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AJ Harris commitment continues strong run of defensive back recruiting for Georgia football
Earlier in the spring, Georgia coach Kirby Smart aired some of his frustration about the Georgia defensive backfield. It had nothing to do with the talent in the room, but just the actual number of available players.
Consider that Georgia had just four scholarship cornerbacks available for spring practice. When Kamari Lassiter missed the spring game with a stomach bug, it forced Georgia to move starting star William Poole into the cornerback spot.
“We have never in seven years been this thin. Ever been this thin,” Smart said. “You can point a finger and blame anywhere you want, but it’s the life of a college football coach now. You don’t have depth. You don’t have it anywhere. It’s easy to leave and go places. Those guys are a little higher maintenance in terms of thinking of themselves.
“They expect to play right away and go. It’s certainly a position of concern for us in terms of recruiting and development as a skill position.”
Depth in the secondary has been a problem for a few years now for Georgia. It started after the 2020 season when the Bulldogs saw five defenders depart school for the NFL. Then Tyrique Stevenson and Major Burns transferred elsewhere, while Daran Branch left the team.
The following offseason had Lewis Cine and Derion Kendrick head to the NFL and another four defensive backs transferred elsewhere. That level of attrition is nearly unsustainable.
Perhaps that is why Georgia has recruited the defensive back position so vigorously in the past two recruiting cycles. For 2023, Georgia holds commitments from 5-star cornerback AJ Harris and 4-star cornerback Justyn Rhett. Georgia is nowhere close to being done, as it hopes to add multiple safety prospects — such as Caleb Downs and Joenel Aguerro — and at least one and possibly more cornerback prospects. Names to watch there include Chris Peal, Daniel Harris and Tony Mitchell.
Related: Joenel Aguero: 5-star safety is in the final stretch of his recruiting at UGA this weekend
That comes after a 2022 signing haul that saw Georgia bring in six defensive backs. All of them are rated as four-star prospects or better, with five of them ranking among the top 150 overall prospects in the class.
Daylen Everette, Jaheim Singletary, Julian Humphrey and Marcus Washington Jr. will bring some much-needed depth at the cornerback position. Everette was the only one in the group to go through spring drills, with Washington actually reclassifying from the 2023 class to get to Georgia this summer.
At safety, Malaki Starks and JaCorey Thomas help add talent to the room. Consider that Georgia started walk-on Dan Jackson during G-Day at the safety spot opposite Chris Smith. Starks and Thomas might not be starting against Oregon for Georgia, but there’s very little depth in front of them, with David Daniel-Sisavanh being the biggest name to know. Javon Bullard could help as well, though he is seen as more of an option at the star position.
It’s likely that the coaching turnover at this position has something to do with the revolving door in the secondary as well. Chris Smith will be playing for his fourth different defensive back coach this season, as the 2018 signee previously played for Mel Tucker, Charlton Warren and Jahmile Addae.
In 2022, Georgia will have Fran Brown and Will Muschamp working with the secondary. Brown is set to spend more time working the corners, while Muschamp has been seen working with the safeties while also holding co-defensive coordinator duties.
Those two names though are key reasons why Georgia has been able to continue to add talent to the room. Muschamp was instrumental in a number of 2022 recruiting battles, including the likes of Everette, Singletary and Humphrey.
Brown meanwhile made the difference for Georgia in landing Harris. Despite never coaching in the SEC prior to arriving at Georgia, Brown has quickly shown he has what it takes to recruit with the big boys in this league.
“I believe in his vision, he has a vision for me,” Harris recently told DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell. “We sat down and talked about the vision multiple times. I definitely believe in it.”
Related: AJ Harris: Why the 5-star commit wants Caleb Downs, Arch Manning, Joenel Aguero and Justice Haynes to join him in Athens
This is where we should also note that Smart is still very involved with the defensive backfield. At practices, he can often be seen coaching up the unit and being vocal with its members. Before he was Georgia’s coach it is worth remembering he was an All-SEC defensive back for the Bulldogs and one of the best defensive minds in the sport when he was at Alabama.
The Bulldogs are now also at a point where they can really lean on their NFL draft success to help them in terms of recruiting. Georgia has had a defensive back taken in the first round of each of the past two drafts in Cine and Stokes. When you put 15 players in the NFL draft, some of them are bound to come from the secondary.