 season:
DT: Tyler Clark
Georgia’s run defense was elite in 2019. That was due in no small part to the efforts of Clark, who led the way with 8.0 tackles for a loss as a senior. He finished with 19.5 TFLs in his career.
Seniors Devonte Wyatt and Julian Rochester will headline the rotation in 2020, but Clark’s graduation leaves a big hole on the defensive line that the Dawgs can hopefully fill.
DE: Jonathan Ledbetter
While Ledbetter’s career got off to a bit of a slower start, the Tucker, Ga., product turned into a reliable run-stopper. He totaled 12.0 tackles for a loss in his final 2 years, a key member of the 2017 group that advanced to the CFP National Championship Game against Alabama.
Legal issues kept him off the field for a chunk of the 2016 season, but credit Ledbetter from learning from his mistakes and ultimately proving to Smart that he did indeed have a place on the team.
NT: John Atkins
The big man in the middle of the Dawgs’ 3-man front, the 6-4, 305-pounder was difficult to miss. A spot starter as a sophomore in 2015, Atkins became a frequent presence at the top of Smart’s depth chart starting in 2016, totaling 50 tackles during his final 2 seasons.
“Sam” linebacker: Lorenzo Carter
Seniors Jermaine Johnson and Walter Grant will fight for the lion’s share of the reps at “Sam” in 2020, but they’ll have a lot to live up to considering the contributions Carter made. A heralded defensive end in high school, Carter developed into a dependable weapon when it came to stopping the run and getting to the quarterback.
He accumulated 106 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks during his final 2 seasons. In and of itself, that points to a great career. But his involvement in one of the great moments in Georgia football history may outweigh all of that.
“Mike” linebacker: Natrez Patrick
Patrick saw some bumps in the road that led to him not playing in the CFP semifinal and national championship in 2017, but his efforts in helping the Dawgs get to that point shouldn’t go unnoticed. His best season was as a sophomore in 2016 as he totaled 59 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.
Despite his personal struggles, Patrick, who just recently signed a practice squad deal with the Los Angeles Rams, looks to be on the right path. As for his career at Georgia, history should be kind to him.
“Will” linebacker: Roquan Smith
Putting Macon County, Georgia’s favorite son is a simple call for this exercise. And while Smith wasn’t recruited by Smart, he easily saw his most success in 2017, amassing 137 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. His stat line during the 2017 SEC Championship against Auburn — 13 tackles, 2.0 tackles for a loss, a sack and 2 fumble recoveries — led to him becoming just the 5th defensive player to win the game’s MVP award. He was an easy choice for SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Smith came oh-so-close to a national championship during that junior season, but he clearly set a high standard for the linebacker position at Georgia.
“Jack” linebacker: Davin Bellamy
Bellamy was a 4-year contributor who was equally adept at getting to the quarterback as stopping the run.
The Atlanta-area product notched 7.5 stops for a loss and 5.0 sacks during the Dawgs’ run to the CFP National Championship in 2017 as a member of a sturdy linebacking corps. And while Smith was the defensive star of that 2017 team, there’s no question that without Bellamy’s contributions, Georgia wouldn’t have come close to the season it had that year.
Cornerback: DeAndre Baker
His career ended with a full trophy chest: an All-SEC and All-America 1st-team selection, the Jim Thorpe Award for best defensive back and a pair of SEC championships. While Florida may nickname itself “DBU,” Baker was a darn good one in his own right.
Baker’s final 2 years in Athens saw him make his name as one of the better players at his position in program history as he logged 18 passes defended and 5 interceptions. He wasn’t a total ball hawk in the mold of Bacarri Rambo, but his skills as a cover corner equaled a matchup nightmare for No. 1 wide receivers on a weekly basis.
Strong safety: J.R. Reed
Reed transferred from Tulsa to Georgia after the 2015 season, and at the time, it might have appeared to be a big risk for a player who saw abbreviated playing time as a freshman. But the Golden Hurricane’s loss ended up being a major gain for the Dawgs.
While he didn’t play in the last season’s Sugar Bowl, the Frisco, Texas product started in every game before that — 42 in all — and finished his senior season as a 1st-team All-SEC pick, his open-field tackling abilities and his coverage skills making him one of the centerpieces of the Dawgs’ secondary during his 3 seasons in Athens.
Free safety: Richard LeCounte III
Smart has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in the middle of the secondary. He and his staff turned Reed from an under-the-radar transfer to an elite strong safety, and have the services of one of the country’s top free safeties for one more year.
LeCounte hasn’t snuck up on anyone, though. After seeing some action in 2017 while waiting behind Dominick Sanders, he’s started all but 1 game since his sophomore year, finishing as the team’s leader in tackles that season (74). He became the Dawgs’ primary takeaway artist last year, recording 4 interceptions to go along with 61 tackles.
It’s not a stretch to say that LeCounte could be playing on Sundays in 2021.
Star: Aaron Davis
Davis slid over to the hybrid linebacker/nickel slot as a senior in 2017 and recorded 43 tackles and 3.0 tackles for a loss.
A cornerback during his first 3 seasons, Davis makes the list here due to his ability to not only learn the position but to do so rather seamlessly. His body of work at CB speaks for itself, as well.