ATHENS -- For Georgia’s secondary, it’s complicated. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Georgia is strong in numbers in the secondary with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt having plenty of players at his disposal. But there are plenty of moving parts to the unit, with numerous positions each defensive back could play.
Pruitt, who doubles up as Georgia’s secondary coach, isn’t afraid to play freshmen. He threw four total true and redshirt freshmen into the mix a year ago. Although losing Damian Swann will be tough to overcome in both a leadership and on-field sense, Pruitt hopes he can come up with the right mix of players to get this secondary clicking the way his Florida State group did when the Seminoles won the national championship in 2013. The task could be difficult, with just one senior vying for major snaps.
The players: For Pruitt, finding the best five defensive backs regardless of position is key. Sophomore Malkom Parrish figures to be one of those and should earn a starting spot at cornerback. He could also be the one who rotates into the star position.
As a true freshman, Parrish saw time in 11 games and totaled 17 tackles.
As for the other starting cornerback spot, it could be considered a toss-up entering preseason practice. Shattle Fenteng, Aaron Davis, Devin Bowman, Tramel Terry and Reggie Wilkerson should factor into the mix. Then again, Wilkerson could be a candidate as a backup safety.
Speaking of safety, junior Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders will probably both start back there, although Sanders is also a candidate for the star spot.
Bowman, the lone senior of the group, emerged as the 2014 season carried on and could be tough to keep on the sideline.
Again, when it comes to who plays what, it’s complicated.
Oh, and then the freshmen. Eight first-year players could wind up fighting for playing time. Rico McGraw and Juwuan Briscoe have the best shots at seeing the field in their first year at cornerback, while Jarvis Wilson has playmaking potential as a possible safety in this defense.
Expectations: The secondary can be considered a question mark, but has one major thing going for it: Pruitt’s coaching it. Pruitt is going to find the best possible players for his positions and go from there. Pruitt came to Georgia with a stellar reputation after leading Alabama’s defensive backs and Florida State’s entire defense.
Although he’s dealing with a fairly young defense, the athleticism and talent is present for improvement. In 2014, Georgia actually had the fifth-best passing defense in the nation at 170.4 yards per game, although losses in run-heavy games against Florida (27 passing yards on only six attempts) and Georgia Tech (64 passing yards on six completions) had a lot to do with driving that average down.
Still, the Bulldogs will look to emerge as an even-better group against the pass, despite the youth still present.
Outlook: Georgia might not have its secondary ironed out just yet. But for Pruitt, having plenty of athletic options will make his job easier entering the 2015 season.
Pruitt won’t be afraid to roll with a freshman if he thinks that player will produce better than a veteran. He won’t be afraid to bench someone who started many games a year ago. And during the year, Pruitt could still tinker with his secondary, mixing and matching players until he finds the fit he’s looking for.
Georgia’s secondary might be a year away from being one of the better units in the conference -- and even the nation -- but appears poised to make a leap in that direction this season.