Georgia ILB position taking shape

ATHENS, Ga. -- As valuable as this spring will be for early enrollees Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin, it will be just as important for Ramik Wilson.

The rising junior has finally settled at inside linebacker -- after shuffling between inside and outside over the past two seasons -- and believes he is making rapid progress at the Mike position, where he is responsible for making defensive calls.

“It helps me out a lot,” Wilson said after leading the defense with seven tackles in Tuesday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium. “I can just learn one position and just keep going from there. I haven’t got to keep doing double duty and just focus on my time at mike. It’s coming real good.”

So good, in fact, that he has established himself as an early favorite to start alongside fellow junior Amarlo Herrera this fall.

“I’d be thrilled if Ramik continued to improve like he has,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s playing inside now. He was playing outside before. I think he’s comfortable in there. I think that’s probably more of a natural position for him. Hopefully he’ll keep coming on.”

Wilson, Carter and Rankin all have a valuable opportunity this spring to earn playing time before two more inside linebacker signees, Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, arrive this summer. With 2012 regulars Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard now pursuing their dreams of playing professional football, only Herrera remains from last season’s rotation -- so position coach Kirk Olivadotti knew this spring would involve major turnover.

With little more than a week left until next Saturday’s G-Day game, Olivadotti said the teaching opportunities involved in spring practice have been valuable for the group, and particularly for freshmen Carter and Rankin.

“As far as knowing exactly what to do, I think those guys are getting better,” Olivadotti said. “All spring is is getting as good as you can be to set yourself up for summer camp because that’s a different phase.

“There’s different phases of the season: there’s working out in the winter and then there’s spring football. This phase is really teaching guys how to move like a linebacker and where to put your eyes and obviously your assignments are important, too, but there’s more to it than that, and that’s where Ramik and Amarlo have got stuff to get better at just like the younger guys do.”

Carter and Rankin are getting most of their practice reps with the No. 2 defense, which is a challenge for players who just enrolled in college two months ago. In their defense, Olivadotti joked that “they are a little bit further along than some of the kids that should be getting ready for their high school prom right now.”

But Olivadotti was also quick to add that the freshmen have taken their responsibilities to learn Georgia’s defensive scheme seriously. That preparation has allowed them to display brief glimpses of college-ready play, “but they’re like blinks of the eye right now,” he chuckled.

When it comes to sheer willingness to hit somebody, however, the coaches are pleased with what they’ve seen from the two freshmen.

“[Carter] plays with a little bit better base and good football position and Ryne, he’s just flying around trying to whack somebody,” Richt said. “Both of them are very physical.”

But they, like Wilson, still have plenty of progress to make before they are prepared to become steady performers in actual games. Above all else, Olivadotti said he wants to see improved consistency from his players in each spring practice, and Wilson said he is working to meet those expectations.

“I’ve still got a lot of things to work on, but I’m coming along real great,” Wilson said. “I’ve just got to keep watching film and watching my mistakes and I’m going to be good to go.”