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Georgia defensive portal additions put together strong G-Day showing

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs04/17/24


ATHENS, Ga. — The first day of the spring open window for the transfer portal was Tuesday, and for Georgia, that meant a pair of players entering. However, the winter window brought about seven additions for the Bulldogs including a pair on the defensive side – each of whom impressed in their first outing before Georgia fans at Sanford Stadium this past Saturday.

South Carolina defensive lineman Xzavier McLeod was one of the first players to announce his commitment to Georgia out of the portal in the last window. Making just four appearances for the Gamecocks in his lone season in Columbia, the Bulldogs are the beneficiary. Instead of burning a year of eligibility elsewhere, Kirby Smart and company have all four of the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Camden, S.C. native’s remaining at their disposal.

Development will be necessary, but the early returns were impressive as McLeod came up with two sacks and four total tackles, manning a spot in the middle of the Red Team defensive line.

“He’s flashed. I wish he would play with more consistency. Meaning, like he did today, all the time,” Smart said after the spring game. “He had some good plays and some bad plays. I look at as he’s really still a freshman. He’s worked hard. He’s going against a really good offensive line. He’s taking on some ferocious offensive lines. He’s a really good athlete. If we continue to grow him and get him stronger and get him tougher, he’s got a chance to really help us.”

McLeod wasn’t the only one with four tackles either. Each of the Red Team’s starting safeties on Saturday did too including Alabama transfer Jake Pope.

Playing alongside his high school teammate – former Buford five-star KJ Bolden – Pope looked the part of a Georgia defensive back in his first spring with the Bulldogs. Of course the standard in Athens is quite similar to that of the one in Tuscaloosa, and Smart said he carried that over with him. In two seasons at Alabama, Pope appeared in 12 games – primarily on special teams – for the Crimson Tide. He had a team-high 10 tackles including a sack during Alabama’s spring game last year and recorded one tackle in 2023.

“He did a good job. He carried over well from his last school to here,” Smart said of Pope. “He’s got to continue to get better and understand our defense. Make plays in space. He needs to help us on special teams and be able to play faster and do some things. I do think he made some nice plays.”

Both McLeod and Pope were running with Georgia’s second-team defense. It was a unit primarily featuring freshmen from the Class of 2024, but as newcomers, they fit right in. The Bulldogs will be looking for more out of them this fall however, hoping that each can have an impact with the first-team defense potentially. It takes time to learn Georgia’s system, and both were given an opportunity to do that this spring. Now, headed into the offseason, a jump is what Smart, Glenn Schumann and the rest of the Georgia defensive staff will want to see out of McLeod and Pope come fall camp.

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