Throughout the 2017 season, Roquan Smith dominated at the inside linebacker position for the Georgia defense.
This year, though, Georgia will need to replace Smith’s production at the position, as he declared for the 2018 NFL Draft. During the G-Day game on Saturday, sophomore inside linebacker Monty Rice showed flashes of potential to become a leader at the position next season.
Rice finished with a team-leading 14 tackles on the day, as well as one tackle for loss and one sack. Last year, Rice played in 14 of Georgia’s 15 games and tallied 22 tackles on the season.
Smith was a very talented player who will be difficult to replace. But with the help of a number of young players at the position, Rice said he and the other inside linebackers are ready to take over and lead the defense in his absence.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever been on a team with,” Rice said of Smith. “But you know, me, Tae Crowder, Nate McBride, Jaden Hunter, we’re all different people, and we want to write our story. We want to be the leaders on the Georgia defense.”
Crowder finished Saturday’s game with five tackles, while McBride tallied four and Hunter finished with two.
Head coach Kirby Smart said that he did not get an opportunity to fully evaluate the performance of all the linebackers from Saturday. But Rice’s performance stood out, even before reviewing film from the day.
“He’s a great kid, man,” Smart said. “He’s one of those that when the lights come on, and he gets the chance to play in front of somebody, he flashes more. He just loves the game. He loves contact. He likes to hit.”
Late in the game, Rice pulled his hamstring, Smart said. Rice said it was a minor tweak he has been dealing with throughout the spring.
Despite Rice’s standout game on Saturday, though, he said he was not happy with his performance throughout spring practice.
“I feel I missed some assignments,” Rice said. “I didn’t play my best. But now it’s time for the offseason, to get better.”
Come next fall, signees Channing Tindall and Jaquavian Walker will join the group in its attempt to replace Smith’s production. Rice said he will try to be a leader to the new linebackers and help them adjust to the team. However, even after Saturday, he is not yet fully satisfied with his own performance.
“I thought I played alright I guess,” Rice said. “I just want to play my best at all times when it’s needed, cause in the fourth quarter of some SEC game, you’re gonna need your best, and so I just got to continue to get better.”