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Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith will miss the rest of the 2022 season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle, the school announced on Tuesday. Smith will undergo surgery on Thursday for the injury, which he sustained in the first half of the Bulldogs' 42-20 win over Florida last week.

The news of Smith's prognosis comes as the No. 1 Bulldogs gear up for a massive SEC on CBS Game of the Week showdown with No. 2 Tennessee at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. Slowing the Volunteers' high-powered offensive attack would have been a challenge even with Smith, but it figures to be even tougher without him.

Ranked No. 24 in the CBS Sports 2023 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Smith is in his fourth season as a staple of the Bulldogs' defense. Of his 18 tackles this season, seven have been tackles for loss, and Smith also leads the team in sacks with three.

Smith was ranked the No. 4 overall prospect in the Class of 2019 by 247Sports and made an immediate impact as a freshman. Unless he opts to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility provided following the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith will end his UGA career with 110 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and an interception.

Options to move into starting role

The Bulldogs have options behind Smith, who manned the "SAM" linebacker position. Though MJ Sherman is listed behind Smith on the depth chart, the junior is just one of several former highly touted prospects who Smart mentioned as potential fill-in candidates for Smith. The others are Robert Beal, Marvin Jones Jr. and Chaz Chambliss.

Beal is a redshirt senior with nine tackles this season and 56 during his career. He logged a season-high 51 snaps against Florida amid the injury to Smith. Chambliss, a sophomore and former four-star prospect, has five tackles this season and 1.5 sacks.

Another option is five-star true freshman Marvin Jones Jr., who was ranked the third-best prospect in Georgia's 2022 signing class that finished third nationally in the 247Sports Team Rankings. Jones has just two tackles so far this season, but he's not a redshirt candidate, and an illness kept him out of the game against Florida.

Smith leaves leadership void

Even if an individual player or committee of them are able to replace Smith's production, replacing his leadership won't be as easy. On a defense that has been recovering from the loss of eight NFL Draft picks from last season's 15-0 squad, Smith has been a veteran voice.

"Nolan is a natural leader," Smart said this week. "He's been that way since I met him when he was in eighth grade and he came up here to camp. He's been a natural leader," Smart said last Tuesday. "His leadership is more important than his ability, and his ability is pretty strong. He creates a toughness about the he holds people to a standard of the way you strike blocks, the way you close on counters, the way you rush with effort, special teams, I mean, he plays on all special teams. He's just a core guy."