James DeLoach first in line to replace UGA star Jones

photo Georgia's James DeLoach earned the starting spot at strongside linebacker this spring, which means he's having to replace two-time All-American Jarvis Jones.

BULLDOGS FINISHGeorgia concluded spring practice Thursday with a 90-minute workout.Before it began, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt expressed his appreciation for the 12 early enrollees who went through the drills. Georgia had 13 early enrollees overall, but receiver Tramel Terry sat out while recovering from ACL surgery."I don't know what kind of spring we would have had without the 12 of them," Richt said. "I don't know if we would have gotten to the point where we would have canceled our spring game. We just needed them in there."Richt said a lot of starting positions, especially on both sides of the line, will be up for grabs entering preseason camp but that his staff must first conduct exit meetings with players and hit the recruiting trail. Georgia expects to sign around 20 players in 2014.

ATHENS, Ga. - James DeLoach is exiting Georgia's spring football practice as the starting strongside linebacker.

Which means he could get first crack this season at replacing Jarvis Jones.

"Those are some big shoes to fill," a smiling DeLoach said after last Saturday's G-Day game. "He led the SEC in sacks, and he led the country in sacks, so that's a big role to fill right there. I talk to him a lot, and he shows me a lot of things I can work on to continue to get better."

DeLoach signed with the Bulldogs last year and played in 13 of 14 games. He recorded just four tackles, with two of them coming in the 42-10 hammering of Georgia Tech.

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound biology major from Millen, Ga., grabbed the starting spot within the first couple of spring practices and never let go.

"James is really an instinctive, crafty guy, and he's really hard to block," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "He can affect the quarterback, and I think he can do a lot of things for us. He can give us some flexibility."

DeLoach had six tackles at G-Day, including a 5-yard sack.

Last season, Jones racked up 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. The two-time All-American was a weakside (or Will) linebacker at the start of last season, but the emergence of Jordan Jenkins in October enabled Grantham to switch Jones to the strongside (Sam) spot.

Jenkins continues to work at weakside linebacker, which leaves DeLoach having to field the comparison questions regarding Jones.

"Both of us have that competitive spirit," DeLoach said. "I just have to get my quickness down and improve my hands. JJ was an expert at using his hands when he was coming off the ball."

Said inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera: "I don't think he's letting the pressure of being in this situation get to him."

DeLoach was a three-star prospect and among the more unheralded signees in Georgia's 2012 class. He was projected by recruiting services as a defensive end, but Bulldogs coaches had other plans.

"We were thinking when we signed him that he would be an inside linebacker, but he is very good out in space," head coach Mark Richt said. "He comes off the edge and is a good pass rusher. In our first- and second-down stuff, he's more of a Sam linebacker, but when we get in some nickel situations, I think he can provide some rush for us.

"We've got a lot of high hopes for him."

The high hopes may need to give way to instant production. The Bulldogs open their 2013 season at Clemson and its dangerous quarterback, Tajh Boyd, before hosting South Carolina, which has scored 80 points the past two seasons at Georgia's expense.

"I'm very excited about this season," DeLoach said. "I can't wait to get out there and compete."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.