With so much turnover on the defense from a year ago, almost every position has an angle for G-Day. If there’s been a theme so far, it’s been speed. “We’re much faster and quicker,” claims linebacker Ramik Wilson. That speed is a plus, but the faster players are also largely inexperienced and still learning the system. Here’s the state of the defense entering G-Day.
G-Day is the public debut of new defensive line coach Chris Wilson. Wilson has a fairly blank slate with which to work – the only established player is senior end Garrison Smith. It will be hard to replace the size of Jenkins and Geathers at tackle, so Georgia will go with the combination of Mike Thornton and Chris Mayes. Mayes is a JUCO transfer who looks the part but might still be a little raw. Thornton played well in limited action last season, but he’s much lighter than the duo Georgia had in 2012. That lack of bulk isn’t necessarily a liability, and Thornton is counting on his agility and experience to make up for the difference.
With Smith established as one end, the other spot looks to be a competition between Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey. It’s unfortunate that Drew is already having to answer the “bust” questions at only the midpoint of his career, but this is his time. He’s long since moved from the outside linebacker spot that gave him trouble, and he’s more comfortable as a down lineman. Drew finished the 2012 season well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a starting role. Bailey, also a converted outside linebacker, played sparingly as a redshirt freshman while nursing an injured foot but has had a promising spring. John Taylor has moved to end from tackle – a strange move considering his size, but playing at end might be a way to get him on the field with Thornton and Mayes set on the interior.
We know about half the picture at linebacker. Herrera is now the veteran on the interior, and Jordan Jenkins is already the next great outside linebacker. Fans at G-Day might want to keep an eye on the other two spots. James DeLoach has made a move for the other outside linebacker position opposite Jenkins, but TJ Stripling is another player to watch outside. The closest position battle on the defense is at inside linebacker where Ramik Wilson is a veteran trying to hold off newcomer Reggie Carter.
The biggest unknown on the team at this point is the cornerback position. Swann is established, but the other starter is very much unsettled. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson had been favored to hold down that spot, but he’s out injured for G-Day. Watch freshman Reggie Wilkerson, another early enrollee, in place of Dawson.
Few stories have taken off this spring like Tray Matthews at safety. His hitting has become the stuff of legends, and, more importantly, he seems to be an answer at one of the two vacant safety spots. Corey Moore has, much more quietly, emerged as a likely option along with Matthews. Don’t count out veteran Connor Norman who saw lots of time early last season during the suspensions.
The plan for Josh Harvey-Clemons has been a story since the highly-touted defender arrived on campus last year. Thanks to him we learned about the “star” position, but it wasn’t something we saw much of last season. Then as Georgia prepared for option teams, we heard about Harvey-Clemons deployed at outside linebacker to attack those unique offenses. Again, the talk never materialized on the field.
The stories have started again, though Harvey-Clemons still doesn’t have an established position. The hybrid safety-linebacker “star” position is back in vogue. The trouble with the star, especially last year, is deciding who comes off the field. Do you sub out a safety or a linebacker? Georgia coaches may have an answer – at least for the first part of the season.
An alignment that looks more 3-3-5 than the traditional 3-4 would open up a place for Harvey-Clemons – not necessarily as a typical nickel back but definitely the fifth defensive back. Knowing Grantham’s history of unconventional fronts (remember the Jenkins-Washington-Jenkins look last season?), a 3-3-5 look doesn’t necessarily imply three linemen and three linebackers. Keep an eye on the alignments Georgia shows at G-Day, especially when Harvey-Clemons is in the game.
Top Three Things to Watch
- How does Chris Wilson plan to rotate and shuffle defensive linemen?
- Can Tray Matthews announce himself to Georgia fans (without injuring a teammate)?
- How will Harvey-Clemons be used, and how will his presence on the field affect the defensive alignment?