Post-spring depth chart: Defense

semerson@macon.comApril 15, 2013 

We brought you the projected offensive depth chart earlier. Now here's our best educated guess on the pecking order on defense, where several open spots came close to settled this spring, but a few still need clearing up.

DEFENSIVE END
Starter:
Garrison Smith, Sr.
Top backup: John Taylor, R-Fr.
On the way: Davin Bellamy, Fr.
Comment: The depth at end isn’t great on paper, but defensive line coach Chris Wilson plans on rotating a lot of the nose tackles over to the edge, and some of the outside linebackers can line up on the front as well. Smith, expected to be the only senior starter, is just about set as a first-teamer. The fun will be at the other spot.

DEFENSIVE END
Starter:
Sterling Bailey, Soph.
Top backup: Ray Drew, Jr.
Comment: Bailey had a great spring camp, moving ahead of Drew for first-team. But Drew is far from forgotten, and both should get plenty of snaps when the season starts. Taylor, who moved over from nose tackle, is also in position to see serious playing time. Bellamy’s playing time depends a lot on how he looks when he arrives this summer, and if he needs to put on weight to play on the line.

NOSE TACKLE
Starter:
Mike Thornton, Jr.
Top backup: Chris Mayes, Soph.
The rest: John Atkins, Fr.
On the way: Toby Johnson, Jr.; DeAndre Johnson, Fr.
Comment: Thornton was a bit of a spring surprise, because even though he started practice as the first-teamer, he wasn’t seen as the favorite to finish it that way. Instead the team’s smallest option at nose tackle showed that he might be the best option there, using his strength and knowledge of the defense to his advantage. Mayes and Atkins will both see action as well, and their competence hastened the move of Taylor to end. Johnson, who Wilson termed to be 80 percent recovered from a torn ACL, will be a factor if he’s close to 100 percent once he arrives this summer.

OUTSIDE (WILL) LINEBACKER
Starter:
Jordan Jenkins, Soph.
Top backup: T.J. Stripling, Sr.
The rest: Josh Dawson, Soph.; Brandon Burrows, Jr.
On the way: Shaun McGee, Fr.; Bellamy.
Comment: The outside linebacker spots are much more crowded than the end spots, as you can see, and they’ll be even more crowded if Georgia concentrates on the nickel defense more than the base, taking the Sam linebacker off the field. In any case Jenkins will be out there as much as possible. He now enjoys the status as the team’s top playmaker on defense. Stripling’s experience should help him see some snaps as well, while Dawson still needs to find a comfortable spot.

---OUTSIDE (SAM) LINEBACKER
Starter:
James DeLoach, Soph.
Top backup: Chase Vasser, Sr.
The rest: Stripling, Dawson, Burrows.
Comment: DeLoach was one of the defense’s big stories of spring, taking advantage of not only an open starting spot, but Vasser’s injury, and becoming the clear starter at the Sam. That doesn’t mean DeLoach is ensured of it. Vasser knows the defense and has started before, so he’s likely to push for playing time. And with basically every OLB getting trained at both spots, the team is setting up to have plenty of options.

---Or ----

---NICKEL BACK
Starter:
Josh Harvey-Clemons, Soph.
Comment: This is a spot created almost especially for Harrvey-Clemons, and it’s worth it to list this as a starting spot because Georgia will spend so much time in the nickel defense. When that happens, it opens up the strong safety spot, which likely goes to Connor Norman or Corey Moore, but don’t rule out incoming cornerback recruits Shaq Wiggins or Brendan Langley.

INSIDE LINEBACKER
Starter:
Amarlo Herrera, Jr.
Top backup: Ryne Rankin, Fr.
On the way: Tim Kimbrough, Fr.; Johnny O’Neal, Fr.
Comment: Herrera is the unofficial captain of the defense now, and will be the main play-caller for the front seven. His spot is secure, and he can play at both the “Mike” or the “Mo” spots. Rankin not only enrolled early but participated in bowl practice last December, so he should be well ahead of the other freshmen. But Reggie Carter clearly had the more impressive spring, so the third inside linebacker spot at this point belongs to him.

INSIDE LINEBACKER
Starter:
Ramik Wilson, Jr.
Top backup: Reggie Carter, Fr.
Comment: Carter is playing well enough that he could still give a push to Wilson, who has been a reserve his first two years as a Bulldog. Wilson has better size and experience, but Carter just showed a nose for making plays, including an unusual amount of interceptions in scrimmages. Kimbrough and O’Neal can be factors for playing time as well, depending on how they perform in spring practice. The team ideally would like to play four inside linebackers, but that’s assuming no injuries. The likelier scenario is three of the freshmen get playing time, and one redshirts.

CORNERBACK
Starter:
Damian Swann, Jr.
Top backup: Devin Bowman, Soph.
The rest: Blake Sailors, Jr.
On the way: Brendan Langley, Fr.; Shaq Wiggins, Fr.; Kennar Johnson, Jr.
Comment: Swann is set as the team’s No. 1 cornerback, but the rest could get very interesting.

CORNERBACK
Starter:
Sheldon Dawson, Soph.
Top backup: Reggie Wilkerson, Fr.
The rest: Bowman, Sailors.
Comment: Dawson did everything he could to grab the No. 2 cornerback role, which could be very important because in the nickel defense Harvey-Clemons is likely the nickel. But then Dawson hurt his hamstring late in camp, and Wilkerson continued to emerge as a real candidate for playing time. He was the starter on G-Day. Meanwhile, the impending arrival of Langley, Wiggins and Johnson looms, with the first two potentially in line for playing time as well. There’s no shortage of options here.

FREE SAFETY
Starter:
Tray Matthews, Fr.
Top backup: Connor Norman, Sr.
The rest: Quincy Mauger, Fr., Marc Deas, Jr.
On the way: Shaquille Fluker, Jr. Paris Bostick, Fr.
Comment: Matthews was perhaps the story of camp, playing so impressively it seems far-fetched to think anyone else will win the free safety job. Behind him, however, there is still a lot to be resolved. Norman can play both safety spots. Fluker, a junior college transfer, has a chance to be a big factor if he performs well in spring practice.

STRONG SAFETY
Starter:
Harvey-Clemons
Top backup: Corey Moore, Jr. and Norman.
The rest: Mauger, Deas.
Comment: Harvey-Clemons is clearly the top man at this spot when Georgia is in its base defense. But when the nickel is in place Harvey-Clemons will be at the so-called star position, leaving strong safety back up for grabs. Moore and Norman were alternating about evenly during the spring. Mauger and Deas can be factors, but also keep an eye on Fluker, and whether he gets put at free or strong, or both.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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