Bulldogs Beat

Josh Harvey-Clemons: Think of him as the star

Georgia's back seven in action during Friday's spring practice:

ATHENS - The grand question of Georgia spring practice, at least when it comes to the defense, has been what position Josh Harvey-Clemons should be slotted at: Outside linebacker? Safety? Rotating constantly between both spots?

It's very possible we've been looking at this the wrong way the whole time.

I'm increasingly of the belief that it's time to start referring to Harvey-Clemons as playing the "star position," which is essentially a nickel back with some linebacker elements. And I'm increasingly of the belief that Georgia will play a ton of nickel defense, especially early in the season, which is why Harvey-Clemons will play a lot, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has said repeatedly.

"He'll be one of the 11," Grantham said earlier this spring.

"I would be shocked if he were not on the majority of the time next fall," said tight end Arthur Lynch this week, echoing what many offensive veterans have said after facing Harvey-Clemons in spring drills.

The dilemma with that has been Harvey-Clemons appears too rangy and raw for safety, and too small (about 215 pounds now) for linebacker. So you solve that problem by forcing him into the lineup and molding a position for him - a position that might match up well with the offense played by Georgia's first two opponents.

Throw away for a moment the normal visions of a 3-4 defense (three defensive linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs.) When Harvey-Clemons is on the field, Grantham could instead utilize a 3-3-5 formation: three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Harvey-Clemons will basically be a third safety on the field. Freshman Tray Matthews is very likely to be at free safety, and either Corey Moore or Connor Norman will most likely be the third safety.

Clemson plays a spread offense and normally lines up at least three receivers. So Georgia figures to be playing a lot of nickel defense in that game anyway. South Carolina, the second-week opponent, will play three receivers a lot too. Not as much as Clemson, but the Gamecocks will also flex out their tight ends. And both the Tigers and Gamecocks have mobile quarterbacks, so it wouldn't hurt to have a bigger, faster guy on defense who could spy on him, rather than a second edge-rushing linebacker.

Cornerback Damian Swann pointed out that two years ago Georgia had a package with Alec Ogletree as the nickel cornerback. The Bulldogs used that against Auburn, as well as some other isolated times.

"Josh is a guy who has the athleticism to play that nickel back. And he's long," Swann said.

And nose tackle Mike Thornton, who has been around the program four years now, estimated the team is in nickel defense 70 percent of the time anyway.

Now on some plays Harvey-Clemons will also move close enough to the line, perhaps in an edge rushing position, that he will also still retain some linebacking duties. So perhaps instead of a 3-3-5, it should be called a 3-4.5-4.5. (Or perhaps not. That's a mouthful. But you get the point.)

Plenty of other teams utilize - and start in their base offense - a player who is a hybrid safety-linebacker. South Carolina has done so for several years, referring to it as a spur. Auburn is now doing it too.

The idea of Harrvey-Clemons at the star position isn't new: Grantham talked about it last year in preseason practice, but Harvey-Clemons wasn't used at the nickel much, with cornerback Branden Smith filling the more traditional nickel role.

Now the personnel fits, and Harvey-Clemons gives that nickel position a different dimension. Grantham talks incessantly about ranking his players and trying to use his best 11. He's also adamant that Harvey-Clemons is one of those 11 this year. This is the way he gets him on the field.