Georgia’s secondary is going to look very different from what we saw during the 2020 season.
Richard LeCounte won’t be at safety. Georgia won’t have Eric Stokes or Tyson Campbell at corner. Tyrique Stevenson and Mark Webb are also gone.
Now Georgia has to replace its defensive backs coach in Charlton Warren, as he’s the new Indiana defensive coordinator.
But whoever takes over for Warren won’t exactly open up a barren cupboard. Georgia does bring back Lewis Cine and Chris Smith, two safeties with starting experience. The Bulldogs have also recruited very well in recent cycles, such as signing top-100 prospect Nyland Green in the 2021 recruiting cycle.
And then there’s Kelee Ringo. He’s the highest-rated defensive backs Kirby Smart has landed at Georgia, as he was the No. 4 overall player in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Ringo has the size — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds — and speed — he ran a 10.43 100-meter dash as a junior in high school — every college coach covets. It’s easy to see why he was one of the most hyped signees in Georgia’s 2020 class.
The defensive back from Tacoma, Wash., though never got the chance to validate that hype this past season. Ringo had surgery to repair a torn labrum before ever playing a down for Georgia this season. His freshman campaign was over before it ever began.
Georgia did at least get to see Ringo in uniform for the final game of the 2020 season against Cincinnati, as he did dress for the game though he did not register a snap.
In the run-up to the game against the Bearcats, defensive coordinator Dan Lanning gave an encouraging update on how Ringo did during his first season on campus.
“I’m really excited. Sometimes you worry about a guy that has an injury how mentally engaged are they going to be able to be throughout the season,” Lanning said. “It’s tough when you know you’re not going to play a game. I’ve been impressed with Kelee’s attention to detail, really picking up some schematic pieces of our defense.”
Ringo won’t be the only defensive back vying for a bigger role on the 2021 defense. Fellow 2021 signees Jalen Kimber and Daran Branch also earned praise from Lanning.
We mentioned Green earlier and he is another young cornerback prospect that has a chance to play early. He’s not quite the blazer that Ringo is but he’s just as physically gifted. Green was also on campus for bowl practices as an early enrollee for Georgia.
There might not be a more important early enrollee for Georgia than Green, given what Georgia must replace at cornerback.
It’s not a guarantee that Ringo lines up at cornerback next season, as his versatility could see him line up in the STAR position, a hybrid between a safety and a cornerback. This is where Stevenson played in each of the past two seasons, as Georgia wanted to get the most out of his athletic gifts.
The Bulldogs do bring back Latvious Brini, who got the start for an injured Webb at STAR in the Peach Bowl. Ringo won’t be gifted a starting job for Georgia at either spot. He’ll have to go out and win the right to start against Clemson to open the 2021 season.
Clemson’s wide receivers figure to present a tough challenge for the remade Georgia secondary. The Tigers will get wide receiver Justyn Ross back after he missed the entire 2020 season with a spinal cord injury. Clemson also has former top-100 prospects at the position in EJ Williams, Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata.
How the Georgia secondary slows those pass-catchers down will go a long way in determining the winner of that game. If the Clemson game is Ringo’s first foray into significant playing time in a Georgia uniform, he’ll need to be sharp from the start.
Ringo’s 5-star ranking makes it easy for him to build offseason hype. He’s not the only former 5-star Georgia defender looking to breakthrough in 2021, as Travon Walker and Nolan Smith will look to do the same.
Last season, Georgia saw former 5-star offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer really emerge over the course of the offseason. He was one of just two offensive linemen to start every game during the 2020 season and did a more than admirable job in replacing Andrew Thomas.
Ringo has a similar task in terms of replacing long-time starters in Stokes and Campbell at corner, or potential Webb at STAR.
Georgia was fortunate in that it didn’t need Ringo in 2020. But the Bulldogs do not have that luxury in 2021. If the Georgia secondary is going to play its part in Georgia’s championship quest, it needs Ringo to play a significant role.
And based on what others have said about the defensive back so far, it’s something he seems ready for.
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