Linebackers beat up, but ready to roll

Danny Verdun Wheeler

ATHENS - The thought of a curse didn't cross Danny Verdun Wheeler's mind until he walked into Brandon Miller's room this week.

Brandon Miller is limping on a sprained left ankle, the same injury that afflicted fellow linebackers Verdun Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe earlier in the year.

"And Tony was a left elbow, and wasn't Jarvis a left thumb?" Verdun Wheeler asked.

Actually, Jarvis Jackson missed the Louisiana-Monroe game with a right thumb injury, but it's been that kind of year for No. 4 Georgia's linebackers. It started before the season even began, when Coach Mark Richt kicked Derrick White and Josh Johnson off the team. Then freshman Jamar Chaney failed to qualify and freshman Tavares Kearney suffered a season-ending knee injury. (Kearney has since left the team)

"I'm just glad we've to got, what, three, four, five of them still standing right now," cornerback DeMario Minter said. "It seemed like we were going to lose all of them there for a while."

Richt gave the credit for the unit's success to first-year linebackers coach John Jancek, who took over for Brian VanGorder.

"To follow a guy like that was a hard thing to do," Richt said. "I think Coach Jancek has really done a fine job of first of all getting a relationship with those guys so that they trust him. He's done a great job of gaining their trust and getting them in position to make plays." The Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) have started three different combinations of linebackers this year and have yet to start the same group in three straight games. On top of that, they've moved safety Olaolu Sanni-Osomo to the position and played true freshman Marcus Washington liberally just to have enough depth to get through the year.

"As a group, overall we felt we had a lot to prove," Taylor said, "not only to everybody outside of Bulldog Nation but also to ourselves because everybody was doubting us so much."

Taylor will return Saturday to play against No. 16 Florida (5-2, 3-2) after missing the last two games and will be back in his starting middle linebacker spot. That will move Jackson, who took Taylor's place in the middle, back to his regular spot on the weakside. If Miller can't start because of his ankle injury, Verdun Wheeler will move to that role on the strongside. He's started the last two games on the weakside.

"We've got to do it," Jancek said of all the shuffling. "It's the hand we've been dealt, and the guys know that and they're ready. It's not the easiest situation, but certainly one we can work through and certainly one we can still be successful in because we've got guys that are smart and have some experience and have some versatility."

Thanks in part to the injuries and all the shuffling, none of the linebackers are having a fantastic statistical season. Jackson leads the group with 40 tackles, one sack and five quarterback pressures, but it the group prides itself on the collective effort.

"We don't care where you play us, we're going to play as hard as we can," Danny Verdun Wheeler said. "You don't have to worry about us linebackers. We're going to get the job done regardless."

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