Rebuilt Georgia football secondary back under construction after more attrition

090322 Atlanta.: Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks with defensive back Tykee Smith (23) as they celebrate their 49-3 win against the Oregon Ducks in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Saturday, September 3, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS —Kirby Smart sounded as casual as possible about likely being without two former starters at the star position after Javon Bullard’s arrest on DUI charges.

But has anyone ever known Smart to panic?

“(Tykee Smith) can play there, Marcus Washington can play there,” Smart said at his Monday press conference. “Chris Smith has played there. Kamari Lassiter has played there.

“We cross-trained all camp. So, you know, we got all kinds of guys that can play the position as well.”

RELATED: Details emerge from Javon Bullard’s arrest on DUI charge

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs play at upset-minded Missouri at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday (TV: SEC Network) looking for answers in their rebuilt secondary.

Georgia entered the season having to replace first-round NFL pick Lewis Cine at safety and Orange Bowl MVP Derion Kendrick at cornerback.

Freshman Malaki Starks has stepped up to fill Cine’s shoes, while Lassiter has become the new starter opposite of Kelee Ringo.

The “star” position is somewhat of a hybrid position on defense in the sense that pass coverage skills are needed, but also, Smart looks for a physical enough player to be effective in run support.

Tykee Smith was an All-American at West Virginia two seasons ago playing the Mountaineers’ equivalent to the position, but his time at UGA has been checkered with injuries.

Smith, most recently, has been trying to come back from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last October during the week of practice after the Auburn game. Smith had missed the first five games on account of a foot injury.

Smith played 24 snaps at South Carolina, 16 against Samford Oregon, but didn’t play in the 39-22 win over Kent State last Saturday.

Smart seemed to indicate Smith, who was participating with a knee brace throughout fall camp, could be cleared to play at Missouri.

“I think Tykee does a good job, he’s physical, he’s tough at the point,” Smart said on Monday. “I don’t know that he’s 100 percent back but he’s been practicing really well.

“Like I told you a couple of weeks ago, he’s hit some high speeds and has done a good job. So he can play there.”

ESPN cited an advanced metric on Monday that ranked Georgia No. 81 in the nation in “passing success rate allowed” and 67th in the country in completion rate allowed.

The Bulldogs are also fifth in the SEC in both pass efficiency defense and third-down conversion defense.

Finding an adequate combination in the secondary — which could involve moving Chris Smith from a starting safety position or Lassiter from a starting corner spot — will be integral in the SEC East.

Kentucky (Will Levis), Florida (Anthony Richardson) and Tennessee (Hendon Hooker) all have quarterbacks recently ranked among the Top 10 at their position in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, per Mel Kiper Jr.

Ringo, who some have projected will grow into a safety or nickleback in the NFL, sounds confident Smart will find the right answer for the star position.

“Everybody works hard there, every single week,” Ringo said. “I feel like we have a good amount of people prepared to go in there just in case. I feel like we’ll be fine.”

Ringo noted the level of physicality at the position, as well.

“You have to be able to get to the ball in general, (and) you have to be physical in your alignment,” Ringo said. “You also play linebacker as well, so you have to be versatile in that position.”

Sixth-year senior William Poole was the other former starter at the position who is now unavailable.

Poole, who started against Alabama last season in the SEC Championship Game and again in the CFP Championship Team, publicly parted from the team last week.

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