Outside Linebacker – Boss Bailey (1998-2002) and Tony Taylor (2002-2005)
Folkston, Georgia has been very nice to the Bulldogs. Boss Bailey is a good example of just why. In his career at Georgia, Bailey became one of the top playmakers at Georgia, but his career was put on hold in 2000 after an ACL tear. Bailey was the overall team captain for the 2002 SEC Championship season. He was also named All-American and All-SEC that season. Bailey set a then school record by blocking three field goals in 2002 – perhaps none more important than in Georgia’s 18-13 win over Tennessee. Bailey ended his career with 266 tackles – including a program-leading 114 in 2002. Bailey was the 34th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Tony Taylor, like Bailey, suffered an ACL injury that limited his trajectory at Georgia. Taylor was an essential part of special teams and the defense on Georgia’s 2002 SEC Championship team. He was a team captain for the 2006 season, and was a starter on the 2005 SEC Championship team. He seemed to make plays at will in 2006 – recording huge momentum-swinging plays against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech late that season. He ended his career with 176 tackles and ten tackles for loss.
Middle Linebacker – Odell Thurman (2003-04) and Tony Gilbert (2000-02)
One has to imagine just how good Odell Thurman could have been without so many of the self-inflicted problems he had. Perhaps the top overall linebacker in terms of skill to play for Mark Richt, Thurman was impossible to cage on the field. His signature play was a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Auburn in 2003. He was an All-SEC selection in 2003 and 2004. Thurman ended his career at Georgia with 184 tackles and 9.5 sacks.
A critical component of the 2002 SEC Championship team, Tony Gilbert was the defensive captain for that year. He was named second team All-SEC in 2002. Gilbert was steady at middle linebacker as a two-year starter. He also started 2000 at outside linebacker. He ended his career with 328 tackles, good enough for 10th best all time at Georgia. Gilbert was the 210th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Outside Linebacker – Will Witherspoon (1998-2001) and Rennie Curran (2007-Present)
A three-year starter who helped the Dawgs move from the Donnan Era to the Richt Era, Will Witherspoon was one of the top players on a solid 2001 defense. Certainly one of the most talented outside linebackers to play for Richt, it would have been more interesting to see what a few more years under Mark Richt at Georgia could have done for Witherspoon. The Florida native may be now best known for his NFL career, however. He made a splash against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII with a career-high 16 tackles for the Carolina Panthers. He ended his career at Georgia with 211 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Witherspoon was the 73rd overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
This selection may be a bit of a projection, but Rennie Curran has become the heart and soul of the Bulldog defense going into his junior season. His first two years at Georgia have been nothing more than steady tackling and playmaking. There were times in 2008 when fans would wonder if the defense would get off the field without Curran making several plays to make certain that happened. In just two seasons at Georgia, Curran has racked up 168 tackles, six sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hurries.