We all know that defense wins ball games and last year we saw a poor effort defensively, but a large part had to do with injuries up front on the defensive line. The center piece of the defensive line, Jeff Owens, is returning this season, which will have a huge impact on our team. Two years ago we were racking up sacks every game, because Owens was healthy and our defensive ends were able to get into the backfield. They were firing on all cylinders and fueling the defense game after game. This year I'm looking for the same effort. Can we say "Battle" Between the Hedges? I think the defensive breakout star of 2009 will be Rod Battle. Why? Battle has quietly racked up several sacks in practice this year against a solid offensive line and he has something to prove. The defensive ends had a bad season last year and the team knows that. It's apparent that they will need to step up this season and be a dominant force in the SEC again this year. The other likely opening day starter is junior Demarcus Dobbs. He should put up some strong numbers this season also, because I think Battle will get some double team action later in the year. I predict Battle to have 8.5 sacks this year, which will be strong in the SEC. I predict the team to have 35 sacks, which will be a huge improvement from 24 sacks last season. Go Dawgs!
The loss of Asher Allen will definitely be felt on the defensive side of the ball this year. His physical style of play coupled with his solid team attitude and smart decision-making are traits a program doesn't just recreate overnight. And while Georgia has enjoyed a certain level of success in pass defense for the last few seasons with Double-A, this year could be a much different story if someone doesn't step up and become the solid cornerback this team desperately needs. Therefore, the breakout star on the defensive side for UGA will be Brandon Boykin, simply because he has to be. He'll face the no. 1 receiver every week so he'll have every opportunity to make plays and prove he can shut down the best playmakers in the country. And he's very capable of doing so. He has all of the physical qualities to develop into a top SEC cornerback and his rapid rise to the first team is a measure of his talent and development. He also played in every game last year so his experience level is past the infancy stage at this point. If a defensive end can step up for the Dawgs, expect big things from Boykin on the left side of the ball. I'm not sure what statistics he'll accumulate by the end of the year but I do know he'll have more interceptions than Asher Allen did last year.
Other than Rennie Curran, the entire defense must play better than they played last year. I expect a few guys to get back to playing football like they have done in the past - namely a certain safety (Jones), Rod Battle and the resurgent Bryan Evans. I'm hoping to get a boost from Nate's "Man Crush" and Kentucky game savior Demarcus Dobbs or one of the other DEs. However, I feel strongly that the most improved and biggest breakout star will be Brandon Boykin. Brandon is another one of those guys that you heard a lot about throughout practice last season and all during the current offseason. His athletic ability got him on the field as a true freshman. That same ability has him poised to take over the starting role for the departed Asher Allen. I look for Boykin to have 3 picks in the first 6 games and force teams to throw more towards Prince Miller. I also expect him to be solid against the run and finish with an Asher like 50 tackles and 4 total forced turnovers.
I am one of few that really believe the 2009 Georgia defense will be rock solid all year. In the Richt era, a dominant defense has been much more the rule than the exception. There is returning star power (Atkins, Owens, Curran, and Jones) at every level of the defense, but that doesn't mean there won't be new faces making plays this fall. I could easily make an argument for Justin Houston or Brandon Boykin as the answer to this question, but I'm going to go a not-so-obvious direction. Bryan Evans is certainly not a new name, but he is a new safety. Skeptical at first, I am now a big believer in Evans's position switch. His speed and ball skills will be a nice compliment to Reshad Jones's physical style, though Evans won't shy from contact either. I think Evans will become a very nice centerfielder and finish the season leading the team with 5-7 interceptions, possibly even garnering some All-SEC mention (2nd or 3rd team).