ATHENS -- During a drill at Georgias football practice this week, the second-team defenders took a knee to watch. The players sitting next to each other and watching were Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson, Ramik Wilson, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson.
In a few months, that group wont be watching much anymore.
One of the keys to next years defense might end up being the performance of players who have already been in the program but have yet to play much, if at all.
Wilson, who has been waiting two years at linebacker, said people shouldnt expect a drop-off with next years defense.
Its probably gonna be a little bit better, he said. Because some dudes out there thatve been waiting, were hungry. Were ready to go out and make plays. Weve been sitting and watching these guys for awhile now. So were ready to let the dogs off the leash.
Georgia has recruited well on defense the past two years, but many of those players were blocked for playing time by Bulldogs who are set to leave the program. If linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree leave as expected, and if nose tackle Kwame Geathers also departs, there will be just four starters returning: cornerback Damian Swann, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and defensive end Garrison Smith.
Filling in the gaps next year will be former four-star recruits -- and, in one case, a five-star -- who have only shown their wares in practice.
Harvey-Clemons is the highest-rated recruit. The Valdosta native seems destined to play somewhere, as long as he can find a position. He signed as an outside linebacker, then moved to safety when he arrived, and recently played some inside linebacker in practice.
The freshman confessed the other night he still doesnt know where hell end up.
Its really knowing what position Im gonna play and then learning that position, Harvey-Clemons said. Because basically Im going to be in the same spot as the freshmen next year when they come in, because Ill be learning a new position. But its a great opportunity.
Cormerback Sheldon Dawson continues to get raves from teammates. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who himself spent time at cornerback this season, said Dawson just has it.
I expect to see a lot of playing time, Dawson said. But Ive gotta keep progressing. Ive gotta keep getting better. Because if I lay down and just come in and say, Well, Ive been here, Ive got experience, Im gonna play, then Ill be dead wrong.
Safety Corey Moore, who will be a junior, was the first person that Wilson mentioned when asked about a player to watch next year.
Hes a baller, Wilson said. Hes got some great guys in front of him, in Rambo and Shawn. But, in practice, hes a baller.
Wilson, who will be a junior, could also be a factor. But like Harvey-Clemons, its a matter of where hell play. Wilson has shuttled between inside and outside linebacker and professes a good comfort level at both spots.
Im waiting on them to make their final decision, Wilson said. Im doing pretty equal at both, and Im doing pretty good. They just cant make their mind up.
There are other candidates at linebacker. Josh Dawson and James DeLoach didnt break through the way Jenkins, their fellow freshman, did, but they are likely to see time in 2013.
I think itll be a good battle for the other side, Jenkins said, alluding to the spot expected to be vacated by Jones.
Finally, theres the nose tackle spot. Its Geathers to lose if he stays, but if he leaves, John Taylor is first in line. The freshman sat out this year, but Jenkins calls him a sleeper.
Hes country strong. Big as crap, Jenkins said. I think if he works on his technique over this offseason, I think hell be a great asset inside.
Wilson used the country strong term also to describe Taylor.
Everybody doesnt know how hes so strong, Wilson said. He never gets pushed back. Hes always going full. Even if he messes up, hes doing good.
Head coach Mark Richt said he expects next years defense to be athletic and physical. The big concern is how quickly it will build chemistry.
We had that situation offensively (this year) to a certain degree, and those guys exceeded everybodys expectation, Richt said. So itll be the defenses turn to have all the questions about can they possibly be good enough to help us win the SEC.