ATHENS - The assumption has been that, assuming Bacarri Rambo's four-game suspension is not reduced on appeal, that Corey Moore will step in for him as the starting safety. But don't count out Connor Norman.
Norman is a walk-on safety who saw time last year, and based on comments from defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the staff wouldn't have any problem putting him in there again.
"Connor kind of showed up this time last year," Grantham said after Thursday's practice. "We had some injuries back there last spring and I think he probably played 100 plays for us in the scrimmage. ... Based on what he did there, he showed us he has the ability to help us, and we put him in some spots where he could be functional for us. And we'll continue to do that."
Moore has mostly been working behind Shawn Williams at the strong safety spot, according to Williams. That doesn't mean Moore can't slide over.
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"Corey, his second year through, has definitely shown some progress," Grantham said. "He's a guy working hard to be a good player. Encouraged by him. Connor has shown his value back there. Knows where to be, knows how to make the adjustments we need."
Inside linebackers update
The secondary isn't the only spot Georgia has to worry about suspensions. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree is facing discipline for the start of the season, although like Rambo nothing has been announced yet.
But unlike at safety, the Bulldogs can fall back on experienced players to replace Ogletree. Christian Robinson, who has started off and on for three seasons and knows the defense as well as anybody, has been Ogletree's principal backup at the so-called Mo spot. Amarlo Herrera is working behind Mike Gilliard at the other spot, the Mike.
But inside linebackers coach Kirk Olividatti emphasized that they won't be tied to the Mike and Mo inside spots.
"Our defense is multiple enough that you can make it any way you want to make it," Olividatti said. "If you were talking about a specific thing, the Mike is probably a little bit more of a plugger and the Mo is a little bit more of the space player. But that's not really set in stone either.
"Basically, whoever the two best football players are, we'll figure out what they can do and how they do it, and we'll get that done."
Another candidate to squeeze in at inside linebacker Ramik Wilson - who is also a candidate to play at outside. Wilson, who will be a sophomore, switches from inside to outside throughout practice, in fact doing so mid-drill on Tuesday.
"We'll share him. We actually probably share a bit more than you guys probably realize," Olividatti said. "Last year there was 11 different lineups, and sometimes there were more outside (linebackers) out there and sometimes there were more insides (linebackers). We're gonna put guys in a position to make plays.
"But yeah that's gonna be Ramik's role, because he's a talented guy and one you wanna make sure you get on the field in good situations."
Brandon Burrows, a redshirt freshman who missed last year after shoulder surgery, is dealing another minor injury.
"The time that he's missing is hurting him right now," Olividatti said. "Because those guys have the game experience and they're still practicing. Brandon made the step as far as communication and has done a nice job with that, kind of knowing what to do. But we're still trying to sort through how to do it. And that's where he's behind right now."
Grantham singled out Garrison Smith, Shawn Williams and Damian Swann as having had the best springs so far.
"As a general rule though, I've been pleased with everyone's progress," Grantham said.
(On a side note, for Grantham's well-earned reputation as being fiery, he's very positive in his public comments, and will rarely call someone out in the press.)
Secondary coach Scott Lakatos echoed the company line on the abrupt transfer last week of reserve safety Marc Deas, saying it was about playing time.
"Any time a guy wants to leave because he wants a better chance at playing, you can't blame him," Lakatos said. "He has to be happy with his decision. So it's just a matter of do you like Georgia, or would you rather go somewhere you can play more. So if that's what he wants to do we certainly wish him the best. He's a good man."
Lakatos said it was "the same thing" with Jordan Love, who elected to transfer in January.
Similarly, Grantham said he wasn't surprised to see end Derrick Lott transfer in the middle of spring practice.
"We obviously wish him well. I think as guys get going and they see how the guys in front of them and how things are shaking, they start forming their opinions," Grantham said. "Sometimes it's early, sometimes it's not. I think he's a guy that we wish him well. Hopefully he can land somewhere he can play and get an opportunity to do those things."
But Grantham answered "not really" when asked if Lott's departure would make it more likely Ray Drew and Cornelius Washington will play end. Drew was already set to switch to end, while Washington will play both spots in the fall.
"He's had basically two years at outside backer," Grantham said of Washington. "And we'll mix and match and we'll play him in the situations that best fit us."
Outside linebacker Sterling Bailey, like Ray Drew, may be moving more towards playing on the line. Grantham said the freshman (who sat out last season with an injury) has grown both physically and in his knowledge of the defense.
"He's gonna be a prety big man someday. And he's got good athletic ability," Grantham said. "Those kind of guys give you mismatches inside, and that's what you're trying to do inside, is get those mismatches and win one-on-one battles."
Grantham and his staff have been looking at Missouri and other early opponents.
"We've already worked on some things we're gonna see. Our players may not initially know that," Grantham said. "But I've always been a believer in - you still want to develop in the spring but at the same time you want to take a look at things you may want to do against teams coming up early (in the season)."