UGA OLB to watch: James DeLoach

ATHENS, Ga. -- James DeLoach wasn’t the highest-rated player in Georgia’s 2012 signing class.

Heck, he wasn’t even the highest-rated player from tiny Jenkins County High School (enrollment of approximately 400) to sign with the Bulldogs that year. That honor went to defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, who was ESPN’s No. 53 overall prospect. But DeLoach is on the verge of making an impact alongside the more heralded members of his crop of recruits.

DeLoach played sparingly last fall as a freshman, but has an opportunity to become a starting outside linebacker this season. If DeLoach’s progress from a strong spring continues, he’ll prove that even if he didn’t receive as much attention as some of his fellow 2012 signees -- particularly one from his own Class A high school -- he was far from being just a throw-in to secure Taylor’s signature.

2012 review: DeLoach drew consistent praise from defensive coordinator Todd Grantham starting in preseason camp, but the freshman barely made an impact on scrimmage downs. He played in 13 games and totaled just four tackles and two quarterback pressures in limited work.

2013 preview: With veteran pass rushers Jarvis Jones and Cornelius Washington out of the picture, DeLoach stands to figure more heavily in Grantham’s plans this fall. DeLoach was the starting strongside linebacker in the base 3-4 package during spring drills and will battle for that honor this fall.

Spring prospectus: By all accounts, it was a productive spring for DeLoach. With Chase Vasser still sidelined by his recovery from shoulder surgery, DeLoach got a long look at SAM linebacker and finished second on the starting defense with six tackles and a sack in the G-Day game. He’ll have to compete with Vasser and others once the team returns to the practice field in August, but DeLoach seemed to help his cause this spring.

Career potential: Georgia had no idea what it had on its hands when DeLoach signed with the Bulldogs, only that he had a future as a defensive player. He had played multiple positions on either side of the ball in high school and Georgia’s coaches thought he could become a defensive end, inside linebacker or outside linebacker depending on how his body filled out over time. DeLoach has found a home at SAM, although at his listed weight of 270 pounds, he can always slide down to end in certain situations. That versatility is going to make him a valuable player for Georgia over at least the next two seasons.