We continue our examination of the Georgia Bulldogs poised to move into the spotlight in 2020 with a defensive back who has big shoes to fill.
I’m not going to lie. It’s going to feel kind of weird not seeing J.R. Reed stalking the UGA defensive backfield in 2020. In three seasons in Athens the Tulsa transfer went from the son of an NFL great to an All-American safety in his own right, starting 42 games in a row in his time in the Classic City. He was also a steady fixture and vocal leader of a defensive backfield that was perennially among the best in the nation.
Reed was a throw back player, a thumper at safety in an era in which old-timers grimly joke that officials will let you do what you want on the field as long as it doesn’t involve actually tackling anyone. His heir apparent is a versatile player who both knows how to lay the wood to ballcarriers and cover down the field.
Lewis Cine came to Athens as part of the 2019 signing class as a national top 100 player. He then turned heads during camp last year, occasionally even running with the first unit in practice at the Star position. Ultimately Cine played in every one of the 14 games of Georgia’s 2019 season. He didn’t however earn a start until the end of the year.
But when he got his shot, Cine produced immediately. Starting in the SEC Championship Game against LSU and the Sugar Bowl against Baylor, Cine tallied 12 total tackles, leading the team over that stretch. On the year Cine had 20 tackles, 1 interception, and 3 passes defended and also played significant snaps on special teams. It was, all in all, a solid rookie campaign that pointed to bigger things in the future.
At 6’1, 190 pounds Cine isn’t a huge player on the back end. In fact he’s smaller than several of the corners on the Red and Black roster. While that would be unusual in some defensive systems, if you’ve watched Kirby Smart and now Dan Lanning coach defense you know that it makes total sense. Smart likes to be able to isolate big, physical corners on receivers in space, and allow the safeties to run deep downfield covering vertical routes.
In some ways, the role of a safety in Kirby Smart’s defense is more demanding than in the Nick Saban-engineered defenses he oversaw at Alabama. Some of that has probably been being blessed with guys like Reed and Richard LeCounte who are phenomenally versatile athletes. Some of it is the emergence of spread offenses and the downfield passing game as predominant in SEC football since Smart left Tuscaloosa.
No matter what the impetus for it, Lewis Cine is tailor-made for the role. He’s fast, perhaps more flexible in the hips than Reed, and gets up in the air for the ball as well as any defender in the UGA secondary. The sophomore still needs to show he can be consistent as an every down starter, especially against the run. But Cine may actually be an upgrade over Reed in coverage situations, which given Reed’s decorated career in Athens is a truly horrific thought for opponents. Until later . . .