Kirby Smart isn’t satisfied with how Georgia’s secondary has performed during preseason practice.
It’s a point the Georgia head coach has spoken about before. Given the fact the Bulldogs bring back four starters in the back end, a lot of discussion has revolved around a veteran unit providing a great deal of experience at a key position group.
But as Smart sees it, the secondary has a long way to go before its potential is realized.
“I know everybody thinks we have all those guys coming back, but we’ve got to play better,” Smart said. “We’ve got some big guys up front. We’ve got some linebackers who can run. But we haven’t played to the level I think we’re capable of in the secondary. We really don’t have the guys behind them in the right places yet playing real good football.”
Smart was then asked why the secondary’s play has frustrated him through the preseason.
Smart had a simple response to the question.
“Well, it’s when the other team throws the ball real far down the field and then the other team catches it, and we don’t make the play,” Smart said. “It concerns me. That’s it. I wouldn’t say it’s often. But if it happens once I don’t like it. Right? You don’t like big plays. It’s good for the offense to make some of those. But it’s concerning we don’t have the depth needed.”
As of now, Malkom Parrish and Deandre Baker are slated to start at cornerback. Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis and J.R. Reed are practicing at safety, with Davis working at both cornerback and star. Sophomore Tyrique McGhee and freshman Deangelo Gibbs are also competing for the starting star position, with McGhee seeing time at cornerback, as well.
Sanders agreed with Smart, a former Georgia safety himself, in that the secondary could do more. Sanders has taken Smart’s words as a way to rally the defensive backs to pick up their play in practice.
“There are little things in the back end that we need to develop as a defensive unit,” Sanders said. “I just look at that as motivation for us. He sees a lot in us. We’re not going to be perfect but each and every day we’ve got to compete and get better.”
Davis believes the secondary needs to create even more turnovers this season, which certainly would please Smart and the defensive coaching staff. The Bulldogs did do a pretty good job in this department a year ago, ranking second in the SEC behind only Alabama in turnover margin at plus-8. This number also tied for 19th nationally, with Georgia totaling 15 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries.
Davis said improvement in this department could catapult the defense into a higher realm.
“We need to be getting more turnovers than we did last year,” Davis said. “I think we finished second (in the SEC) in turnover ratio, but we’re hungry. We’re eager and want more turnovers. That’s a big goal for us — finishing interceptions instead of (pass breakups), stripping at the ball, things that can turn the momentum in a game.”
Another concerning area for Smart, however, is that Georgia’s depth at defensive back isn’t where he would like it to be.
Freshman defensive backs Ameer Speed (6-foot-3, 211 pounds) and Tray Bishop (6-3, 205 pounds) offer ideal size. Richard LeCounte III was a five-star safety coming out of high school. Freshmen Latavious Brini, William Poole and Eric Stokes also were brought in with the opportunity of adding immediate depth.
It is still early in the preseason, and Smart is hoping some of the young defensive backs can improve to aid an area Smart is concerned about.
“We have a void in our secondary,” Smart said. “We have old, and we have young and nothing in the middle. It’s really concerning. We’re having to move guys around. … We don’t know who that one spot may lose (a player) to injury, and you don’t know where your depth is going to be.
“These freshmen have not shown up in the secondary to make themselves ready to play like maybe a running back has or a wide receiver has, or a different position might have. That’s the deficiency and where we need improvement.”