Remember Lorenzo Carter? He’s the guy who was regarded as the state of Georgia’s best overall prospect in 2014 according to 247Sports. You know, the guy whose signing with the Bulldogs was a crown jewel in the frenzied close of national signing day?
Well, nobody’s talking about him this offseason, but he could be a starter as a true freshman.
If Georgia fans learned anything from Jeremy Pruitt’s first spring in Athens, it’s that no positions are locked up. Aaron Davis, a walk-on who redshirted last season, worked his way into the starting lineup for the Dawgs’ spring game. Ray Drew, who registered five total sacks against LSU, Tennessee and Missouri over the course of three consecutive Saturdays last fall was resigned to backup duty.
And despite an increase in open competition and a number of different lineups, no starting spots were firmly secured. As Pruitt told Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We had 50 guys out there on defense that were all trying to do the same stuff. I didn’t see anybody particularly that just stuck out and deserved an award.”
Undoubtedly, some of that is coach speak. Players like Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins are sure to be staples of the unit even if Pruitt is hesitant to recognize any surefire starters. That being said, there are still plenty of question marks.
For a player like Carter, who’s equally defined by his size and athleticism, even the slightest sign of uncertainty could yield a tremendous opportunity.
At 6’5”, Carter already has the frame to be an absolute force at the next level. But it takes more than a frame to solidify oneself as a starter in the Southeastern Conference.
This summer, Carter’s top priority must be adding strength and muscle without compromising his speed. Fortunately for Carter, who weighs 230 pounds according to 247Sports, Georgia’s new-look defense is not going to demand too much added mass.
Tracy Rocker, the Dawgs' new defensive line coach, believes oversized players negatively impacted Georgia’s defense two years ago. “They go to the championship, and you turn on the tape, and the first thing everybody saw (was) they couldn’t get off the blocks,” he told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer.
Pruitt also said to Emerson, “I think it’s a little different philosophy. I think the old staff maybe wanted them a little bigger, kind of how they wanted to play. We want to be a little leaner, so we can sustain for four quarters.”
Added strength and endurance this summer can mold Carter from a mere prototype into an actual on-field weapon.
Taking a Spot
Ultimately, Carter’s going to have to take someone’s spot in order to start the season opener against Clemson. Drew and Sterling Bailey are the most obvious projections to start at defensive end, but James DeLoach could also find his way into the mix. Fortunately for Carter, his unique physical gifts give him potential edges against all three of those players.
Drew, who has registered seven starts (all in 2013) over a three-year career, does not possess Carter’s quickness. Accordingly, he makes more sense on the strong side of the ball as a space-eater capable of penetrating through a tight end. But if Pruitt is looking for speed, Carter will have an edge on the weak side of the field.
Bailey also worked his way into the starting lineup last season and was a member of the first unit on nine occasions. At 6’3”, however, Bailey will be unable to match Carter’s length. If the newcomer is able to master leverage and use his long limbs to his advantage, he could supplant Bailey as the weak-side starter.
And although DeLoach had a strong spring showing, he boasts minimal game experience. Last season he appeared in only five games and registered four tackles. Like Bailey, he lacks Carter’s elite frame.
Impact of Carter as a Starter
If Carter can work into the starting lineup he might once again generate some buzz. Again, he’s been all but forgotten this offseason despite his high-profile signing. That excitement is a good for Georgia in two regards.
First and foremost, his movement into the starting lineup reflects improvement. For Carter to start he will have to establish and prove himself as a better option than a former starter. That’s a very positive sign for a defense looking to make a name for itself.
Second, true freshman starters are great recruiting tools. Currently, Georgia is in hot pursuit of Trent Thompson, the nation's top player in the class of 2015 according to 247Sports. Thompson may be drawn to the Bulldogs if he wants to follow Carter’s lead as an immediate starter on the Dawgs’ defensive line.