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CJ Allen, Raylen Wilson show growth as players, leaders in spring

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs04/18/24


ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s group of linebackers were probably the least discussed position on the defensive side of the ball this spring, but according to Kirby Smart, it wasn’t because they weren’t growing. Playing without returning starter Smael Mondon while also still getting used to not having Jamon Dumas-Johnson – now at Kentucky – around, sophomores CJ Allen and Raylen Wilson took steps in the right direction towards being leaders themselves.

“CJ and Raylen got better. They’re going to be really good leaders for us,” Smart said after Saturday’s G-Day scrimmage. “I think the fact Smael was out was good for them, and Jalon (Walker) missed a lot of time this spring with an ankle injury. Today was his first day back.”

“Growth,” he added about the spring as a whole and what he saw out of the linebackers. “I really thought Raylen and CJ would be further along because of how much they played. I don’t think you give them enough credit for: they really shouldn’t have been out there last year and they had to go play. They didn’t play bad, but they didn’t play great. Well, I expected this spring to be this huge jump. They’re still freshmen.”

Smart’s comments aren’t a knock on Allen and Wilson, rather a reminder of just how young they actually are. Yes, they were in Athens last spring, and yes, they were on the field in incredibly meaningful moments last season. At the same time, they’re less than a year removed from what they should’ve been graduating high school.

Still, Allen finished top five on the team in tackles last season, totaling 41 in 14 games. Taking on a bigger role late in the 2023 season because of a season-ending injury to Dumas-Johnson, Allen started Georgia’s final five contests. Three times did he lead the team in tackles and twice did he earn SEC Freshman of the Week. Needless to say, the experience gained in year one is a great starting point for Allen.

As for Wilson, a five-star coming out of Lincoln High School (Tallahassee, Fla.), he didn’t have quite the numbers nor the same amount of opportunities. An injury during fall camp set him back early on, but late in the year, he too was thrust into more snaps with Dumas-Johnson sidelined. Wilson would finish 2023 with 15 stops.

“They’re established in this program. They know the ropes of everything that’s going on. They’re not the young guys anymore,” Georgia linebacker Jalon Walker added about Allen and Wilson earlier this spring. “They’re leading by example for the young guys in our room, and they’re leading the inside backer room as well. Just keeping everybody in tip-top shape, knowing what they need to do and still learning to this day, getting better as players.”

Allen and Wilson will be taking on larger roles in 2024. Smart and the rest of the Georgia staff, including their position coach and defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann, will look to them as leaders now with a year of experience under their belt. That showed in the Orange Bowl as the two Class of 2023 signees started alongside each other, just as they did on G-Day – combining for 13 tackles and an interception.

They’ll have the veteran senior Mondon back on the field beside them this fall, meaning one of Allen and Wilson likely won’t be in the starting lineup. Walker, the team’s sack-leader from last season, is also around and going to receive his fair share of snaps in the middle of the Georgia defense. However, Smart hopes the combination of experience and opportunity will result in a more consistent product out of his young linebackers in 2024.

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