Georgia had stability at the star position last season. Defensive back Maurice Smith was a fixture at the spot and was tasked with guarding slot receivers when the Bulldogs were in nickel and dime defenses.
Smith’s one-and-done year is completed, and Georgia is now looking at potential replacements to fill in.
Georgia has a few options it can turn to, with the star position the only starting job open on this year’s defense.
Head coach Kirby Smart is hopeful his team will get the same production Smith provided, which included 50 tackles and an interception. But Smart still noted how much Smith will be missed on defense.
“I think any time you got a guy like Mo Smith who has played the position for so long you’re going to have some kind of experience drop-off,” Smart said.
Here are Georgia’s options at the star position.
Senior Aaron Davis
Davis could wind up starting his third consecutive season at a different position. In 2015, he was a cornerback. Last year, he moved to safety. Heading into the G-Day spring game, Davis was listed as the first-team nickel defender.
This move could have to do with the emergence of redshirt sophomore J.R. Reed, who Smart lauded all throughout the spring. As it would turn out, Davis played the G-Day game at safety since Dominick Sanders missed the intrasquad scrimmage.
“(Davis) had a really good spring there,” Smart said. “He did some good things.”
If Reed proves he can step in and work in tandem with Sanders at safety, the safest move might be to move Davis to star. The amount of experience Davis has at the collegiate level can’t be duplicated, and he has proven in the past to be quite the versatile defensive back.
Sophomore Tyrique McGhee
Entering the spring, the former Peach County standout was the favorite to win the starting the star spot. He still may be, even with Reed’s level of play forcing the coaching staff to give Davis a look at the position.
McGhee is one of Georgia’s most athletic defensive backs and can play both star and cornerback.
At G-Day, McGhee played with the first-team at star since Sanders was out and Davis played safety.
McGhee recorded five tackles in the spring game in what could be considered an extended audition. He played primarily on special teams last season but should be in for a bigger role in 2017 no matter what.
The spring season is a good time for mixing and matching, which is what Georgia was able to do with McGhee at practice. Early on, Smart hinted that McGhee could very well be the star when it is all said and done.
“We’re trying to develop and figure out who those people are,” Smart said. “The way we’re practicing, Tyrique is really our star. But he’s on a split field when we split them up. He practices at corner, and he practices at star. He’s taking reps at both places.”
Freshman Deangelo Gibbs
It’s always beneficial for a freshman to enroll early if given the opportunity. That certainly was the case for the highly talented Gibbs, who was able to put in five weeks of spring practice after going through the winter strength and conditioning program.
Gibbs would seemingly have the most ground to make up of the top three contenders for the starting nickel defender. He spent G-Day with the second-team Black squad, although that should have been expected since he’s a freshman early enrollee.
Earlier this spring, Smart touched on how Gibbs’ size, at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, could work to Georgia’s advantage against offenses that split tight ends or bigger receivers into the slot.
“If you’re out there playing on Charlie Woerner and he comes to block you, do you want a 160-pound guy or do you want a 205-pound guy? It’s pretty obvious we’ve got to have a big guy,” Smart said. “Deangelo is a guy who we know has the ability.”