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UGA is working to find a replacement for cornerback Deandre Baker, who became the Jim Thorpe Award winner in his senior season with the Bulldogs last year.

No shortage of options for UGA in quest to replace Deandre Baker

Brandon Adams

Georgia football fans crave a national championship, and this season might be the year their wait comes to an end. However, the first step toward making that happen is for UGA coach Kirby Smart to lead the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East title. With that in mind, DawgNation is proud to present — in partnership with Georgia’s Own Credit Union — the “Own the East” series. A season preview content series focused on what it will take for UGA to dominate the division once again, and possibly return to the College Football Playoff.

For the second-straight year, Georgia finds itself in the position of replacing a national award winner from its defense. Last year the Bulldogs were tasked with rebuilding the linebacking corp after Roquan Smith — the 2017 Butkus Award winner — departed for the NFL, and this year it’ll be the secondary’s turn to figure out how to do without Deandre Baker, the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award last season.

In the latest installment of DawgNation’s Own the East season preview video series (linked above), former UGA All-American Jon Stinchcomb speaks frankly about the challenge facing the Bulldogs in regards to doing without one of last year’s top defensive playmakers.

“It’s tough to replace a Thorpe-winning cornerback who you’ve been able to rely on for a couple of years and know you’ve eliminated one of the best wide receivers of the opponent you’re facing,” Stinchcomb said.

That ability to shut down a side of the field was truly a luxury UGA got used to enjoying during Baker’s career with the Bulldogs, and while the Bulldogs might not have a player of Baker’s caliber returning this season, there is confidence that UGA’s defensive backs could still be among the team’s strengths.

Stinchcomb credits recruiting for that.

“I think it’s partly because UGA keeps the cupboard more full [now] than what we had been accustomed to,” Stinchcomb said. “You don’t have that dropoff from The Guy to ‘what do we have left?’ There’s a ton of talent in Athens — secondary is no exception.”

Some of that talent is young. Freshman cornerback Tyrique Stevenson was a top recruit for the 2019 class, and could be a major contributor, but there are typically growing pains associated with being a freshman.

Sophomore Tyson Campbell knows all about that. Campbell was a starter for most of last season, before being replaced in the lineup eventually by Eric Stokes.

Stinchcomb is impressed with what Stokes has to offer.

“Eric Stokes was really starting to come into his own [last season],” Stinchcomb said. “You can see why there’s confidence from this defensive staff [in him] , and the rest of the defense of relying on him to step into that role.”

“That role” Stinchcomb references is the one occupied by Baker last season — and it’s about more than just being the top player in the unit.

It’s also about leadership, and being a catalyst for contributing to the kinds of so-called “havoc” plays Smart has said he wants his defense to be defined by this season.

Of course, Stokes won’t have to go it alone. The Bulldogs also have a crop of experienced safeties in J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte. Newcomers D.J. Daniel — a junior college transfer in competition to start at cornerback — and freshman safety Lewis Cine are expected to be in the mix as well.

In other words, Baker’s absence raises a big question about how effectively he’ll be replaced. Yet there’s no shortage of intriguing answers for the Bulldogs this season.

Previous Own the East season preview stories:

Heisman candidates Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift could be UGA championship catalyst

Don’t count out Brian Herrien in battle to become UGA’s next 1,000-yard rusher

Richard LeCounte is arguably one of college football’s most underrated players

Fans have high hopes for UGA’s latest collection of elite recruits

Combination of returning talent, touted newcomers should improve UGA’s ‘Havoc Rate’

Jake Fromm working to gain chemistry with new WRs

UGA’s lauded offensive line still has areas in which it can improve

Zamir White, already part of ‘RBU’ family, could soon add to its legacy

QB depth could be crucial component of UGA’s championship chase

UGA’s No. 1-rated 2018 class still offers potential breakout stars

Former UGA great doesn’t see realistic threat to Bulldogs in SEC East

New UGA coordinators could be ‘source of excitement’ for Bulldogs