ATHENS – Aaron Davis spent this summer getting ready to play one of two positions on Georgia’s defense: Safety or nickelback. And then two weeks ago Malkom Parrish, the team’s best cornerback, went down at practice with a foot injury.
Before practice the next day, Davis was informed of a change in plans: go to cornerback.
“No reaction at all,” Davis said, smiling. “It’s part of my job to be ready and step up into any position that they ask me to play. I pride myself on being versatile.”
It wasn’t much of a stretch for Davis, who started at cornerback for most of his freshman and sophomore years. That was perhaps the easiest decision Georgia coaches had to make post-Parrish injury.
The hardest ones haven’t been revealed yet.
J.R. Reed, the transfer from Tulsa who sat out last season, went from safety to nickelback, but it’s not clear if he will start there Saturday against Appalachian State. Richard LeCounte, the freshman who enrolled in January, was at first-team safety, but it’s also not certain if he’ll start.
Either way, it seems likely there will be at least two players who are SEC rookies in the starting lineup in Georgia’s secondary. And more could play.
While Parrish hasn’t been officially ruled out for the game Saturday, it seems unlikely he will play, and his status for the Notre Dame trip next week is in doubt. Coach Kirby Smart gave a timetable of two to four weeks when he confirmed Parrish’s injury, so there is a possibility he could return this week.
“We are trying to get him back for this game, and the starting secondary will probably be determined throughout the week based on that and a couple of other guys who are in good position battles,” Smart said. “So, it will be close, probably a game-time decision at some of those spots in the secondary.”
What’s certain is that senior Dominick Sanders will be at safety, just as he’s been since the beginning of his freshman season, and junior Deandre Baker will be back starting at the right cornerback spot.
It also looks as if Davis will be at the left spot.
Appalachian State was 105th nationally in passing offense, throwing for 179 yards per game, in 2016. The Mountaineers were a run-first team that attempted an average of 25.7 passes per game, which was 107th nationally. Quarterback Taylor Lamb leads an offense that employs run-pass options, and he can tuck and run.
“He can take the ball, pull it and make plays,” Smart said of Lamb. “Every game you see he has made yards with his legs, whether that is by scramble or that is by design runs. He does a great job on both of those things.”
In fact, where Parrish’s injury could loom largest is against the quarterback run. Parrish easily is Georgia’s defensive back with the best tackling skills.
Georgia could put sophomore Tyrique McGhee at nickelback and move Reed to safety. Or even flip McGhee and Davis, with Davis playing at nickelback after all.
Either way, the inexperience in the Georgia secondary is a concern, with Smart saying last week that the gap between the first- and second-teamers is extensive. Freshmen aside from LeCounte are heavily involved in the two-deep rotation.
Then again, Davis started in Georgia’s opener as a redshirt freshman in 2014 — Sanders is a freshman — and Georgia beat Clemson. So Davis said the young guys can do it.
“They haven’t played in a game, but they’ve seen SEC competition since the spring,” he said. “That definitely prepares them to the best they can until they get in a game.”