The Georgia defense is set to lose just one starter next season. And yet most jobs will be up for grabs this spring and preseason.
That’s especially true in the secondary, where perhaps only Damian Swann can feel reasonably assured a starting spot. Maybe Swann had a disappointing junior season, but it’s hard to see two other cornerbacks good enough to supplant him.
The linebackers are a bit more set. The defensive line, which loses that lone starter – Garrison Smith – was the bright spot, but that was in large part because so many players rotated in, and there was so much competition for snaps. Don’t look for line coach Chris Wilson to mess with that formula.
So with all that in mind, here’s a look at a very early depth chart for 2014, which is sure to change somehow through recruiting and any personnel changes. This is an educated snapshot:
Starter: Ray Drew, Sr.
Top reserve(s): Josh Dawson, Jr.
In the mix: Keyon Brown, Fr.
Drew hasn’t said yet for certain that he’s returning, waiting to hear back from the NFL draft advisory committee, but he has said it would take a very high grade, so he’s planning on returning. Dawson didn’t see a huge amount of snaps this year, but should be in the mix again.
Starter: Sterling Bailey, Jr.
Top reserve(s): Toby Johnson, Sr.
In the mix: Lorenzo Carter?
Carter is the major unknown on the line, and perhaps the biggest storyline for Georgia entering signing day. The five-star prospect from Norcross is good enough to contribute right away. And perhaps start.
Starter(s): Chris Mayes, Jr. and John Taylor, Soph.
Top reserve(s): Mike Thornton, Sr.
In the mix: Lamont Galliard, Fr.; John Atkins, R-Fr.; De’Andre Johnson, R-Fr.
It was tempting to just list four defensive lineman positions because Wilson really did switch guys around, to the point a lot of players were both ends and tackles. But for the purposes of this depth chart we’ll stick with the traditional 3-4 set-up because that remains Georgia’s base defense. Either way, the competition is to be one of the six-to-eight regular members of the rotation, and with only Garrison Smith leaving, and more talent coming in, Wilson has a lot of options. Mayes really came on late in the season, and Taylor continues to have a lot of potential. But Galliard, listed at 6-3 and 310 pounds, also has the ability to crash the party quickly.
Starter: Jordan Jenkins, Jr.
Top reserve(s): Davin Bellamy, R-Fr.
In the mix: Shaun McGee, R-Fr.
Jenkins didn’t have the season he wanted, but he’s got a lot of ability, so his spot is virtually assured. Bellamy impressed Todd Grantham while redshirting this season, so he’ll be a candidate for snaps too. McGee also redshirted, and will also be a candidate to push for time.
Starter: Leonard Floyd, Soph.
Top reserve(s): James DeLoach, R-Fr.
In the mix: Brandon Burrows, Jr.
DeLoach was set to be the other first-team outside linebacker until Floyd showed up in the preseason. Floyd ended up leading the team in sacks, by a half-sack over Drew and Smith. Right now Georgia doesn’t have any outside linebacker commitments, but Carter can play there, and Georgia is still in contention for Rashaan Evans, a highly-touted prospect from Auburn, Ala.
Starter: Amarlo Herrera, Sr.
Top reserve(s): Johnny O’Neal, Soph. and Tim Kimbrough, Soph.
In the mix: Ryne Rankin, Soph.
As the captain and emotional leader of the defense, Herrera is as sure a bet to keep his starting spot as there is on defense. Plus, Georgia hardly subbed at inside linebacker this past season. Unless that changes, the competition among the backups is to be in position in case one of the seniors gets hurt.
Starter: Ramik Wilson, Sr.
Top reserve(s): Reggie Carter, Soph.
In the mix: Paris Bostick, R-Fr.; Detric Dukes, Fr.
Wilson’s production this year earns him a safe starting spot entering next year. But Carter is the clear next man up, with Bostick an intriguing option for the future after shifting down from safety. Georgia has a lot of depth at this position, and the question is how much on-field experience the youngsters will gain, with both starters set to leave after the 2014 season.
Starter: Damian Swann, Sr.
Top reserve(s): Brendan Langley, Soph.
In the mix: Malkom Parrish, Fr.; Devin Bowman, Soph.
One other possible name in the mix: Wesley Green, a freshman, if Georgia can get him to sign next month.
Starter: Shaq Wiggins, Soph.
Top reserve(s): Reggie Wilkerson, R-Fr. and Sheldon Dawson, Jr.
In the mix: Shattle Fenteng, Jr.; Kennar Johnson, Jr.
This will be the most closely-watched spot in the spring and preseason. There are a lot of possibilities here, with a bunch of returners (everyone but Connor Norman), and some new options: Parrish, Wilkerson (who took a medical redshirt this year) and Fenteng (a junior college transfer). Parrish is very highly-touted, and Wilkerson came out of spring the No. 3 cornerback before tearing his ACL.
Starter: Tray Matthews, Soph. or Quincy Mauger, Soph.
Top reserve(s): Tramel Terry, R-Fr.
In the mix: Kendall Gant, Fr.
So much for Matthews being the dominant freshman many were hoping for after his sterling spring. Injuries are mainly to blame, but Matthews was never comfortable when he was playing. So he and Mauger should enter the spring with an even chance of starting. Terry is still feeling his way after switching from receiver, and could be an option at either safety spot. But it would be surprising if he’s a serious option right away.
Starter: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Jr.
Top reserve(s): Corey Moore, Sr.
The fact Georgia doesn’t have more options here, after Shaquille Fluker’s transfer, helps explain why Terry was moved from receiver. It’s possible a cornerback gets shifted back here for depth. Mauger can also play strong safety. The numbers at this spot need to get better considering Harvey-Clemons will likely continue to shift to the star position. And of course the quality of play also needs to increase.
Starter: Collin Barber, Jr. or Adam Erickson, Sr.
Barber quietly lost his starting spot to Erickson, a walk-on, late in the season. Barber will be given every chance to re-claim his spot.