December 30, 2012

Plenty of opportunities ahead

ORLANDO, Fla. - When it comes to piecing together Georgia's defensive depth chart for 2013, keep your game day roster handy.

You'll need it.

Assuming Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree do as most expect and turn pro sometime after Tuesday's Capital One Bowl, the Bulldogs will return just four starters from the 2012 campaign - defensive end Garrison Smith, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, cornerback Damian Swann and linebacker Amarlo Herrera, leaving seven other starting spots to be filled before next year's season-opener against Clemson.

In other words, the Bulldogs will go from having one of their most experienced defenses in recent years to one of the youngest, something Jenkins joked his father reminds him of regularly.

"Every other day my dad is saying 'You better be ready to go next year and help the defense out,'" Jenkins said. "He said I don't want to see any of the little BS slacking you do, go to the ball. Don't think somebody else is going to get the ball - you try to make every tackle. He's just been trying to get me ready." Smith is no doubt taking the same approach as his return will definitely be a boon for the Bulldogs, who hope that redshirt junior Kwame Geathers decides to come back for one final season.

If not, Mike Thornton, Ray Drew, Sterling Bailey and redshirt freshman Jonathan Taylor would be the only returnees back at the position for Georgia, which will have junior college signee Chris Mayes as an early enrollee.

The Bulldogs also have a verbal commitment from DeAndre Johnson and John Atkins from Hargraves, but are looking to sign possibly two more for the position - namely Toby Johnson and Montravius Adams.

Despite the potential loss of Jones and Ogletree, Georgia won't have any shortage of candidates, ether at outside or inside linebacker.

Jenkins would slide over to Jones' spot at Will, leaving sophomore Josh Dawson, Ramik Wilson, James DeLoach, Chase Vasser and T.J. Stripling , five veterans defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could turn too. The oft-injured Dexter Morant and seldom-used Brandon Burrows are still hoping for their opportunities as well.

Incoming freshmen Reginald Carter, [/db]Ryne Rankin[/db], Shaun McGee, Johnny O'Neal, Tim Kimbrough, along with Leonard Floyd from Hargraves - assuming, he, like Atkins, makes it to school - will also get close looks.

The Bulldogs are also in the mix for linebacker Reuben Foster, who recently de-committed from Auburn just over a month ago.

"We can obviously play freshman. We did with Amarlo and this year Jordan Jenkins came along and played," Grantham said. "We'll give everybody a chance."
That's particularly true when it comes to the Bulldog secondary.

With Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo, Branden Smith and Sanders Commings moving on, the Bulldogs will have four spots (when you include the Nickel position) available, leaving Swann as the only returning starter.

The Bulldogs do return corners Devin Bowman and Sheldon Dawson, along with safeties Corey Moore, Marc Deas, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Connor Norman, although head coach Mark Richt made it clear recently that just because some player might be "next in line," nobody should assume anything when the battle for starting jobs begins this spring.

Harvey-Clemons' situation will be one to watch.

The former five-star performer worked out at safety for most of the year, but could also see time at outside linebacker or perhaps Grantham will design some type of special "hybrid" position for Harvey-Clemons to keep him on the field.

Dawson recently received some positive reviews.

"Sheldon's a guy who is at 190 pounds right now. He's got speed. His junior year in high school he averaged about 20 yards a carry running the ball on offense and he's explosive," Grantham said. "He's a willing tackler. He's just young and he's got to get reps, but he's obviously going to get a lot of reps in the spring so we look forward to seeing what he can do. He's really improved. I like where he's at right now."

But Dawson and the rest of the returning DBs figure to get plenty of competition from what will be a deep - at least in numbers - freshman class.

Tray Matthews should challenge for quick playing time at safety, along with junior college transfer Shaquille Fluker. The Bulldogs also have commitments from prepsters Paris Bostick, Brendan Langley, Quincy Mauger, Reggie Wilkerson, Shaquille Wiggins along with the versatile J.J. Green and Tramel Terry, two versatile young stars who can play on both sides of the bal. Terry, however, tore his ACL in the recent Shrine Bowl and it remains unclear if he will be allowed to play his freshman year.

"I think once they come in and get settled, I think they will help us a lot. That's going to be the key, how fast they can come in and mature but we've got some guys that can come in and produce early," Swann said. "They just get ready to grow up quick because they'll be playing with grown men. They'll need to come in and be ready to mature and be ready to learn."