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Monday, December 21, 2009

Dawgs of the Decade: The Linebackers

Through a decade of success, there have been plenty of players who have made their mark in a Georgia uniform, and for the next two weeks, The Telegraph will be giving you the chance to vote on your picks for the Bulldogs’ All-Decade team for the 2000s. We’ll go position-by-position, and you’ll pick the winners by going to to vote.

Our 13th ballot is for Georgia’s top linebackers of the decade, and the nominees are:

(Note: Years as one of Georgia’s starters in parentheses. The top three vote-getters will make the team.)

Boss Bailey (1999-2002). Following in the footsteps of his All-American brother Champ, Boss Bailey was one of Georgia’s most prolific linebackers, a four-year starter and two-time All-SEC performer. His senior season marked a high point, as Bailey earned All-American status, leading the team with 114 tackles and six sacks. He was a semifinalist for both the Butkus and Lombardi awards that season and helped the Bulldogs to their first SEC title in 20 years. He was drafted in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.

Chris Clemons (2002). Clemons played sporadically in 2000 and 2001 before bursting onto the scene as one of the mainstays of the 2002 SEC championship defense that finished first in the conference and fourth nationally in scoring defense. He recorded 53 tackles and one sack that season. Clemons played alongside his brother Nic while at Georgia and signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in 2003. He currently plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Will Witherspoon (1999-2001). Witherspoon was one of the key players to smooth the transition between the Jim Donnan and Mark Richt eras. After starting every game as a freshman in 1999, Witherspoon proved to be a consistent and versatile performer during his time in Athens. He wrapped up his career at Georgia having played all three linebacker positions, totaling 211 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. He was a third-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2002.

Odell Thurman (2003-2004). A junior-college transfer, Thurman spent just two years at Georgia, but he made the most of them. He was an All-SEC selection both years and was a Butkus Award semifinalist in 2004. His 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Auburn in ’04 was the second longest in school history. He wrapped up his two-year career with 184 tackles and 9.5 sacks and was selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Tony Gilbert (2001-2002). A captain on Georgia’s 2002 SEC championship defense, Gilbert improved in each year of his career culminating with an All-SEC season as a senior in which he had 114 tackles, which led the team, 2.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Gilbert led the Bulldogs in tackles every year from 2000 through 2002 and his 328 career stops ranks 10th all-time at Georgia. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL draft and currently plays for the Atlanta Falcons.

Danny Verdun Wheeler (2004-2006). A four-year contributor and three-year starter, Verdun Wheeler was a steadying force on Georgia’s defense throughout the middle portion of the decade. In his first year as a starter in 2004, he finished with 51 tackles, including nine against Auburn. In 2005, Verdun Wheeler was an integral part of the SEC title-winning defense and set a career high with 13 tackles against Arkansas. He split time at outside linebacker as a senior with Jarvis Jackson but remained one of the key cogs on defense and wrapped up his career with a 40-12 record and two SEC titles.

Tony Taylor (2005-2006). Taylor’s early career was nagged by injuries, but he was a key contributor in a reserve role on the 2002 SEC champions and a starter at linebacker on the 2005 conference champs. His career was stellar throughout, but he reached a crescendo as a senior when he was named a team captain and earned All-SEC honors. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl that season, Taylor picked off two passes and made 10 tackles to earn defensive MVP honors. His 280 career tackles ranks 17th all-time at Georgia.

Dannell Ellerbe (2007-2008). Ellerbe started 20 games in his career but was a key contributor for four seasons, including making 15 tackles and two sacks on Georgia’s 2005 SEC title defense as a freshman. Off-field issues hindered his early career, however, and it wasn’t until his junior season in 2007 that he broke through with a big season. He led the team that year with 93 tackles and earned All-SEC honors. He was a preseason All-SEC pick as a senior, but injuries cost him several games. He still finished with 33 tackles and an interception. He currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

Rennie Curran (2007-present). Quite simply one of the most active defenders in Georgia history, what Curran lacks in size he has made up for in heart and determination. Earned a starting gig midway through his freshman season and helped Georgia’s defense to a Sugar Bowl victory, making 53 tackles on the year with three sacks. As a sophomore in 2008, he was the heart and soul of Georgia’s defense, leading the team with 115 tackles – second best in the SEC – and 10 TFLs. He earned All-SEC honors that year, but upped his game even more as a junior. So far this season, he has 122 tackles – the most at Georgia in five years – and was a first-team All-SEC selection. He became the first Georgia player with consecutive 100-tackle seasons since Greg Bright in 1996-97 and was named the team’s overall MVP.

So, who gets your vote? Go to to cast your ballot or vote in our previous categories, and be sure to pick up a copy of the December 27th issue of The Telegraph to find out the winners.

And don't forget to leave your comments here on the blog. Tell us about why you made your selection and your favorite memories of those players, and your comments could appear in our final results issue of The Telegraph.


RawDawg said...

Funny Tony Gilbert story for anyone who's interested. When I was in college not too long ago, I was pulling in Moe's on Alps to get a burrito...I was pulling into a parking spot right next to the entrance and some SUV came out of nowhere and stole my spot. I honked the horn and raised my arms in the air in typical "WTF?" fashion. To my surprise, Tony Gilbert popped out of the car and just stared at me. I quickly proceeded to Barberito's and picked up a burrito...

Anonymous said...

Tony Gilbert, Boss Bailey, and Rennie Curran with Odell as honorable mention.

jferg said...

How can you leave off Kendrell Bell?

For my money, I'd take Bell, Odell, and Bailey.

I was in Athens for the year-o-highlights when Boss was a virtual super man in blocking kicks. I think he had a 48" vertical...same as some guy named Jordan, by the way.

Jami said...

David, what happened to Koennig's press conference? Did I miss something?

David Hale said...

Jami -- I had a quote or two in my notes that night. He essentially said that he was in talks with Georgia well into the night the day before but took the Illinois job anyway. No specific details beyond that.

Carter said...

WLB - Curran
MLB - Thurman
SLB - Bailey

It’s a shame that Thurman's personal problems derailed his NFL career. He was the best rookie LB in the League in 2004.

It’s also a shame that injuries hampered Bailey's career and led to his premature retirement this past off-season. He was as physically gifted as they come.

JasonC said...

In talent and production, the guys listed in the comments are all very close, so I went with the guy who's character and talent pushed him over the top: Curran.

helen said...

Do you know who am I?Do you want more interesting?
The NFL Draft is working with Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to study brain trauma in football. The league will ask former and current NFL players to donate their brains to science. Presumably, with fancy boxes to ship the brains, like they do for Super Bowl rings.
Page 2 loves this idea.
Scientists could study Mark Sanchez's brain to find out what he doesn't understand about the words "double-covered." They could study Tony Sparano's brain to find out what he sees in Pat White that no one else does. And they could look at Brett Favre's brain on the subject of waffling.
Merry Christmas!And have a good time!