ATHENS — When Georgia’s secondary lined up at practice this week, the starting unit looked the same, but when they left the familiarity ended: New faces at safety, nickelback, and cornerback.
“Guys are ready to compete and try to win some roles,” safety Aaron Davis marveled.
That’s a quote you don’t usually hear this late in the season. But with recent events, and perhaps some future uncertainty, Georgia’s secondary has become an area of intrigue.
Two notable players already have transferred: Juwuan Briscoe, who started the first four games at cornerback before losing his spot, and Rico McGraw, who was the first-team nickelback until two days before the season opener. A third, reserve safety Kirby Choates, hasn’t been practicing because of academic issues and may be on the way out too.
Those are backups. But whither the starters? Safety Dominick Sanders, who was non-committal on his plans last month, wasn’t among the four players brought in front of the media Thursday to announce they’re returning. That doesn’t mean Sanders will leave, but until he says for sure, you never know.
And Davis, who has started 29 games over the last three years, told Dawgs247.com on Saturday night that he’s not absolutely sure he’s returning. (Davis, who came to school as a walk-on, graduated this week.)
One starter, nickelback Maurice (Mo) Smith, and one part-time starter, safety Quincy Mauger, are seniors on their way out.
Plus, Georgia is about to face a TCU that will spread it out and throw, meaning even more defensive backs may be needed than usual.
That’s one reason that Rashad Roundtree, a sophomore who had been at inside linebacker, was moved back this week to safety, the position he began at this season.
“We feel like that’s probably where he’s going to be permanently,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “And with Tae (Crowder) being at linebacker, Tae’s been doing a good job, we feel like we can move Rashad to safety and DB. We’re probably going to need more DBs this game because of the style of play TCU has.”
Georgia’s starting lineup for the bowl won’t change, barring an injury or something unforeseen. But it’s not too early to look at how it could shake out next year, especially with talented recruits like Richard LeCounte on the way.
But first, a few holdovers will have their say. First in line appears to be freshman Tyrique McGhee, who hasn’t played much but has been impressive in practice, at cornerback and nickelback.
“He’s developed at the nickel, star position that Mo plays, that’s really where he’s grown the most,” Smart said. “He continues to work hard. You talk about a special teams guy that’s been a demon, he’s really been a good special teams player. He’s a good tackler.”
“Tyrique, he’s pretty much been the competitive guy he’s been since Day 1,” Davis said.
Then there’s Mecole Hardman, the freshman who came in with more hype, but he didn’t play much cornerback in high school.
“Mecole has had a tougher transition because he’s playing a position he didn’t play all his life,” Smart said. “He’s getting better. He’s shown improvement. But he’s got to continue to work at that. He grinds every day. I’m really proud of the way he works.”
It all adds up to the secondary being very interesting to watch this spring.
But it is already, if you’re watching Georgia’s bowl practice.
“We have guys out there who are hungry and ready to make some plays,” Davis said. “We’ve seen it during the season, and even more this week.”