Georgia depth chart analysis: Cornerbacks and star

Georgia-Malkom Parrish
Could Malkom Parrish (14) be hurt by his height, even after two years of starting?

Georgia’s cornerback position this year sets up to be a battle of philosophies: Between young and old, and between tall and short.

Malkom Parrish and Deandre Baker are returning starters, and Parrish will be a senior who has started the past two seasons. Their only, uh, shortcoming: They’re short, or at least shorter than Kirby Smart and company would like.

That’s why they went out and signed five — yes, five — cornerbacks last week, all of whom are 6-foot or taller. Parrish, on the other hand, is listed at 5-10 (and when we write “listed” hopefully the skepticism is conveyed) while Baker is 5-11.

Smart, a safety listed at just under 6 feet, admitted last week: “I wouldn’t sign me, ever.”

He was laughing, but did not back down from his point.

“I do think longer DBs are the trend. Foot quickness becomes a problem with length. Can he move quick enough to cover quick, fast, receivers,” Smart said. “So many of the wide receivers we faced, and we struggled with, have length. When you play against length, you want a guy with length. Uniquely, we were able to get some guys that we thought had good length to help in this class. I think that’s a trend across the country.”

So Georgia’s future at cornerback will be with tall players. But what about 2017?

This series began with the safeties.

Now, let’s get to their defensive back brethren:

CORNERBACK

  • Returning starter: Malkom Parrish, Sr.
  • Others returning: Reggie Wilkerson, Sr.; Tyrique McGhee, Soph.; Mecole Hardman, Soph.; J.R. Reed, Soph.
  • Early enrollees: None, unless Richard LeCounte or DeAngelo Gibbs shift down from safety.
  • On the way: Tray Bishop, Fr.; William Poole, Fr.; Ameer Speed, Fr.; Latavious Brini, Fr.; Eric Stokes, Fr.
  • Analysis: Parrish may be small, but he also can tackle. He had 49 tackles last season, seventh on the team, more than Lorenzo Carter or Dominick Sanders, for instance. Parrish’s open-field tackling has always been a strength. If he were to lose his starting spot, and at this point it doesn’t seem likely, it would be because of coverage problems. He was beat on throws by taller receivers, and there’s not much he can do this offseason to grow a couple inches. He can work on his physicality before the ball is thrown, or the timing of his leaps. If there’s still a lot of concern about his one-on-one ability, then McGhee or one of the bigger freshmen could earn a shot. Hardman also might too, depending on whether he stays at cornerback and how he progresses there.
  • Bottom line: Parrish has had to earn the trust of his coaches ever since he arrived at Georgia, and has continued to do so. He’ll be the favorite to start again in 2017.

CORNERBACK

  • Returning starter: Deandre Baker, Jr.
  • Others returning: Aaron Davis, Sr.; Wilkerson, McGhee, Hardman, Reed.
  • Early enrollees: None.
  • On the way: Bishop, Poole, Speed, Brini, Stokes.
  • Analysis: Baker was one of the pleasant surprises of last year’s defense, taking the starting job during the Ole Miss debacle and never giving it up. Maybe the improvement of Georgia’s secondary during the season isn’t tied directly to Baker’s insertion into the lineup, but it did coincide with it. And yet he’ll still have reason to look over his shoulder this spring and fall, with not only McGhee, Hardman and the freshmen, but the possibility of Davis being shifted down. Davis, basically a three-year starter, could move down from safety if LeCounte or Gibbs earns a shot there. Wilkerson, due to graduate this summer, also could be a factor.
  • Bottom line: Baker’s experience will make it hard to sit him down, and we’d bet on him to also continue as the starter. But he can’t slip up much.

NICKEL BACK/STAR

  • Returning starter: None.
  • Others returning: Wilkerson, Davis, McGhee.
  • Early enrollees: LeCounte, Gibbs.
  • On the way: Bishop, Poole, Speed, Brini, Stokes.
  • Analysis: This is the biggest opening on Georgia’s defense this offseason. Well, the only one, really. Maurice Smith was only at Georgia one season, but he started every game at the star and was named a team captain. Now not only is he gone, but his top backup during the regular season, Rico McGraw, also has transferred. Wilkerson and Davis got looks both at the star and at the other spot when Georgia was in dime, so they could be looked at here. Otherwise, this spot may go to whichever young player emerges. McGhee or Hardman could get a look if they can’t beat out Parrish and Baker. And the two early enrollees, LeCounte and Gibbs, will get a look too if they don’t end up at safety.
  • Bottom line: This spot could be decided in the spring, with the main candidates already on campus. But Poole and Bishop, the highest-rated of the cornerbacks arriving in the summer, could end up being a factor too. The star position looks to be fairly wide open at this point.

Next: Outside linebackers.