As we begin previewing the 2013 football season, we are counting down Georgia's 10 most important players. This is not a ranking of the team's best players, rather a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
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And now ...
7. Tray Matthews
WHY HE’S VITAL: Because a solid debut season from Matthews will mean good things for the young Georgia secondary. The team has other options at free safety. But the best one is Matthews, as long as he plays in games the way he did in practices and scrimmages this spring. Matthews made an impression with his tackling, and the ferocity of his hits. Now he needs to show at least some of the ball-hawking abilities of his predecessor, Bacarri Rambo, and more importantly he needs to be solid fundamentally, helping the secondary avoid big plays. If Matthews struggles, it’s hard to see his replacement being better. If he makes mistakes, they will result in big plays. But if he keeps the freshman mistakes to a minimum, or even has an outstanding season, it will go a long way towards making the Georgia defense as good as it things it can be.
QUOTABLE: “Covering-wise he’s really athletic. He’s a good tackler in space. He has the range and the skill set to be a free safety. And he’s physical, so that means he can drop down in the box. He’s not one-dimensional. He’s a dual guy there. He’s a guy I’m really pleased with. He’s young man, just let the guy go play.” – Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham
BEST CASE: While he makes a few isolated mistakes, Matthews generally lives up to the hype. He easily makes the SEC all-freshman team, and pushes for freshman all-American. He’s among the team’s leaders in tackles, forces four or five turnovers, starts every game, and Georgia finishes in the top 10 nationally in pass defense.
WORST CASE: It’s more than a few isolated mistakes. Matthews’ debut against Tajh Boyd and company at Clemson doesn’t go well, it affects his confidence, and eventually he’s just splitting time in the secondary. Georgia’s pass defense barely finishes in the top 10 in the SEC.
FINAL WORD: Between the best case and the worst case, the best bet is it’ll end up somewhere closer to the best case. If not exactly that. Buying into the hype too much? Perhaps. But the Georgia veteran players were right last year when they gushed in similar fashion about Todd Gurley, and look how important he ended up being to Georgia’s offense. Matthews can be the same way for the defense.