ATHENS, Ga. -- Kirk Olivadotti paused last week when asked how many freshman inside linebackers he’d be comfortable playing before responding with a deadpan wisecrack.
“Shoot, I’ve still got two weeks, right?” Georgia’s inside linebackers coach said, breaking into a grin before elaborating on his initial reply.
“That’s what training camp and summer camp is all about is who you’re going to be comfortable with and what roles you’re going to be comfortable with them in,” Olivadotti added. “We’re still in that process right now, just figuring out exactly what guys are good at, what they need work on. You don’t have to be great at everything to help you win a football game.”
Those two weeks have trickled down to just more than one until the Bulldogs open the season at Clemson on Aug. 31. The coaches’ plan for the freshmen is starting to come into focus, although the positional pecking order still seems to be juniors Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, freshman early enrollee Reggie Carter, followed by everyone else.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, however, suggested that all of the newcomers could play a role this season, and Wilson agreed that was a likely outcome.
“Everybody in our room’s going to have a role. Everybody,” said Wilson, who tied Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with four tackles in Wednesday’s final preseason scrimmage. “Just because everybody’s been working hard and competing and showing their talent.”
Carter made the most of his opportunity when he enrolled in January, impressing Olivadotti with his work ethic as well as his physical ability. But Carter said that summer enrollees Tim Kimbrough and Johnny O’Neal were also picking up Georgia’s defensive scheme quickly.
“I’m happy that I enrolled early because it helped me understand the defense more and [Ryne] Rankin did the same thing and it helped him learn the defense more. But the guys that just got here, they’re learning, too, and they’re actually doing a way better job than me and Rankin in the spring of picking up the scheme.”
Olivadotti complimented the newcomers, too, adding, “Nobody’s surprised in a negative way, which is a good thing. Everybody’s working, and they’re the people who we thought they were.”
Perhaps Georgia coach Mark Richt provided a glimpse into where things stood on Wednesday when he rattled off stats following the team scrimmage. He informed reporters that Carter tied with Herrera for second on the team with three tackles and later added that O’Neal had made a few impressive hits while playing with the scout team.
Kimbrough, meanwhile, has just returned from a right knee sprain that kept him out of a number of recent practices after making a positive impression early in camp.
Playing on the scout team during the scrimmage doesn’t mean much, however, since Georgia’s limited numbers at inside linebacker mean all or most of the freshmen could find a role on either scrimmage downs or on special teams. Grantham confirmed as much recently.
“Reggie’s a guy that’s really improved and I think he’s going to be helping us in there. I think Kimbrough’s a guy that was showing really good progress until he got hurt,” Grantham said. “I’ve been pleased with it. We’ve obviously got to get him back and continue to develop him. If he continues to improve the way that I’ve seen him, he can be ready to function in a game. Johnny has shown to be big and physical and stout and he has the qualities to be a physical linebacker.
“Linebackers to me are guys that are good special teams players and I think if you get your feet wet that way sometimes it helps you in your defensive play. So if those guys can help us, then we’re going to play them.”