Bulldogs hope to overcome inexperience on defense
Garrison Smith and Jordan Jenkins say that nobody is
irreplaceable on Georgia’s defense.
Jenkins is confident the Bulldogs will overcome the loss of
first-round draft picks like Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree and
five other defenders who left for the NFL in April.
Their voids are being filled by less established players.
”That’s definitely going to be a lot of people’s reactions this
year because they don’t even know what we’ve got under the bush,”
Jenkins, a sophomore linebacker, said this week. ”They just know
the guys who played last year. We’ve got a lot of guys who are
going to shock the world this year.”
Injuries, though, have affected three starters in the secondary,
and even junior cornerback Damian Swann, the undisputed leader of
the defensive backfield, has missed reps recently.
When they open the season Aug. 31 at No. 8 Clemson, the
fifth-ranked Bulldogs also will be without starting strong safety
Josh Harvey-Clemons, a sophomore whom coach Mark Richt suspended
one game for violating unspecified team rules.
”As time goes on, players are just going to continue to get
better and better, so sometimes it’s good to be thrown in the
fire,” said Smith, a senior defensive end. ”We’re going to be all
Richt is hoping that Wednesday night’s practice at Sanford
Stadium – Georgia’s third and final preseason scrimmage – will help
the coaching staff choose starters at undetermined spots.
”There’s probably some starting positions on the line,” Richt
said. ”I know there are some guys who could possibly turn a
coach’s head to say, `This kid is ready to play. Maybe we ought to
get these guys some reps,’ and that can happen on special teams –
we’re going live on our special teams – and it can happen on an
offensive or defensive play.”
Those decisions might not come easily in the secondary, which
needs to determine who will start at both safety positions and the
other cornerback spot opposite Swann.
Injuries have the coaching staff looking at several options:
– Freshman Tray Matthews appeared to win the free safety job
after an impressive spring, but he’s missed most of summer camp
with shoulder and hamstring injuries. Connor Norman, who has played
in 28 games with two starts, is likely to take Matthews’ spot.
– Corey Moore, projected to replace Harvey-Clemons against
Clemson, has been out two weeks with a sprained knee, and junior
college transfer Shaquille Fluker, another reserve strong safety,
has a sprained back.
– Swann was limited Tuesday with a hip flexor and strained
groin. Sheldon Dawson, who figures to start at the other cornerback
spot, has a knee injury.
These setbacks have thrust three freshmen – safety Quincy Mauger
and cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaquille Wiggins – into roles
with the first-team defense.
”Some guys might be ready by the time the game starts, but how
many reps are they going to get between now and then to be as ready
as they could have been if they had gotten all those reps,” Richt
said. ”So, it’s a problem, but it’s football. We all know that
happens in football, and everybody’s got their problems, so we’ll
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, cited by Richt this week as an
impressive newcomer who worked his way into the first-team rotation
this summer, is wearing a brace on his left hand and forearm.
The same goes for fellow linebacker James DeLoach, who added
that he and Floyd are practicing with their hands so heavily taped
that they can’t move their fingers.
”Sometimes it’s hard to make a certain play, but we just push
through it,” DeLoach said. ”We don’t use it as an excuse or
anything like that.”
That’s a good thing because the Bulldog’s untested defense will
certainly be tested by the explosive Tigers.