ATHENS — This is the dead period in the college football world. Signing day has come and gone, and spring practice – at least at Georgia — is still a month away. Dead, things are.
So let’s liven them up a bit. If, by lively, you mean a daily deep dive into the depth chart. No skirting around here. This will be thorough, people.
Over the next four weeks, in the lead-up to the beginning of Georgia’s spring practice, esteemed colleague Chip Towers and I will take a look at each position on the football team. An in-depth analysis of the depth chart, as it were.
So let’s get right to it. The series will start with the cornerbacks, which may seem an odd place to start, but trust us that in the end the order will make sense. And if not, too bad, it’s our series.
Seriously, hope you enjoy it. Here we go:
- Returning starter: Aaron Davis, Jr.
- Others returning: Juwuan Briscoe, So.; Deandre Baker, So.; Reggie Wilkerson, Jr.; Shattle Fenteng, Sr.
- Early enrollees: Chad Clay, Fr.
- On the way: Mecole Hardman, Fr.; Tyrique McGhee, Fr.
- Analysis: Mel Tucker, the new secondary coach and defensive coordinator, inherits a pretty good situation. Every starter is back, with the exception of safety Johnathan Abram, who left before the bowl. The cupboard was full enough that Georgia signed only three defensive backs (counting Hardman, who officially is listed as an “athlete,” meaning he could play on either side of the ball), and all three are likely ticketed for cornerback. Still, the corners should be an interesting watch in the spring, particularly this spot. Do Tucker and Kirby Smart think as much of Davis, the former walk-on who started eight games last year? Do they push to see if Briscoe or one of the other younger players is ready to start? Does the change in coaches re-ignite the career of Fenteng, the once-promising but now forgotten fifth-year player?
- Bottom line: This is close to wide open. Davis enters with the slight edge because of his experience, but he’ll have to play very well to hold off the pack, namely Briscoe, and possibly also Rico McGraw. (More on him in a second.) Plus Hardman and McGhee – but especially Hardman – enter the equation this summer. Clay, who was a 3-star recruit, will try to get a leg up this spring. The other thing we don’t know is whether the new staff will want to pick starters and roll with them, or go on a week-to-week basis, as Jeremy Pruitt did.
- Returning starter: Malkom Parrish, So.
- Others returning: Rico McGraw, So.
- Analysis: Parrish had a very impressive sophomore season, especially with his tackling. His 6.5 tackles-for-loss were behind only Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. He was also generally solid in coverage, especially for a time-year starter. McGraw also started five games, but it was mostly at the star. When you wonder what the new staff will think of these guys, remember that there was some overlap between Alabama and Pruitt’s recruiting – especially McGraw, who was committed to the Crimson Tide for awhile.
- Bottom line: You never know, the new staff might not like Parrish’s size, but his performance last year makes him a solid favorite to start again. But McGraw is good enough to push for the other cornerback spot, or …
STAR (NICKEL BACK)
- Returning starter: McGraw.
- Others returning: Quincy Mauger, Sr.; Wilkerson.
- Analysis: McGraw didn’t actually start the final four games of last season because Georgia didn’t open in a nickel package those games. So, technically, McGraw’s last start was against Auburn. But whenever Georgia switched to the 4-2-5 during games it tended to be McGraw at that spot. Mauger and Leonard Floyd also saw action there. However, the change in coaching staffs could re-align the thinking on this position. Parrish, because of his tackling ability, is probably the most natural fit, but you probably don’t want to move him away from his regular starting spot. McGraw might be good enough for there to be a similar thinking. So what happens here depends heavily on what happens at the other cornerback spots – and also on how much Smart intends to use a 4-2-5.
- Bottom line: The ideal scenario is a sort of super-utility guy who is athletic enough to be a defensive back but big enough to also be an extra linebacker. McGraw (6-foot, 192 pounds) is bigger than most of the other defensive backs, but not by much. Don’t rule out Smart taking a look at one of the athletic linebackers for this role, including the 6-3, 224-pound D’Andre Walker (who blocked a punt last year) or Chuks Amaechi (6-3, 230).