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Richard LeCounte picked off two passes in the Sugar Bowl.

With Richard LeCounte returning, Kirby Smart might have his best secondary yet

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Richard LeCounte’s return should give Georgia football a great secondary in 2020

The defensive backfield has always been Kirby Smart’s forte. He played and stared as a safety at Georgia and rose to prominence under Nick Saban due first to his work with defensive backs.

When watching a Georgia practice, Smart is always engaged with the position and recruits point out how involved he is with the room.

And after this weekend, Smart is very much going to like working with what he’s got in the defensive back room for the 2020 class.

It starts with Richard LeCounte, who announced he was returning for his senior season. LeCounte — who was the first recruit to publicly commit to Smart after taking over the job — ended his junior campaign with perhaps his strongest game yet. He finished with two tackles and two interceptions.

Related: Georgia safety Richard LeCounte announces he’s returning for senior season

LeCounte will be the unquestioned senior leader on next season’s team. He’ll take over the role that will be vacated by J.R. Reed, as he heads off to the NFL. As for the onfield replacement for Reed, look for rising sophomore Lewis Cine to get the first crack at replacing him.

Cine did so in the Sugar Bowl and filled in admirably for the injured Reed. Against LSU, Cine also saw major playing time. He’ll face stiff competition from the likes of Otis Reese and Christopher Smith as well for next season.

At the cornerback position, Georgia is still waiting for a public decision from redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes. He did tweet a message of support with regard to LeCounte’s decision. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft is Jan. 20.

Obviously it would benefit Georgia if he were to return next season. But in the event that he does elect to try the NFL draft, Georgia does have two outside cornerbacks with starting experience. Both Tyson Campbell and D.J. Daniel have played meaningful reps in significant games for the Bulldogs.

While both have had their struggles at times, they’ve also shown flashes of brilliance as well. Campbell was slowed this season by an injury but did return to the lineup during Georgia’s November run and contribute, while Daniel handled himself well in his first year transitioning from the junior college ranks.

Georgia also has a wealth of options to employ at its star and money positions. Mark Webb, Tyriqure Stevenson and Divaad Wilson all return next season and all shined in different areas. Webb is the best run defender of the group, while Stevenson proved to be a weapon on third down. Wilson — who did not play in the Sugar Bowl — played well in Georgia’s big win over Notre Dame.

And all those names will be bolstered by what Georgia is bringing in for the 2020 recruiting class. Georgia signed Jalen Kimber, the No. 8 ranked cornerback per the 247Sports Composite rankings back in December. The Texas product will enroll at Georgia this week and will help the team during spring drills.

Then on Saturday, cornerback Kelee Ringo announced that he had committed and signed with Georgia. He’s the No. 1 ranked cornerback in the class and the No. 8 overall prospect in the country. He’s the highest-ranked defensive back prospect Georgia has signed since Smart took over.

Related: Nation’s No. 1 CB Kelee Ringo has made his college decision

Georgia also might not be done in the 2020 recruiting cycle either. Avantae Williams, a 4-star safety out of Florida, said at the Under Armour All-American Game that Georgia was in the running for his services. Williams is the No. 2 ranked safety and No. 55 overall prospect in the class. Ole Miss and Florida are also in the running for his services.

This time last year, we were wondering how Georgia was going to replace the nation’s top defensive back in Deandre Baker. Georgia responded by Reed becoming a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and finishing tied for second in the country in yards per attempts. Georgia also had to replace defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Mel Tucker as well.

In 2020, Georgia likely won’t have to deal with any staff turnover in the secondary, with Chalrton Warren heading into his second year on the job. In Georgia’s first year under Warren — as well as the watchful eye of Smart — Georgia was tied for second in yards per attempt allowed per pass. And that’s with Georgia facing the third-most pass attempts in the country over the course of the season.

Georgia will have to replace Reed, a three-year starter. And the Bulldogs likely want to improve on the 16 touchdown passes they gave up this season. Clemson and Ohio State each only gave up nine over 14 games. Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State all also forced had more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed. The Bulldogs only had eight interceptions this past season.

But Georgia has a wealth of experience, talent and depth in its secondary in 2020. And with one of the best defensive minds in Kirby Smart pulling the strings, Georgia figures to have maybe the best secondary in the country for 2020.

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