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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pass the Mike

If two's company and three's a crowd, Georgia's got a veritable convention at middle linebacker in 2009.

Despite the loss of senior Dannell Ellerbe, the Bulldogs still have a wealth of talent looking for playing time alongside junior Rennie Curran this season, and at this point, it's anyone's guess how the playing time will be distributed.

Following spring practice, the leader in the clubhouse seems to be junior Akeem Dent, who played primarily at Sam linebacker last season, but impressed coaches so much with his consistency that he was pegged as the likely starter in the middle this spring.

"This spring I've been mainly focusing on Mike and just learning, trying to learn everything there is to know about Mike," Dent said. "As long as I get to play, I feel pretty good about it. At Mike you get a lot more action, so yeah, I'd like to play Mike."

If Dent has the inside track on starting duties, that leaves a battle royal for the remaining snaps.

Darryl Gamble was impressive as the substitute for Ellerbe last season, putting up several big games including a two-interception performance against LSU. But while Gamble has made a habit of making big plays in his career, he has yet to show the consistency that has endeared Dent to his coaches.

During the spring, Gamble saw limited action at Mike, working mostly at Sam and also handling rush duties at defensive end -- a role he's likely to continue in the fall. With so many teams running spread offenses, Georgia is running a nickel package on defense regularly, leaving the Sam linebacker off the field. But with limited depth at defensive end, head coach Mark Richt sees an obvious solution.

"The more that people spread the less that you're going to play the Sam linebacker," Richt said. "We've got to get those Sam linebackers working."

That means Gamble could see as much action as a rusher in 2009 as he does at linebacker. The same could be true for middle linebacker Marcus Washington, who worked as a stand-up rusher this spring, too.

Washington is likely to see a good bit of action at Mike, too, but further down the depth chart, sophomore Marcus Dowtin has forced himself into the discussion as well. Dowtin showed glimpses of his immense promise as a freshman in 2008, and he got the majority of the spring reps at Mike while Gamble was working elsewhere.

"Dowtin needs a little more reps right now, so he's getting them. Darryl's a guy who can play any one of the three with his knowledge and his ability," Richt said. "These guys are getting to the point now where they really know what they're doing, so it's wise to just start training them in other spots. Darryl's not going to forget how to play Mike."

And that's the idea. With so many linebackers and so few snaps to go around, the best bet for everyone is to be prepared to play almost anywhere. When game day comes around, Georgia's middle linebackers will be ready, and ideally, the opposition won't know what hit them.

"I feel like it's good for us to crosstrain at linebacker because for one, it gives us depth," Dent said. "We can play any position at any given time during the season."


Anonymous said...

I'm just a dumb caveman lawyer. Your football world confuses and frightens me.

Even though I know what Sam and Mike stand for, I have no idea how the positions play differently compared to each other.

Please explain.

HVL Dawg

David Hale said...

You know, I always swore I would avoid assuming people knew all the little lingo coaches use, and now I've gone and done it.

There are 3 LB positions (typically), a strongside, a middle and a weakside. At UGA (and many other place) they are typically referred to as Sam, Mike and Will... using the first letters to coordinate.

The Will position is all Rennie's, obviously. The Mike is sort of the QB of the defense as he has the best view of the whole field to gauge the offensive set. The Sam is a key contributor against teams that use a fullback and/or tight end regularly (i.e. more traditional sets) but during a nickel formation -- against the spread or in third-and-long or another four-WR set) he leaves the field in favor of another CB.

The idea UGA is toying with is that, if the Sam isn't going to be on the field often and they have at least four or five viable starters at the position or backing up at Mike, why not use them as a rusher, given the lack of depth at DE? It makes a lot of sense on the surface, but it remains to be seen what kind of pressure Gamble, Washington, et al can actually get against SEC linemen.

Good question, HVL. Thanks for reminding me that not everyone is a D-coordinator!

the anonymous suckup said...


In addition to what David said, here is a site that may be of interest:

It is a great source of information about football basics, including a brief description of the resonsibilities of each position on the field.

The page on linebackers is here:

In very, very basic terms, the Sam lines up on the side of the line nearest the tight end (the strong side), and he is primarily responsible for thwarting whatever the tight end is trying to do.

The Mike lines up near the middle of the field. He is primarily responsible for thwarting whatever the running back is trying to do.

The Will lines up on the side farthest from the tight end (the weak side). He is sort of a free agent. He can do several different things depending on the circumstances, but he mostly just tries to get to the ball and cause trouble.

Obviously, SEC defenses are much more complicated than that, but those are some basics. I've sent that link to some of my buddies, and it has been useful at times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses! I'll do some research on linebacker strategy and enjoy it!

HVL Dawg