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Next Man Up: Cornerback
One of the things that helped Dawgs fans back away from ledge and know everything would be OK in the wake of the National Championship Game loss to Alabama was the news that cornerback Deandre Baker would return for his senior season. Baker took on each opponent’s best receiver and proved himself to be a shutdown corner during the course of the 2017 campaign, something Georgia hasn’t boasted in ages.
But as good as Baker is, he can only cover half the field. As spring practice begins Tuesday, so will the competition for the No. 2 corner spot.
While Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker were able to hold on to Baker, Georgia has suffered some attrition at corner, as Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish have exhausted their eligibility. In their place come a group of first- and second-year players brought in by Smart to kick-start a Bulldogs secondary that has been middle of the road for far too long.
So we continue our series on the most important position battles of the offseason with a look at the No. 2 cornerback. While holdouts from the Mark Richt era still string the roster, cornerback is one position that has now been fully Kirby-fied. All four players I have in contention for the second cornerback job were signed by Smart. So while the issues with the secondary were only laid bare in the loss to Alabama, Smart has been at work revamping the secondary since he first stepped foot on campus, recruiting one of the most talented groups of defensive backs ever assembled in Athens. We’ll begin to see the fruit of that labor this season.
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In order, here are the players I think are most likely to win the No. 2 cornerback gig.
1. Tyrique McGhee — McGhee brings the most experience of any player competing for the job, which isn’t saying much. Last season, he was targeted by quarterbacks and beaten every now then, but he also made them pay for it every now and then. He’s smart and physical, but not as fast as you would like your top corners to be. If McGhee doesn’t start opposite Baker, expect him to play star and start in nickel packages as he did in 2017.
2. Tyson Campbell — It has been decades since Georgia has signed a player the likes of Campbell: a 5-star, blue-chip, shutdown corner out of South Florida. Campbell has every tool you want in a top corner — size, speed, quickness, good hips, intelligence. He’ll step onto campus this fall as the most naturally talented defensive back on the roster. Even if someone does separate himself from the pack this spring, he’ll still have to deal with Campbell in the fall. Campbell will be a starting cornerback at Georgia. It’s just a matter of how soon.
3. Mark Webb — Just to illustrate how pressing Smart believes Georgia’s need for corners is, last season he switched Webb — a player he described as “one of the most talented freshman receivers we had” — from offense to defense. And it seems Webb has used those receiver skills to excel in his new role. Fellow DB Richard LeCounte gave glowing reviews of Webb in January. Since he’s probably still learning the position, this season may be too early for Webb to take on a major role, but don’t rule him out. Either way, his relative newness in the secondary gives him a higher ceiling than most.
4. Ameer Speed — I don’t think you could find a better name for a cornerback than “Ameer Speed” if you tried. Ironically, Speed’s greatest asset is his size. At 6-foot-3, Speed has the length to match up with even the tallest of receivers, and he proved in limited action last season that he can keep up with his man and mix it up in coverage. That size also makes him ideal for playing nickel and covering tight ends on the interior. One way or another, Speed should earn plenty of minutes in 2018.
Other contenders — Deangelo Gibbs, William Poole III, Divaad Wilson, Nadab Joseph, Eric Stokes
Position battles … Right tackle | Inside linebacker | Guard
Lady Dogs to face Duke with Sweet 16 on line
The Lady Dogs are still dancing. Coach Joni Taylor and the Georgia women’s hoops team advanced into the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 with a 68-63 win over Mercer on Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum. The elder stateswomen led the way for Georgia against the Bears, as senior Mackenzie Engram and junior Caliya Robinson combined for 44 points and 26 rebounds in the win.
NextBill Norton’s pledge to UGA was in the works for quite some time