ATHENS - This time last year, Josh Harvey-Clemons was perhaps the most important player on Georgia’s defense. The coaches were excited about his potential. He was unblemished by off-field troubles. His departure from the program would have been considered a severe blow to the entire program.
A year later, however, the reaction to his dismissal should be more, shall we say, tempered. This time next year, we may look back on it the same way as when Isaiah Crowell was dismissed two summers ago: A big news story on its own, but the team ended up being okay.
On the field, Harvey-Clemons proved to be a solid player, but not the difference-maker the coaches anticipated, and he lacked a natural position. Off the field, the Valdosta native was in the news a bit too much.
The first transgression was forgivable, a chance to once again question the wisdom of UGA’s strict drug policy. The second, coming only a few months later, was a red flag.
The third, whatever it was, proved to be a breaking point.
“Just to be clear, those who decide not to do it the RIGHT way do not deserve to don the Red & Black,” Arthur Lynch, one of Harvey-Clemons’ former teammates, tweeted after seeing the news on Tuesday. “It is a privilege, not a right.”
Lynch, it should be noted, was a vociferous and passionate defender of Crowell.
My own personal dealings with Harvey-Clemons the past two years were pretty positive. He was somewhat shy in interviews, but also candid, with almost a sweet disposition. During his first year, as we kept trying to figure out what position Georgia would use him at, Harvey-Clemons would laugh about it too.
“I’m just as curious as y’all,” he said at one point.
Privately, the sense I got from people around the program was that Harvey-Clemons wasn’t really a knucklehead, but he did some knucklehead things. A source close to the program told me in January that Harvey-Clemons was “generally a good kid.”
“He just doesn’t have a care in the world, and it gets him into the trouble that he seems to stay in,” the source said.
The past year also allowed us to see Harvey-Clemons play. He was good. But he wasn’t great.
In fact, the failure of Harvey-Clemons to emerge as a difference-maker was one of the key reasons the defense struggled.
Todd Grantham, in what proved to be his final season as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, in large part built his defense around using Harvey-Clemons at the star position, a hybrid of safety and linebacker. It was a tantalizing solution to the player’s “tweener” status: Too thin for linebacker, too inexperienced at safety, so put him at the star and put him in the best position to make plays.
“There’s certain guys on your team that you look for explosive plays out of, and I think he’s one of those guys,” Grantham said during spring practice last year.
But Harvey-Clemons ended the season with no sacks. He did have one interception, three fumble recoveries and 5.5 tackles-for-loss. Nice stats, but not a difference-maker. It also didn’t help that he was suspended for the first and last games. And it didn’t help that in perhaps the defining moment of the year for the defense, Harvey-Clemons made the wrong play.
Had he remained on the team, Harvey-Clemons was still going to be a quandary for the new staff. Maybe Jeremy Pruitt would have found the right way to use him. But maybe not. In any case, the depth chart in the defensive meeting room is now a bit simpler, without the headache of which situations to put Harvey-Clemons at safety, which situations to put him at nickel back, and so forth.
None of this is to say that Georgia should be glad that he’s gone. The best result for this would have been Harvey-Clemons straightening himself out off the field, and he and the new staff figuring out his best role on the field. Had that happened, he could have been a solid player, and in time maybe even a difference-maker.
But that's projecting. Based on what we saw in 11 games last year, the dismissal is far from a backbreaker for the defense, or the team. And based on what was happening off the field, it may have just been best for the program to move on.