Around the Hedges in 80 Days: M. Gilliard

Fifty-three days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.

53. Mike Gilliard

Senior, Linebacker

6-foot-2, 220 pounds

Fall forecast: Gilliard was a backup inside linebacker when the 2011 season started, but both of Georgia’s starters -- Alec Ogletree and Christian Robinson -- suffered foot injuries by the end of Game 2, creating an opportunity for Gilliard to see regular playing time. He took advantage of the chance, providing steady play while Ogletree and Robinson were out and starting 11 consecutive games.

Gilliard completed the spring as one of Georgia’s starters, ahead of sophomore Amarlo Herrera, and figures to once again play a key role in the middle although Herrera will surely push for more playing time after a strong freshman season.

Career highlight: Gilliard was making only his fourth career start when he gave one of Georgia’s top individual performances of the season against Tennessee. He recorded 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss -- including a sack -- forced a fumble and broke up a pass in the win against the Volunteers, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week and College Football Performance Awards National Linebacker of the Week honors.

Experience thus far: Gilliard’s first two seasons on campus were fairly quiet, but he was one of the Bulldogs’ most pleasant surprises as a junior. He ranked third on the team last season with 65 tackles and fourth with seven tackles for loss, and he is in position to contribute heavily as a senior.

Possible career impact: A nondescript career suddenly developed usefulness last season, as Gilliard performed well when the Bulldogs needed him most. In his first four starts after Ogletree and Robinson went down, Gilliard recorded 8 (Coastal Carolina), 7 (Ole Miss), 9 (Mississippi State) and 12 (Tennessee) tackles -- totals that led the team in each game. The Bulldogs don’t need Gilliard to be a superstar, but another quietly productive season in 2012 would be enough to qualify his as a useful college career.