ATHENS – The media may have been surprised to see a true freshman working with the first team on an otherwise very experienced Georgia defense. His veteran teammates were not.
“If a guy’s ready to play, coach isn’t going to be hesitant,” fifth-year senior and outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “You guys saw that last year.”
Indeed, Deangelo Gibbs working at the nickel back spot on Thursday, during just his second college football practice – when he could still be in high school – shouldn’t be a huge shock. For one thing, Georgia needs a nickel back, the one vacant starting spot on defense.
For another, the Bulldogs liberally sprinkled their lineup with freshmen last year, playing a nation-leading 22 of them, including 19 in the season opener. The team says that was also the most in the nation for a season opener.
This doesn’t mean you can write in Gibbs as the new starter at nickel back. Not by any means. The Bulldogs appear to be trying a number of guys there, including fellow freshman Richard LeCounte, junior Tyrique McGhee and senior Malkom Parrish. But Gibbs is getting a shot, and as a highly-rated recruit out of Grayson High School, he’s as decent a bet as anybody.
“Deangelo has a great upside,” Bellamy said. “He’s a long kid. He understands the game, and he works really hard.”
Junior cornerback Deandre Baker described Gibbs (6-1, 200 pounds) as having good vision and I.Q.
“He’s a good talented kid,” Baker said. “He works hard every play. He gives us his all every play.”
Then there’s LeCounte, who’s slightly smaller (5-11, 180), but was a five-star prospect out of Liberty County. LeCounte had an interception during Thursday’s practice, when he knocked the ball away from tight end Jordan Davis.
“He’s got good instincts,” Baker said of LeCounte. “He’s a good ballplayer. He’s an athlete.”
Gibbs and LeCounte may ultimately be competing for one starting spot, the nickel back, but both will be given chances to be next in line at safety or one of the other cornerback spots. And they aren’t the only early enrollees who will get a long look this spring.
Receiver Jeremiah Holloman brings an enticing blend of size and skill. Inside linebacker Monty Rice will audition for a second-team role. Offensive tackle D’Marcus Hayes, a junior college transfer, could compete for a starting spot.
And of course there’s quarterback Jake Fromm, who had some rough throws during Thursday’s practice, but also hit on some deep balls while showing his mobility.
“He’s got a good tendency. He can read defenses quick,” Baker said. “He’s got a bright future also.”
The early enrollees are six of 26 signees – plus incoming kicker David Marvin – who were collectively the nation’s third-ranked class. They’re hyped, but so far they don’t appear to be meeting any resistance from their new teammates.
“We had a great recruiting class. And we’re trying to get those guys ready to play as soon as possible,” Bellamy said. “They’ve got great attitudes and they always want to work. And that’s a big thing for us. They’re all coming in with humble spirits, and they’re trying to get the gist of it.”