UGASports - With defensive absences, who will Dawgs turn to next?
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With defensive absences, who will Dawgs turn to next?

Julian Rochester should be the first man up to replace Trenton Thompson this spring.
Julian Rochester should be the first man up to replace Trenton Thompson this spring. (Radi Nabulsi)

Spring practice is still a few weeks away and already Georgia knows it will be without two of its key defensive performers from a season ago: defensive lineman Trenton Thompson and middle linebacker Roquan Smith.

By now, you know Thompson's story - at least what there is to tell.

The junior has withdrawn from classes after police found him in a dazed condition following what was described as an adverse reaction to some medication he was taking, while Smith - we've learned - has suffered an injury, believed to be to his pectoral muscle.

Georgia officials have not commented on the immediate future of either of the players, and likely won't until head coach Kirby Smart is available for reporters.

While the prevailing belief is Thompson will be able to return this summer and perhaps be ready for the fall, the fact remains that he won't be around for spring practice; therefore, adjustments to the rotation at defensive tackle will have to be made.

Fortunately, there are a number of candidates for each, although replacing performers the caliber of Thompson and Smith - arguably the team's two best defensive players - won't be easy.

Look for sophomore Julian Rochester to be the first man up to try and fill Thompson's role at defensive tackle.

Although Rochester may not be quite as athletic as Thompson, he's gotten himself in tremendous condition and had a solid freshman season, while junior DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle has recovered from the ankle injury that curtailed his season last year, and will figure into the rotation as well.

You can check out their numbers, along with other potential replacements this spring, below:

Spring defensive tackle candidates
Player Class/Height/Weight 2016 stats

Julian Rochester


36 tackles, two sacks for losses of 13 yards

DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle


18 tackles (only played in seven games due to ankle injury)

Tyler Clark


Although listed as backup nose, Clark could slide over to tackle. Made 21 tackles last year.

Michail Carter


Only played in seven games, making three tackles

John Atkins


Although he played nose, Atkins can also line up at tackle if need be. Made 22 tackles last year.

* Jonathan Ledbetter and David Marshall are also potential replacements but should stay at DE.

As for middle linebacker, Smith's absence means senior Reggie Carter will slide back into the top group alongside Natrez Patrick.

Both players bring a ton of experience to the position for the Bulldogs although, again, their overall ability to pursue may not quite be on the level of Smith.

Otherwise, look for Juwan Taylor to get a closer look, along with sophomore Jaleel Laguins, sophomore Tae Crowder and true freshman and early enrollee Monty Rice.

Spring inside linebacker candidates
Player Class/Height/Weight 2016 stats

Natrez Patrick


Georgia's second-leading tackler last year with 59 despite missing three games.

Reggie Carter


Started eight of 11 games played, making 45 tackles.

Juwan Taylor


Not the biggest middle linebacker, but very fast. Played in eight games last year, making four tackles

Jaleel Laguins


Played in six games, but made no tackles.

Tae Crowder


Converted running back still hasn't played in a game, but coaches claim to love his growth.

Monty Rice


Freshman has supposedly been very impressive in winter drills.