If you’ve read our primers on the defensive line (solid, and still relatively deep) and linebackers (one of the best units on the team), and heard Jeremy Pruitt talk about the secondary he inherited (expletive deleted), then perhaps you naturally hit on an idea:
Just play defensive linemen and linebackers! Maybe stick Damian Swann back there for the occasional deep ball. Otherwise, hey, the term “front seven” is antiquated. Play to your strength!
This, however, is the real world, so at some point Pruitt will have to find four and often five guys he can stick out there. And that point is now, with preseason practice beginning Friday.
The guess here is Pruitt’s mood in the preseason will be vastly improved from the spring, partly out of motivational design, but also because the cavalry has arrived: This year’s signees, several of whom have a real chance to play right away.
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A note on positions: Georgia’s defense has changed some terminology this season - such as at the linebacker spots – and the same goes for the secondary. Pruitt has said he doesn’t call them free or strong safety, just safeties. And at cornerback, while the previous staff also had a boundary and strong side cornerback, they didn’t emphasize that as much in the terminology. Pruitt is, so we’ll go with that, and for those who don’t know, the boundary corner lines up on the shortest side of the field, and the field corner plays the widest side.
The star position remains the same, although unlike the previous staff Pruitt has vowed this will always be played by a defensive back.
So with all that in mind, let’s dive in, with the important caveat that all of this could very well be blown up soon after practice begins, because that's just how it is right now:
STARTER: Aaron Davis, R-Fr. (walk-on)
OTHERS RETURNING: Sheldon Dawson, Jr.; Tristan Askew, Jr. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: Shattle Fenteng, Jr.; Malkom Parrish, Fr.; Shaquille Jones, Fr.
WHAT TO WATCH: Davis came out of nowhere to be the starter in spring practice, in what at the time seemed like a message being sent by Pruitt. But considering Pruitt’s recent history at Florida State and Alabama, when he wasn’t afraid to use walk-ons, and the departure of Shaq Wiggins, it’s very believable that Davis begins preseason as the first-teamer. Whether he holds off the newcomers next month is another story. Fenteng is a junior college transfer and thus capable of playing right away. So is Parrish, who stood the distinction of being recruited by the previous staff but embraced by Pruitt upon his hiring. Jones doesn’t come to campus with as much hype, but he’ll get a shot too. Dawson is nearing a point where he needs to make a move. He didn’t particularly impress Pruitt during the spring (although not many did, to be fair), so the former four-star recruit needs to have a good preseason. Askew, who played Division II football before transferring to Georgia, is another walk-on who will get a fair shot this August.
STARTER: Damian Swann, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Devin Bowman, Jr.; Kennar Johnson, Jr.
NEW GUYS: Fenteng, Parrish, Jones.
WHAT TO WATCH: Swann will be one of the most intriguing players to watch this preseason, as he is once again the most experienced and accomplished member of the secondary – but is that a good thing or not? The pressure is definitely on him, not just to start, but to be a leader. Bowman and Johnson don’t seem to be serious factors as the preseason begins, unless either or both have a really strong preseason.
STARTER: J.J. Green, Soph.
OTHER OPTIONS: Swann, Parrish, Fenteng, Dawson.
WHAT TO WATCH: Green was a pleasant surprise last spring after moving over from tailback, and begins practice with a good lead for this job. He’s actually listed as the starter at strong safety, so it will be interesting to see how much Pruitt tries him there. But if Georgia uses the 4-2-5 alignment as much as expected, Green’s main focus will be at the star. Of course it’s always possible that Green does well enough at safety that someone else moves into the top spot at the star. Things are wide open in the secondary, in case you haven’t figured out by now.
STARTER: Corey Moore, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Reggie Wilkerson, R-Fr.; Devin Gillespie, Soph. (walk-on); James Davis, Jr. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: Dominick Sanders, Fr..
WHAT TO WATCH: Moore is in a similar spot to Swann. They’re both seniors, and are being looked at for leadership as well as some stability in the secondary. Moore doesn’t have Swann’s resume’, but he finished last season strong, and will be given every chance to be one of the starting safeties. Wilkerson moved over from cornerback after spring practice, and since he’s coming off an ACL injury and learning a new spot, the chances of earning serious playing time are slimmer in the short term.
STARTER: Quincy Mauger, Soph.
OTHERS RETURNING: Tramel Terry, R-Fr.; Lucas Redd, Sr. (walk-on); Jonah Guinn, Soph. (walk-on); Jesse Jones, Jr. (walk-on); Javonte’ Nelson, Jr. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: Sanders.
WHAT TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Sanders this preseason. He was singled out by several veterans, including Ramik Wilson and Todd Gurley, as being impressive during summer workouts, and that came after scuttlebutt from team insiders that Sanders – only a three-star recruit – was underrated. Mauger started seven games last year as a freshman, but again, experience doesn’t appear to be that much of a virtue under a new coach. Terry, much like Wilkerson, may be more of a long-term possibility, but his progress this preseason is well worth watching. Finally, in case you haven’t noticed there are a ton of walk-ons listed in this report. That reflects the official depth chart, which lists EVERY walk-on in the secondary. Keep that in mind as practice begins.
BONUS: We probably won't be doing a special teams preseason primer, but don't worry, that will be liberally covered once practice begins. If you absolutely need that fix: The punter job is a toss-up between Collin Barber and walk-on Adam Erickson, the kicker job is obviously Marshall Morgan, the long snapper is either Nate Theus or Trent Frix, and freshman Isaiah McKenzie will be given every chance to be the top kick and punt returner.