Remember when Georgia’s future defensive backfield was set with five-star Josh Harvey-Clemons and four-stars Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews?
Matthews was the secondary’s fourth offseason casualty. Star safety and tremendous athlete Harvey-Clemons was dismissed in February; Wiggins transferred to Louisville on his own accord, and Matthews’ dismissal was announced yesterday. Former defensive back Brendan Langley moved to receiver. That’s three starters who are or already have walked out that door.
So, who’s left?
That’s what Mark Richt and Jeremy Pruitt are going through, probably as we speak. The Bulldogs aren’t out of options.
Georgia enters 2014 with high expectations, but they’re not higher than any other year. With a stacked offense that features arguably the best overall player in college football in Todd Gurley, many are quick to say that UGA is the division’s preseason favorite. The front seven is loaded, too, with an adequate defensive line and maybe college football’s best linebacking corps that features a loaded depth chart and playmakers.
Then, there’s the secondary – the same secondary that became one of the league’s worst in 2014. Thankfully, there’s a new sheriff in town in Jeremy Pruitt. Is Pruitt the one factor that could help overcome such tremendous personnel losses?
Damian Swann returns at cornerback, and Corey Moore returns as a starting safety. The Bulldogs did sign top JUCO corner in Shattle Fenteng, and they have to hope he’s ready to play. Former running back JJ Green played well this spring, and like Fenteng, the Bulldogs’ staff has to get him ready. Reggie Wilkerson is recovering from an ACL injury, and Sheldon Dawson will also play a much bigger role, as well Quincy Mauger. Pruitt also made walk-on Aaron Davis a first-team player this spring, and Malkom Parrish has already indicated the coaches anticipate playing him early.
Aside from maybe Swann, who took a step back last season, the two most talented players – Harvey-Clemons and Matthews – are now gone.
The good thing for Georgia is that their secondary attrition happens when premier quarterbacks are exiting the league. Looking at Georgia’s schedule, Clemson, South Carolina and Missouri all lose starting quarterbacks. Florida’s Jeff Driskel is a big unknown; Auburn’s Nick Marshall didn’t exactly light it up with the air attack last season, Hail Mary included; Tennessee doesn’t have a proven starter, and Arkansas’ passing game doesn’t scare anyone. That’s the good news.
The bad news stems from Georgia being about two missed tackles away from being deemed an awful secondary last season. UGA finished ninth in the conference in pass defense, giving up over 227 yards per game, and they had the SEC’s second lowest total interceptions with seven. Three of the most talented players — JHC, Matthews and Wiggins — are gone. Players were often confused and had trouble tackling once ball carriers got past the first and second levels. You have to hope that was Todd Grantham-based.
All hope isn’t lost; they have talented players, but tremendous strides have to be taken with the guys who are returning.
The secondary has some major holes to fill, but with an expected increase in pass rush production from the likes of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, it would be a tremendous advantage and would help an overall inexperienced secondary. Pruitt is a phenomenal schemer and play caller, and he should help make a difference.
Will Georgia prove yet again just how tough it is to win a conference and national championship?
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