As I mentioned in this morning’s YouTube video, the position of greatest concern heading into this Saturday’s G-Day game is, of course, defensive back, where the Georgia Bulldogs have been hit hard by what might circumspectly be called "attrition." With Brandon Boykin, Sanders Commings, Jakar Hamilton, Jordan Love, Nick Marshall, Derek Owens, Bacarri Rambo, Chris Sanders, and Branden Smith all either gone or unavailable for at least the first game or two (or four) of the season, the question is, "Between returning roster players and February’s signing class, who’s left?"
Ladies and gentlemen, here now, the Red and Black defensive backs who will be available to suit up in the silver britches and take the field on September 1. Excluding from consideration such unlikely candidates for meaningful playing time as Luis Capella, Austin Herod, and Jesse Jones, these are they:
Devin Bowman (RFr. CB): Rated by some recruiting services as a four-star prospect, the 6’0” defensive back enters his first varsity season a bit behind the eight ball because he did not receive word that he had qualified academically until the day before fall camp began last season. Consigned to the scout team last autumn, Bowman has made progress, both as a kick returner and as a boundary corner, but reviews remain mixed about the athletic underclassman: Todd Grantham appears pleased at how well Bowman has come along, but Mark Richt sounds less certain that the redshirt freshman is ready to take the field for real.
Sheldon Dawson (Fr. CB): Inked in February amorphously as an “athlete,” the 5’11” three-star player out of Memphis was the lone Bulldog signee in February who is lining up in the secondary in April. Tabbed as Tennessee’s top-rated player, Dawson entered the mix this summer, but, as a newcomer to the Georgia roster, Dawson figures to have to work through an apprenticeship before breaking into the lineup, though, with the depletion of the Red and Black’s defensive back depth, the opportunity is there if Dawson is ready to step up and lay claim to it.
Marc Deas (RSo. SS): He’s back! His attitude apparently appropriately adjusted, the 6’1” Deas brings back at least a measure of experience, however limited. He saw playing time in all 14 games last fall, recording three solo tackles. Unfortunately, he had one stop each against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt.
Quintavius Harrow (So. CB): It’s time to begin expecting at least moderately big things from Harrow, one of the 2011 newcomers of the year. He appeared in every game last autumn, making ten tackles in a season highlighted by a forced fumble in a three-tackle day against Kentucky. With apologies to Simple Minds, don’t you forget about him.
Josh Harvey-Clemons (Fr. S): Granted, we signed him as an outside linebacker, but he can play safety, and, given our attrition issues, giving him a look at the position wouldn’t necessarily be the worst idea in the world. I’m just sayin’.
Malcolm Mitchell (So. CB): The Valdosta native, whose place of greater impact remains to be seen, made the biggest splash of all the 2011 “Dream Team” standouts as a true freshman, kicking off his inaugural autumn with four touches for 82 yards and a touchdown in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, then capping off his rookie campaign at wide receiver with a seven-catch day in the bowl game. Mitchell saw playing time in eleven games, and made nine starts, in his first collegiate season, but all of his appearances were on offense. The good news is that Mitchell is a remarkable athlete who was ranked among the top seven cornerback prospects in the country both by Scout.com and by Rivals.com, the latter of which tapped him as the nation’s No. 1 player at the position. The bad news is that Mitchell hasn’t played a down of Division I-A football as a defensive back.
Corey Moore (So. S): Does Moore have the potential to make an impact in the secondary this season? Let me answer that question by quoting two facts about him. First of all, he’s listed at 6’2”. Secondly, he was the 2011 recipient of the endowed scholarship named after Erk Russell. Moore primarily has practiced as Shawn Williams’s backup at strong safety, but Rambo’s suspension makes it probable that he will take over at safety for the fall’s first few games. During one Saturday scrimmage this spring, Moore turned in a standout performance, carding nine stops and corralling an interception.
Connor Norman (RSo. S): Norman is best known for two things. First of all, he wears the jersey number 11, so, the first time you saw him take the field with the kickoff coverage unit, your colon seized up and you hissed through gritted teeth, “What the heck is Aaron Murray doing playing special teams?” Secondly, Norman had himself a whale of a game at last year’s G-Day spring scrimmage, notching five tackles and an interception. Unfortunately, that represents the high water mark for the career special teams player, whose personal best tally when playing with live ammo was a four-tackle day against New Mexico State in his redshirt freshman season last fall. Nevertheless, Coach Grantham has indicated that the walk-on may see playing time at safety while Rambo is serving his suspension.
Blake Sailors (Jr. CB): A career special teams player who was put on scholarship last August, Sailors at least has the benefit of experience, having taken the field in every game for the last two seasons. He has confidence and deceptive speed, but, by his own admission, Sailors is still learning the defensive scheme, which is a heck of an admission for a guy with three years in the program.
Damian Swann (So. CB): How depleted is the Georgia secondary? Swann actually qualifies as experienced by virtue of his lone start last season. That single first-team appearance came against Coastal Carolina, which is appropriate, since Swann seems to apprehend the extent to which we need more ‘Dawgs. A highly touted prospect out of high school, Swann was ranked in the top ten at his position by ESPN, Rivals.com, and Scout.com, though all three services listed him either at “athlete” or at safety. Fortunately, the projected nickelback knows his X’s and O’s, is becoming a more physical player, and sounds like a kid who has his head screwed on straight. How well he plays against Missouri in the Bulldogs’ SEC opener could go a long way toward determining what kind of autumn it is in Athens.
Shawn Williams (Sr. SS): If there’s a guy we need to keep in bubble wrap between now and Labor Day weekend more so than Swann, it’s Williams, who is by far the secondary’s remaining grizzled veteran. Last year, Williams started 13 games, led the team with 72 tackles, forced one fumble and recovered two, broke up six passes, snagged two interceptions, and registered his sixth seven-tackle outing of the season in the bowl game. (Every time I think about how many guys had standout performances in that game, I get madder and madder about the coaching gaffes that lost it for us.) He had six tackles and a pick against Vanderbilt, in a game in which he was at the center of the firestorm that exploded between Coach Grantham and James “Urban Meyer Without the Wins” Franklin. Right now, though, Williams is nursing a knee injury.
There you have ‘em, folks; your 2012 Georgia defensive backs, at least as of the opener. There’s definitely talent at the position, but will there be enough cohesion and experience on hand by the time the Bulldogs travel to Columbia---no, not that Columbia, the other Columbia---for the league opener? That, my friends, is the crucial question of the autumn, which very likely will make the difference between a trip to Atlanta in early December for the SEC Championship Game and a trip to Atlanta in late December for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.