Georgia’s secondary is another position that has suddenly accumulated some depth.
While the Bulldogs are replacing three starters from last year’s roster, it returns three key contributors and another who saw game experience as a true freshman. The Bulldogs have also done a good job at adding numbers do their defensive backfield through recruiting.
But the losses in the secondary will still be tough to replace.
Safety Dominick Sanders ended his career by tying Jake Scott and Bacarri Rambo for a program record with 16 interceptions. Aaron Davis was a smart and savvy veteran who played the star as a senior, but also played safety and cornerback during his college career.
Malkom Parrish had a strong junior year but dealt with a foot injury to start his senior campaign. He still had 26 tackles and a pick in his final season.
They left: Sanders, Davis, Parrish
They return: Deandre Baker (Sr.), J.R. Reed (Jr.), Tyrique McGhee (Jr.), Richard LeCounte III (Soph.), Jarvis Wilson (Sr.), Mark Webb (Soph.), William Poole (Soph.), Ameer Speed (Soph.), Tray Bishop (R-Fr.), Latavious Brini (R-Fr.), Eric Stokes (R-Fr.), Deangelo Gibbs (Soph. – currently not enrolled in spring semester)
Enrolled early: Divaad Wilson
On the way: Tyson Campbell, Nadab Joseph, Chris Smith, Otis Reese
What to watch: With all the attention Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy received on defense, Baker probably didn’t get the respect he deserved. Down the stretch of the season, Baker turned into a lock-down cornerback for the Bulldogs
This was evidenced by his game against Alabama in the national championship, when he was tasked with guarding receiver Calvin Ridley on the outside. While Georgia doesn’t match its cornerbacks against a team’s top wideout, Baker saw Ridley quite a bit. And while Ridley did catch a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, the star receiver was held to four catches for 32 yards.
Baker was a big reason why. The rising senior finished second on the team in interceptions with three and led the Bulldogs with nine pass breakups. Baker will be one of Georgia’s focal points on defense and should return as one of the SEC’s better defensive backs.
As for who starts opposite of Baker, that is a position up for grabs. McGhee could earn the nod in base situations but move to the star position in Georgia’s nickel defense. Or McGhee could be the full-time star position holder. That means at least one new starter – Georgia does consider its star position player to be a starter – will emerge on defense. Webb, Poole, Speed and Stokes will all have opportunities to earn a spot. Gibbs will as well as long as he does what is needed to do be back in good standing with the football team.
Campbell will arrive at Georgia as the No. 2 ranked cornerback in the recruiting class of 2018. A tall, fast and strong corner, he could have an opportunity to start as a first-year player if he is as good as advertised.
While Reed will man one of Georgia’s safety spots, LeCounte figures to be the next man up for the other starting role. LeCounte, a former five-star prospect in high school, earned some rotational playing time as a freshman.
Outlook: While Georgia is set with one cornerback, it has quite the question mark at who will man the other spot and who will take over star duties. Some of that figures to be ironed out during spring practice. LeCounte came to Georgia highly-regarded and will have big shoes to fill with Sanders exhausting his eligibility. But LeCounte showed flashes during his time on the field and will look to step in for the four-year starter.