ATHENS – Kirby Smart, a bit of an undersized safety in his playing days, didn’t look at Otis Reese and see a linebacker, as many pegged. Smart, as he honed in getting a commitment from Reese, saw height, “contact toughness,” and speed. He saw a safety.
“We’ve had success, both coach (Mel) Tucker and myself, coaching big guys at safety,” Smart said. “So a lot of people list this guy at outside linebacker and inside linebacker. He’s the size that the safeties should be. He could grow into something else, but his first position is going to be safety, and we expect him to excel there.”
And thus Georgia’s top-ranked recruiting class, which already had four good defensive backs, gained a fifth one.
Tyson Campbell was the headliner, a five-star prospect who chose Georgia over Alabama and Miami on Wednesday. Georgia also signed Christopher Smith, Nadab Joseph and Divaad Wilson during the early signing period. Joseph was listed as a cornerback by UGA, while Smith, Wilson and Campbell were listed as defensive backs.
Georgia’s secondary was an area of concern heading into recruiting this cycle: Three starters (safety Dominick Sanders, versatile Aaron Davis and cornerback Malkom Parrish) are out of eligibility, the status of rising sophomore Deangelo Gibbs is in doubt, and it’s uncertain how good the other young players will be.
That made defensive back, and secondary specifically, one of the last boxes to be checked in this class, as Smart put it Wednesday.
“It’s an area that we felt like we could improve our team, and we were able to do it through recruiting,” Smart said.
Campbell could be a starter from the outset, if he is as good as advertised. Georgia has its best cornerback returning, rising senior Deandre Baker, but has openings at the other spot and nickel back.
“Tyson Campbell, what’s not to love?” Smart said, then mentioning the player’s character, the fact he came from a high school (American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) that has produced other Georgia stars, and a big player (6-foot-2 and 180 pounds) who is fast.
“I mean, the guy can fly, and he’s really competitive,” Smart said. “Obviously we know what the stature and the size bring, but more important than that on Tyson Campbell is his intangibles.”
There’s also at least one opening at safety, where Reese may not be an immediate favorite – but is an intriguing option at least for the long term.
Reese was a consensus four-star prospect, the No. 87 overall prospect in the country per 247Sports.com. He was rated the nation’s fifth-best outside linebacker by the same outlet, and the fourth-best outside linebacker by Rivals. But as a safety, which Reese played at Lee County High School, he helped his team to a state title this past season.
And Georgia will keep him at that position, at least in the short term.
“He brings a force. He brings some contact toughness,” Smart said. “He brings some size and stature to the safety position.”