ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs don’t just have to replace two starters in Tykee Smith and Javon Bullard this spring at the safety position.

Georgia is also without Malaki Starks, as he is recovering from a shoulder injury.

Starks is expected to make a full recovery for Georgia and be ready to roll this fall.

Having the best safety in the country, per ESPN, will go a long way in answering some questions about the safety and star positions for the Bulldogs.

“Starks was named a freshman All-American while helping lead the Bulldogs to their second straight CFP national championship,” ESPN’s Mark Schlabach wrote. “Last season, Starks was even better. He was named a consensus All-American after totaling 52 tackles, 3 interceptions and 7 pass breakups, which was sixth among all Power 5 safeties, according to Pro Football Focus.”

With Starks out, that creates even more reps in the secondary for Georgia’s many safeties. Players like Dan Jackson and David Daniel-Sisavanh, the veterans of the group.

But also young players such as 5-star freshman KJ Bolden or rising junior JaCorey Thomas.

“I feel like he’s had a good spring this far as far as picking things up,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Thomas. “He is competing at two positions, so he is a dual-train guy, getting more mental reps at star since he hasn’t played that, while also getting reps at safety. I am excited to see him in his first scrimmage this Saturday.”

Like many defensive backs, Thomas is able to play multiple positions. He played the star position in high school and has thus spent more time learning safety at Georgia. Thomas and Joenel Aguero are two of the top options at the star position for the Bulldogs this spring.

Between Thomas, Aguero, Alabama transfer Jake Pope, the Bulldogs have plenty of options at the safety position.

And while Starks’ absence isn’t ideal, it creates more opportunities at the safety position this spring.

“Learning safety here is very difficult,” Thomas said. “You know, there’s a bunch of ends and outs of our defense that are quite difficult for me to understand because I didn’t play the position at the time. But things started clicking around last year. I started to get into like a groove to see how I was going with it.”

Adding to the uncertainty in the secondary is that the Bulldogs have a new safeties coach in Travaris Robinson. He takes over for Will Muschamp, who is still with the team, albeit as an analyst.

“He’s a cool coach,” Thomas said. “Him and Coach Muschamp’s been coaching together for they said like 15 years, so they’re pretty much the same person.”

The Bulldogs have consistently gotten great safety play throughout Kirby Smart’s time at Georgia. And it’s not just via 5-star prospects like Starks. The Bulldogs have gotten significant production out of players of all shapes and sizes. Smith was a transfer from West Virginia. Bullard was an unheralded 3-star prospect out of Milledgeville, Ga.

Thomas and the rest of Georgia’s safeties know this. It’s why they all believe they can play a big impact on this team in 2024.

Starks will go a long way in shaping how dominant Georgia’s secondary is in 2024. But he won’t be the only one, as the Bulldogs will need others to step up at both safety and star.

“So there’s always very high competition at the safety level from Chris Smith to Javon Bullard and stuff like that,” Thomas said. “It’s always going to be competitive. You know, we like to compete here at Georgia.”