Back in late January, I gave a preliminary look at our defensive backfield depth for the upcoming season. It was the most discussed position group of all in that break down. Part of that was because of so much uncertainty going into a new staff and new season, but a lot was from the endless array of issues that plagued the defensive backfield all last season. Poor positioning, poor decision making, excessive youth, and overall poor play was a problem. Well, with new coaches coming in, and none of the players graduating or turning pro early, we'd hope all 4 issues could be corrected going from last year to this upcoming season. Well, at least in terms of excess youth, probably not now that "Trigga Tray" has put a bullet to the head of his UGA career as he moves on to join some of the former bandmates that made us such awful, horrible music last year.
So, without delving back into how we got here, let's take a look at where we are as new DC and DB coach Jeremy Pruitt puts together his first defense for the Dawgs. The depth chart isn't quite as bad as it first appears.
At CB, you have a senior in Damian Swann who looked light year's better as a sophomore than he did as a junior. A return to the emerging shut down player we saw two years ago would be a big help on the edge. Fellow senior Corey Moore returns at one S spot, with seven defensive starts under his belt (he started one game on offense against Ole Miss as a sophomore). And Quincy Mauger also started seven games at S last year, and should be improved as he enters his second season on campus.
But while it seems pretty easy to pencil in those guys as 75% of the starting secondary against Clemson in about 2,090 hours. (Make sure to use pencil, because Pruitt isn't declaring anyone first team yet.) There is still significant questions about who plays alongside them, as well as of them too considering the play we saw from all three last season.
J.J. Green emerged this spring as a play maker in the defensive backfield. So I, among others, am expecting big things out of him this fall. He could play corner or safety, and got a lot of work as a nickel back in the spring. Tramel Terry also made the move over from the offensive side of the ball where he started as a freshman last season. He showed amazing skills on the high school level, and if his speed, agility, and explosion has returned he could also get a look at CB, despite most of his work coming at S this spring. Coming off a knee injury that may or may not be back to 100%, it's hard to know exactly what to expect from Terry going forward though. Before we leave former offensive players, it should be noted that Brendan Langley, who started the season opener last year at CB is now at WR. That move was recent enough it's doubtful he flips back, but with the depth chart getting thinner it wouldn't be a complete shock if he was back covering routes instead of running routes come August.
Walk-ons Lucas Redd and Devin Gillespie return as well, although they shouldn't be expected to give much more than some special teams or scout team work. And we have Jonah Guinn on the roster, who redshirted after transfering in from Reinhardt University, but expectations on him should be at the same level as Redd and Gillespie. Kennar Johnson signed as a JUCO in the 2013 class, but had to redshirt last season due to injury. The 6'2 junior played a good bit at S in junior college, so he is another option in the deep middle despite being listed as a CB on the official roster.
Redshirt freshman corner Aaron Davis also got a long look this spring, and ended it as arguably the starting CB opposite Swann. Despite being a walk-on, that may well hold up come fall as Davis was getting on major college radars as a high school sophomore before knee injuries took the bulk of his final two prep seasons. If he's back to full health, he's got SEC caliber athleticism and could easily take hold of a starting job as another walk-on, Tra Battle, did several years ago.
Junior Sheldon Dawson showed a lot of promise as a freshman before getting lost in Lakatos' or Grantham's dog house last fall. And redshirt freshman Reggie Wilkerson was said to be making a move last spring until he blew out a knee. Reportedly back approaching 100%, I'd expect Wilkerson to join Dawson in being a big push for Davis' current starting spot. Devin Bowman has been mostly special teams help for two years, so I don't expect much more than that out of the rising junior.
Joining Aaron Davis in the walk-on brigade at CB are James Davis, Jesse Jones, Javonte' Nelson, and Tristan Askew. The first three there haven't done much of note, and could be considered similar to Redd, Gillespie, etc mentioned above as likely scout team or special teams help at most. Askew, on the other hand, wouldn't be a shock to see defensive snaps. He transferred to Athens out of NAIA's Eastern Oregon, having come here from there after growing up in the Pacific Northwest. How he ended up in Athens, I couldn't say, but he played a considerable amount for them as a team leader in interceptions and having returned kickoffs and punts. There hasn't been much media mention of him, but he's one to watch for this fall. At the least, I think he could line up as a gunner on punt coverage, in addition to helping out in the defensive backfield.
Georgia added 4 more guys in the most recent signing class. Malkom Parrish comes from Brooks County (home of Marcus Stroud), having been a do-everything guy for the south Georgia high school. His physical tools are ideal, so the real question is just how fast he can pick up Pruitt's defense. Considering the success Pruitt had with true freshman in the Seminole secondary last year, don't be surprised if Parrish gets a lot of snaps at CB this coming fall. Dominick Sanders did a lot for Tucker in high school, though not as much as Parrish. He has a lot of speed and other tools to work with, but like Parrish should be raw in terms of defensive back technique so we'll have to see just how fast he can make progress in that regard under Pruitt.
Shaq Jones was, like Sanders, a very late addition to this spring's class. He's got S size, and CB skills, so we'll have to wait and see exactly where he winds up for Georgia. His recruitment took some interesting twists, as he was a long standing target for new assistant Kevin Sherrer at South Alabama. But when our former DC Grantham took the Louisville job, he flipped to Grantham only to flip back to Sherrer once he came to Athens. Given Sherrer's desire for the kid, and the fact that he was running a system similar to his mentor Pruitt before they reunited on the sidelines, I'm thinking he might be able to make a big impact this fall. Same goes for Shattle Fenteng, another with S size and CB skills. Fenteng and Parrish were the only two Pruitt kept on board from the previous staff in this signing class. He's going to arrive a little later than the others having to finish up his JUCO degree, and that gives cause for concern, but again, Pruitt showed a penchant for having players pick up his system quickly at FSU that gives some hope. It's a bit of a homecoming for him, having played at Grayson High School just up the road in Gwinnett County, and the depth chart will give him every chance to make an impact when he does arrive in July.
So,a best guess at a current depth chart for right now from your scribbler looks like...
CB: Swann, A Davis, Parrish, Bowman
CB: Wilkerson, Dawson, Fenteng, Askew
S: Mauger, Green, Sanders, Johnson
S: Moore, Terry, Jones