ATHENS — The relationship between former Georgia safety Kirby Smart and current Georgia safety Richard LeCounte remains an intriguing one.
LeCounte, a sophomore from Liberty County, was asked after practice Tuesday if he’d ever been “shown love” by somebody on the team the way freshman Brenton Cox was during this past Saturday’s game.
“Yeah, and he wears a red (visor) out there at practice,” LeCounte said referring to the Bulldogs’ current head coach. “I get shown plenty of love.”
LeCounte is getting a whole lot of “love” in practice this week as the Bulldogs prepare for Missouri. Smart’s criticism and praise of LeCounte have both been intense ever since the season commenced with preseason camp. This week, LeCounte will undergo the biggest test of his young Georgia career on Saturday in Columbia, Mo. He — and fellow safety J.R. Reed — will be charged with making sure Hall and the Tigers’ other deep-threat wideouts don’t get behind them.
The reviews so far are favorable.
“Richard played a really good game against South Carolina; he played an OK game last week,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He continues to grow. I think he’s gaining confidence in the system. Our defense requires a lot of calls for the safeties to make and he’s gotten better command of that. I see him in here a lot meeting and watching tape. He’s growing up.”
Hall, who is averaging 143 yards receiving a game, has been dealing with hamstring, hip and groin injuries in recent weeks and was sidelined for much of the Purdue game this past Saturday. But while he played a limited role, he finished with four catches for 88 yards and made a key catch in the Tigers’ final drive for the winning field goal of a 40-37 victory.
Hall was able to practice Tuesday in Columbia and said he’ll definitely play against the Bulldogs.
“I feel great,” he told reporters. “I’m good.”
Last year, the Bulldogs’ didn’t do a very good job on Hall when he came to Sanford Stadium. Hall gashed the Georgia secondary for a pair of 63-yard touchdown receptions. But those were just the ones he caught. Erased from most everyone’s memory are the two other occasions when Hall was running free deep in the Georgia secondary but quarterback Drew Lock couldn’t connect with him. He finished with four catches for 141 yards.
That was with veteran free safety Dominick Sanders manning the deep third. Now it is the first-year LeCounte taking on that responsibility.
“I watched that a few times, reviewing last year’s tape and watching this year’s tape,” said LeCounte, who started one game last season and all three this year. “He’s a real fast guy. We know we’re playing a great team and have really got to hone in and focus on everything we need to do.”
LeCounte won’t be alone. He and Reed will both have deep-ball responsibilities on Saturday. But Missouri is also running the ball with more authority this season, and most of the run fits fall to Reed.
LeCounte’s specialty is manning the center of the field and following the ball wherever it goes.
“Stay deep and protect the defense in front of you,” LeCounte said of his marching orders. “I’m the last line of defense back there. So, whenever I can stay deep and chase the ball down, that’s something I enjoy doing. I take pride in that.”
LeCounte’s affinity for that exercise has been on display already this season. Twice, he managed to catch footballs thrown by South Carolina’s Jake Bentley. However, each time he landed out of bounds. He was so close one time that it required instant replay to determine that the tip of his shoe was in the boundary chalk.
So LeCounte will arrive in Columbia still seeking his first career interception. Seeing how Missouri’s Drew Lock has attempted an average of 37 passes a game while playing less that three quarters a contest, odds are high LeCounte or some other Bulldogs could get their hands on a couple of balls on Saturday.
But LeCounte was quick to interject that he is not obsessed about getting that first pick.
“Me mentality is to do my job first,” LeCounte said. “I’m listening to my coaches, who are telling me if I do my job everything will come to me as far as doing what I need to do and what is in the game plan. Making the team better is what I do. If interceptions come they come.”
Reed had one pick against South Carolina and so did cornerback Deandre Baker, who now has the team lead with two. But they’re both rooting for LeCounte to finally get his hands on one inbounds. And they believe his time will be soon in coming.
“Richard’s like a little brother to me, so I’m always pushing him to be better and telling him good isn’t good enough,” said Reed, who was victimized on one of Hall’s scores last season. “I’ve just got to keep pushing him. The more and more and more he gets better the more the team gets better and the better I feel.”