ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart said last week in Birmingham that all the positions on defense were up for grabs except for one, or maybe two.
Pretty safe to say that J.R. Reed is that “one” who has a secure job going in.
Reed is unquestioned leader of the defense from his safety position.
Former Georgia quarterback turned analyst D.J. Shockley believes Reed and the secondary are of primary importance.
“The secondary for Georgia has to step up, they have to be a group that gets it done,” said Shockley, the MVP of the 2005 SEC Championship Game. “In this league, SEC offenses love to throw the football around, and you need some big-time corners and safeties, who can play man-to-man or zone coverages.
“The leader is J.R. Reed, so glad to have him back for his senior season, because of the experience he brings and his knowledge of this defense, he will keep everyone in line.”
Smart, who tutors the secondary daily along with Charlton Warren, has said he expects UGA to be more complex on defense.
“I think we have the potential to have a very fast secondary,” Smart said this spring. “We do have some speed back there.
“It’s very unique that we have depth and we’re able to move people around and try to figure out the best parts.”
Shockley indicated that puts more pressure on junior Richard LeCounte to improve his consistency alongside Reed at the other safety position.
“Richard LeCounte is a guy who has been up and down throughout his career,” Shockley said. “If Georgia’s defense (is) to take the next step, Richard LeCounte must take the next step, as well.”
LeCounte led the Bulldogs in tackles, but his missed open-field tackles and inability to take down bigger, stronger players was at times glaring.
The Bulldogs lost the top cornerback in the nation in Deandre Baker, the Thorpe Award winner and the first CB selected in the NFL draft.
Shockley believes sophomores Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell are the leading candidates to replace Baker.
“Tyson Campbell was a big, kind of physical guy on the outside, has the size of a Deandre Baker,” Shockley said. “He was up and down as well last season, but expect some growth from him from year one to year two.”
While Shockley didn’t mention freshman cornerback Tyrique Stevenson directly, he did reference the size and depth Smart has recruited on the corner as well as the physicality at safety.
“This is a defense that’s built around big, physical corners,” Shockley said, “and safeties that will come down in the box and hit you.
“Kirby loves to bring pressure with these guys and they must be able to hold up on the back end.”
Indeed, Smart has said repeatedly Georgia will bring more pressure to create “havoc” plays, such as sacks, forced fumbles and turnovers.
Reed figures to be ready, but Shockley said the rest of the secondary must also step up.
“This is a secondary that’s led by J.R. Reed,” be said, “but the supporting cast must do their part as well.”
D.J. Shockley breaks down secondary
It’s DJ time!
We know @Jr_Reed1 is the leader of the @FootballUGA secondary. But who does @DjShockley3 think will step up in 2019?
Catch @WSBbulldogs at 10am on @wsbtv. DJ talks about the strength of the UGA schedule. pic.twitter.com/rCmTY6PAKl
— Bulldogs Game Day (@WSBbulldogs) July 27, 2019