ATHENS – This time of year, veterans like Dominick Sanders might as well have “coach” in front of their name. That’s what they are as much as anything. They spend way more time instructing than they do learning new things during Georgia’s spring practices.
The Bulldogs are blessed to have a wealth of experience in the secondary this season, especially at the two safety positions where Sanders and Aaron Davis roam. But that unit is relatively light on depth overall, which is where on-field instruction is so important.
Early enrollees Deangelo Gibbs and Richard LeCounte are learning that firsthand. Both of them came to Georgia to fill depth voids at the safety and nickelback positions. Both already have gotten reps with the No. 1 defense.
“The two DBs, Richard LeCounte and Deangelo Gibbs, they were really big pickups to get midyear because we lost transfers midyear,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said last week. “We’re kind of at a deficit at DB. We’ve got a little bit of a gap. We’re older at a lot of places, A.D. (Aaron Davis) and Malkom (Parrish) and Dom are back there and have been around a long time. But these two guys have helped give us depth and they’re learning quickly. They have to. They’re important.”
Barring injury, Georgia appears fairly set in the secondary. Parrish and Deandre Baker are back to man the cornerback positions and Sanders and Davis have good command of the safety spots. But thanks to the graduation of Maurice Smith, who played the all-important nickel position — also known as “star” — and the transfers of Juwuan Briscoe and Reggie Wilkerson, depth issues have gone from concerning to problematic.
The Bulldogs addressed it head on in recruiting. In addition to early enrollees Gibbs and LeCounte, Georgia signed five other defensive backs – Detravion Bishop of Dawson, Latavious Brini of Miami, William Poole of Atlanta, Ameer Speed of Jacksonville and Eric Stokes of Covington.
All those guys should help Georgia down the road, but the Bulldogs need some help right away. For that, they are turning to elite recruits LeCounte and Gibbs, not only because they were highly-touted, but simply because they are here.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and the rest of the Bulldogs’ defensive staff are doing everything in their power to get the young pups ready. But the additional instruction the freshmen get from their backfield mates is not only helpful, it’s necessary.
“We do as much as we can to help them,” said Davis, a former walk-on who has started 30 games since redshirting his first season. “We want guys out there to be able to develop fast. So we do as much as we can. We help them in the film room, by staying extra out there on the field and coaching them up, remind them of their assignments if they ever slip up.”
Both LeCounte and Gibbs are cross-training between the two positions, safety and nickel, so there’s a lot to learn. Each player spent a lot of time playing on the offensive side of the ball in high school and utilized only basic concepts on defense, so there’s a lot to take in.
Sanders and Davis have been there themselves and they know exactly what their freshmen teammates are going through. But they’ve been impressed with what they’ve seen.
“The young guys are showing a lot of improvement. … They’ve been standing out,” said Sanders, a senior who has started all but one game in his decorated career with the Bulldogs. “The good thing is those early enrollees are pretty much getting the playbook down. They’ve got more studying to do, but the main thing I tell those young guys to just fly around and try to make plays.”
Said Davis: “I really like their competitiveness. Being able to take the install and the things they do know, execute it well, and do it fast.”