Which player is technically the leader of Georgia's defense this season?
It's not versatile linebacker Leonard Floyd. It's not pass-rushing threats Jordan Jenkins or Lorenzo Carter. Safety Dominick Sanders may head up the secondary, but who right now is the chief communicator on defense?
"I'm the quarterback of the defense," junior inside linebacker Tim Kimbrough said. "I'm very excited about it, and I'm getting ready to be the best leader I can be."
While Floyd, Jenkins, Carter and Sanders all broke through to start multiple times in their freshman seasons, Kimbrough has played 24 games for the Bulldogs and has yet to start a game. The 6-foot, 226-pounder from Indianapolis — Kimbrough grew up a huge Peyton Manning fan but stopped short of purchasing a No. 18 Colts jersey — has 37 career tackles, with most of those coming in mop-up duty or on special teams.
Kimbrough has spent the past two seasons behind Amarlo Herrera, who called the defensive signals for the 2013 and '14 Bulldogs before getting drafted in the sixth round this spring by the Colts. Herrera and Ramik Wilson, a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in May, each tallied more than 100 tackles in each of their last two seasons as inside teammates, with Wilson earning All-SEC first-team honors following the 2013 season.
In their shadows, Kimbrough was recognized last December at the team banquet as the program's most improved player. He followed that 2014 honor by being tabbed the most improved defensive player of spring practice.
"I've just got a good work ethic and work extra hard," Kimbrough said. "As a freshman I played mostly on special teams, but I thought I had a pretty good year. I've just progressed every year and have played hard in the games when I've gotten my chance. I feel like everything is clicking right now because I'm so familiar with the playbook."
Said coach Mark Richt: "He's taking this responsibility serious."
Kimbrough worked inside this spring with fellow junior Reggie Carter, and he is working now with Carter and Floyd, who has practiced so far as an outside linebacker, an inside linebacker and the "star" in the nickel package. Kimbrough enjoys working with Carter and Floyd, while second-year Bulldogs inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler likes those three as well as freshman Natrez Patrick, junior Ryne Rankin and UAB transfer Jake Ganus.
Ekeler offered the most promising quote of preseason camp so far when speaking with reporters following Friday's practice about his position.
"I think at this point, we're better right now than we were last year," Ekeler said.
That may be due to the second year in a system and players being on the same page, and it may be due to more depth than a year ago. It's certainly a ringing endorsement for Kimbrough, who quietly and suddenly has become the quarterback of this year's defense.
"Amarlo and I are a lot alike because we both work hard," Kimbrough said. "We're both good leaders, and I think this leadership role will fit me well. We had some good games and some bad games last year, and we're all trying to make sure that we prove ourselves this year."
Odds and ends
Sophomore receiver and return specialist Isaiah McKenzie missed Saturday's practice with a hamstring injury that Richt said was not serious. Senior defensive tackle James DeLoach was held out due to a fracture in his hand. The running back pecking order during Saturday's portion of practice that was open to the media had Nick Chubb followed by Sony Michel, Keith Marshall, A.J. Turman, Brendan Douglas and true freshman Tae Crowder. Redshirt freshman linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes has decided to transfer, according to Richt. Richt to reporters Saturday when asked about the quarterback race: "I'm not going to give anybody any kind of hint."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.