(1) Georgia
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Georgia football-Chris Smith-safety
Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith (29) during the Bulldogs’ practice in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)
Mackenzie Miles

Georgia football safety Chris Smith ready to show younger teammates what it means to play big

Much will be written about one of the starting safety spots for Georgia. The Bulldogs have to replace first-round draft pick Lewis Cine, who after starting for the last two seasons is now lighting things up for the Minnesota Vikings.

There also isn’t an obvious replacement for Cine. Tykee Smith is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered last season. Walk-on Dan Jackson is a front-runner, but how will he play in a bigger role? There’s sophomore David Daniel-Sisavanh who lurks as an interesting option.

And there are freshmen Malaki Starks and JaCorey Thomas. Those two perhaps have the most upside in the room, even if they are also the most inexperienced.

“They are tremendously, physically gifted,” senior Chris Smith said. “Malaki and JaCorey, we played basketball one time, and those guys looked like NBA players almost. They’re picking up really well on the defense and things like that. They’re coming along really well. They ask a lot of questions from me.

“Malaki and JaCorey, they have about five or six questions after each practice for me. I always take the time to answer those things for them because I want them to get better.”

Related: Kirby Smart provides key details on various Georgia football position battles in 2022 fall camp

While Smith gushes about the promise of Starks and Thomas, some of that praise should be heaped onto him. Because of his presence, there aren’t questions about both safety spots. Smith bypassed the NFL draft to return to Georgia for his fifth season and third as a starter.

Smith doesn’t have the same size that Starks or Thomas do but you wouldn’t know based on how he plays.

“In the SEC you have to face a lot of big people,” Smith said. “Wide receivers, offensive linemen, quarterbacks, all those things. I bring a lot of energy to the game. I hit the weight room a lot. I’m a lot stronger than I appear.”

The senior from Atlanta also has a penchant for making big plays. There was the pick-6 in the win over Clemson last season, the game’s only touchdown. He then came down with an interception in the national championship game, one of two Georgia came down with that day.

Even with Smith returning for an extra season, Georgia’s secondary will be much younger this year. Consider that in the cornerback room, only Kelee Ringo is not in his first or second year with the team. Smith has been starting for the Bulldogs longer than most of his fellow defensive backs have been in Athens.

That experience brings with it leadership responsibilities, an area where former Georgia safety Kirby Smart applauded Smith.

“Chris has done a great job leading that group. I think he sets the tone each day for the work ethic,” Smart said. “He’s been a hard worker since he’s been here. Tough guy. He plays bigger than he actually is. So we’re very lucky and fortunate to have Chris back to help lead that secondary unit.”

At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Smith is not the physically imposing player that Cine was nor what Starks and Thomas forecast to be. But as he and Smart both agree, he plays much bigger than his frame would indicate.

This season he’s going to be one of the more important members of the Georgia defense. Given Georgia is so thin at safety, Smith might be one of if not the most indispensable players on the team. That’s before really factoring in his talent — Smith was voted Preseason Second Team All-SEC — and leadership responsibilities.

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