In a bit of good news, the attrition that hit the secondary a year ago seems to have slowed (or even stopped!). But those departures took their toll. Jeremy Pruitt had to piece together a thin secondary in 2014 that included a walk-on and true freshmen, and the results were mixed. Teams like South Carolina were able to pick apart the pass coverage, but there was gradual improvement.
That improvement might have been due in part to the offenses Georgia was facing. After Clemson and South Carolina, every other regular season opponent ended up in the bottom half of D-1 for passing offense. Six of Georgia’s final nine regular season opponents were 90th or worse (out of 125 teams) in passing offense. You’d hope to look a little better against the pass facing those offenses. (As for the run…)
Still, there were positive developments. New faces like Aaron Davis, Malkom Parrish, and especially Dominick Sanders emerged. Quincy Mauger took a big step forward from a shaky 2013. Though the unit will miss the versatility of Damian Swann, those four returning players will have big roles in 2015.
The depth chart released earlier this week bears that out. All four figure to start with true freshman Rico McGraw pushing for playing time at cornerback or star. Sanders is athletic enough to slide into a safety role this year. Davis, who recently earned a scholarship, will work at corner with Parrish. None of that was a big surprise.
The rest of the depth chart raised some eyebrows. All four of the remaining spots are occupied by true freshmen. McGraw and Juwuan Briscoe might be the highlights of the incoming defensive back class, and they’ll see plenty of action right away. Jonathan Abram and Jarvis Wilson are listed as the depth at safety.
Yes, so many freshmen on the depth chart is a byproduct of necessity as Georgia restocks its roster after the attrition. But there’s also a group of older players with playing experience who, for the time being, were passed over in favor of the newcomers.
- Reggie Wilkerson: Wilkerson was a likely starter in 2013 before a season-ending injury. He saw action in only one game during his comeback in 2014. He has a hunger to get back out there and has been working at safety and star, but he’ll have some players ahead of him.
- Tramel Terry: Terry was a big recruiting coup where he was expected to shine at receiver. Depth issues in the secondary led to a position change. New to defense, he struggled to find playing time last season and remains locked in competition for a spot on the second team.
- Devin Bowman: Bowman, a senior, might be the most experienced defensive back. He’s slipped in and out of favor and started eight games in 2014 (with a nice pick six against Vandy.) Will he be called on again as a senior?
- Shattle Fenteng: Fenteng was a top JUCO cornerback prospect who was expected to help stop the bleeding after all of the defensive back attrition. He injured his shoulder during preseason and never got back into the rotation, appearing in only one game in 2014. It didn’t help that he missed spring practice with a rib injury. The shoulder problems of 2014 led to a medical redshirt, so he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Fenteng’s 6’2″ size would make him an interesting matchup against larger receivers, but he’s at risk of falling behind the newcomers.
There’s the usual caveat about paying too much attention to the depth chart (especially a Pruitt depth chart), but this is what we have to go on now. There are no medical or disciplinary issues that we know of keeping any of them off the field, and it’s likely we see some if not all on special teams or if the game gets out of hand. The question though is whether any of these players can hold off the freshmen before the defense moves on to the next generation of defensive backs.
UPDATE: To show how fluid things can be, this practice report was filed just a few hours after I put up the original post. This is good news – players competing for spots on the field is much better than the lineup-by-default Pruitt had to use a year ago. The overall talent level in the secondary might not be what we want yet, but this is nice progress.
“I’ll tell you what, in the last week Shattle has really improved,” Pruitt said after practice. “… I actually told him yesterday, he’s done some really nice things. Hopefully he’s getting back to his old self.”