Would you like to receive DawgNation news alerts? Excellent! News alerts will be displayed in your browser.
Steffenie burns/UGAAA
Georgia coach Kirby Smart is the head coach of Georgia.

Even having to replace Deandre Baker, Georgia football secondary could be better in 2019

Welcome to Good Day, UGA, your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes. Check us out every weekday morning for everything you need to know about Georgia football, recruiting, basketball and more.

Georgia football secondary could be even better in 2019

Georgia football has to replace college football’s best defensive back from 2018 in Deandre Baker. It will also be doing so with a new defensive backs coach, as Mel Tucker Georgia’s former defensive coordinator is now the head coach at Colorado. Dan Lanning is Georgia’s new defensive coordinator, with Charlton Warren becoming the new defensive backs coach.

But despite the high-profile departures from the Georgia defensive backfield, Georgia coach Kirby Smart might have his best secondary since his arrival in Athens.

Replacing a talent like Baker won’t be easy. The 2018 Jim Thorpe Award Winner didn’t surrender a touchdown in his final two seasons in Athens.  He was the closest thing to an absolute lock down cornerback in college football last season. The Bulldogs learned how hard it is to replace a defensive stalwart in 2018, as the linebacker play fell off without Roquan Smith.

But if you listen to what Smart had to say this past week, there are a number of reasons to be excited about the up-and-comers who could possibly replace Baker at cornerback.

“What’s good about the corner position is we’ve got some guys coming along,” Smart said. “D.J. Daniel, which we knew in bowl practice that he was going to be a good player because he was covering the likes of the ones who were at the combine. So we knew we had a pretty good player with D.J.  Tyson (Campbell) has improved, he understands the defense better. He’s bright. He’s doing some good things out there. (Eric) Stokes is doing some good things. Even Tyrique Stevenson has picked some things up. So we’ve got some good competition at the cornerback position.”

All that talent is just at the cornerback position. That doesn’t even factor in that both of Georgia’s 2018 starting safeties in Richard LeCounte and JR Reed both return, as does Tyrique McGhee, who occupies Georgia’s star position.

The excitement over the young talent makes sense. In the past three recruiting cycles, the Bulldogs have signed five defensive backs who ranked as top-50 players in the country. The Bulldogs did see Deangelo Gibbs transfer from Georgia, but it has also seen lower-rated additions like Stokes and Reed blossom as well.

Related: Georgia defensive back shares funny story on iconic Nick Chubb photo

But there’s also a mix of experience as well. Georgia brings back five players who started multiple games in the secondary in 2018. And that’s before factoring in guys who still earned valuable playing time like Mark Webb, Otis Reese and Wilson.

It was a young group last season even with a senior in Baker. LeCounte was a first-time starter, while Campbell, Stokes and Reese were all freshmen, though Stokes was a redshirt freshman. As Smart explains that group of defensive backs — even beyond the cornerbacks  —  is maturing and improving very quickly.

“Nothing to do with coach (Mel) Tucker, it was tough,” Smart said. “We had some young guys in the secondary, a lot of young guys. Where now, I feel like we have a group back there that is emerging with some personality. Divaad (Wilson), that bowl game worked wonders for him. He’s playing good. Mark Webb, he’s in a year where he understands things. J.R. (Reed), Richard (LeCounte) at safety, Otis (Reese), we just have more competition so I think that allows us to create more havoc.”

As SBNation’s Bill Connelly points out, the defensive backfield is one of the most important spots when it comes to having returning experience. Georgia has a good mixture of returning depth and promising young players with room to grow. And that could be key as Georgia aims to win a national championship in 2019.

Related: Eric Stokes reveals the fastest Georgia football players 

Smart is regarded as one of the best defensive back coaches in all of college football, stemming from his work with Saban. The Bulldogs have always had a strong pass defense under Smart, as the Georgia has finished in the top 20 in pass defense in each of Smart’s three seasons at Georgia. But this year offers the promise of going from a good secondary to the best secondary in college football.

Your secondary doesn’t get drastically better when you have to replace a talent like Baker, and a coach as respected as Tucker. But the collective sum of Georgia defense backs plus the combination of Warren, Lanning and Smart working together, it’s easy to see how the Georgia secondary could go from the No. 12 pass defense in 2018 to the No. 1 pass defense in 2019.

Kevin Kisner gives Georgia another win over Georgia Tech, wins WGC match play

In the match play final of the Dell Technologies World Golf Championship, a former Georgia Bulldog, Kevin Kisner, played a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, Matt Kuchar. And just like on the football field, it was the Bulldog who came out on top.

Kisner beat Kuchar 3&2 in the final round of the event on Sunday to pick a $1.745 million win. Kisner had to beat 2018 British Open champion Francisco Molunari in the semifinals earlier on Sunday. On his way to the match play title, Kisner beat Louis Oosthuizen, Haotong Li, Ian Poulter, Keith Mitchell and Tony Finau.

With the win, Kisner becomes the second Bulldog to win in the month of March, as Mitchell won the Honda Classic earlier in the month. This is the third win of Kisner’s career and his first since 2017.

Kisner will be one of three Bulldogs playing in the Masters next month, as he will join Mitchell and Bubba Watson. Kisner had previously qualified for the tournament based on his second place finish at the 2018 British Open. Kisner finished tied for 28th at the 2018 Masters. The 2019 Masters start on April 11 and finish on April 14.

Best Georgia football stories from around DawgNation

Dawgs on Twitter

Good Dawg of the Day