Freshmen inside linebackers will play key role on Georgia’s defense

Georgia will have 18 players from its most recent signing class coming to a defense that lost Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones and a slew of starters.

Dean Legge/dawgpost.com
Early enrollee linebacker Ryne Rankin.

Only one — inside linebacker Ryne Rankin from Orlando — got a chance to work with the departing players when the early enrollee joined them for on campus bowl practices.

“The first day was rough,” Rankin said. “Go out with all the big boys — it’s a lot different than high school. They just throw you to the wolves and see what you can do. I got pushed around at the end of some plays. I guess they were just messing with me.”

Rankin, who bypassed high school all-star games to practice in Athens in December, is one of four inside linebackers Georgia signed in this year’s class.

Johnny O’Neal, from West Laurens High School, and Tim Kimbrough, from Indianapolis, will join the program in time for summer workouts.

South Gwinnett’s Reggie Carter, like Rankin, is among 13 early enrollees for Georgia.

“I get an early advantage on knowing the playbook and knowing the pace of how things go,” said Carter, who will take part in spring practices set to begin on March 2.

They join an inside linebacker corps that returns starter Amarlo Herrera, but lost leading tackler Ogletree as well as Christian Robinson and Mike Gilliard.

“That’s one of the reasons why I came to Georgia,” Rankin said. “I scoped out the opportunities I had to come here and play early. It’s just about competing. Everyone’s got to compete. You can be the biggest, fastest and strongest, but you’ve got to know your playbook.”

Rankin said Ogletree, Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo told him not to back down from anybody.

That shouldn’t be a problem for a player who racked up 189 tackles as a junior at East River High. He came close to that last season with 176.

“You’ve got to fly around to the ball,” the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Rankin said. “If you ain’t in the camera angle, my dad gets a little mad.”

That would be Marc Rankin, who is head coach at East River. He also played linebacker at Cincinnati.

Being a coach’s son has its perks.

Like taking a 3,300-mile spring break tour to scout out about a dozen colleges.

One school on his radar was “linebacker U” — Penn State — but Rankin said he was sold on Georgia when he stopped in Athens.

Rankin likes to hunt more than ball-carriers.

His dorm room in Athens has a hog head, four deer antler mounts, a big bass and a Gator head.

He showed up for interviews last week wearing a camouflage T-shirt.

Rankin met Carter during Rankin’s official visit for the Tennessee game. They texted regularly and now hang out as college students while their former high school classmates finish up their senior years.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Carter tore the ACL in his right knee first game of junior season, knocking him out the entire season.

He committed to Georgia the week before the Bulldogs’ spring game and told any schools that still pursued him that he was “100 percent committed to the Bulldogs.”

What wasn’t 100 percent, he said, was his knee during his senior year.

“I lost some of that explosion,” he said. “I felt since coming here early and getting the workouts in, I’ve been feeling better and better. Right now, I’ve been working out without the brace on. I don’t even wear the brace anymore.”

Tom Luginbill, recruiting analyst for ESPN, said Rankin, O’Neal and Kimbrough are “important pieces of the puzzle” for Georgia.

“I think it’s a really good class from the standpoint that they complement the guys that we have here right now,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think they really help fill needs that we have.”

The 6-foot, 228-pound Kimbrough is ranked as the nation’s No. 93 overall prospect by Scout.com. Carter is No. 195 and O’Neal is No. 249.

“I think Tim Kimbrough will be physically ready to step in, learn the terminology and the speed of the game coming from Indiana and really adapt at the SEC,” said Chad Simmons, recruiting analyst for Scout.com.

Carter thinks he’s ready for his own jump to the college level.

“I feel good,” Carter said, “but we’ll see in the spring.”

Notes: Outside linebacker signee Davin Bellamy from Chamblee High expects to be “ready around June” after undergoing shoulder surgery on his labrum. Bellamy picked Georgia over Tennessee and Oregon after decommitting from Florida State. “He’s a guy who can generate pass-rush off the edge,” Grantham said on signing day. “You can compare him to Jordan Jenkins in what he’s done for us. He’s got burst off the ball. Those guys are hard to find and I think he can be a really good asset to us.”

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by Marc Weiszer

Georgia was hit with injuries at every offensive skill position last season. Dean Legge/dawgpost.comEarly enrollee linebacker Ryne Rankin. There were season-ending ACL... Full Story

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