ATHENS -- Only five of Georgia’s 21 defensive backs are seniors. Four are juniors. That leaves 12 in the secondary who are sophomores are younger, meaning more than half of the position group only has one year of game experience.
Seven defensive backs are true freshmen as members of the class of 2015. At face value, it would be easy to say the secondary is young with a lot to learn.
Yet the fact that eight defensive backs saw action in more than one game in 2014 indicates that age isn’t much of a factor.
“I feel like we pretty much know the defense,” sophomore cornerback Malkom Parrish said. “I don’t look at it as young or old. I think we’ve got it down pat.”
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Parrish appeared in 11 games as a true freshman last season and was forced to adapt to the speed of the college game quickly. There were plenty of growing pains, considering Georgia allowed 38 points to a South Carolina team that finished 7-6 in the second game. But by the end of the year, the secondary ranked fifth in passing defense at 170.4 yards per game -- although run-heavy games against Florida (27 passing yards) and Georgia Tech (64 passing yards) contributed to that statistic.
Still, there’s reason for optimism in the back end, and that stems from the Bulldogs’ having a better understanding of what defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt is teaching.
“The game slowed down for me,” junior safety Quincy Mauger said. “You kind of understand what you’re going to get, what you’ve seen before. It’s you live and you learn. I learned a lot of things last season and am trying to pass it down to my teammates.”
Sophomore Dominick Sanders, who started every game as a true freshman, was asked to assume a leadership role from the start. By mid-July at SEC Media Days, head coach Mark Richt was complimenting Sanders for being one of the hardest working players on the team.
“(I had) that leadership role thrown at me so quick,” Sanders said. “It really doesn’t matter if he’s a freshman, sophomore or junior. It’s having that mindset to lead others.”
Sophomore Aaron Davis was present when Georgia made the transition from former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, now at Louisville, to Pruitt. Davis said one of the biggest reasons the secondary was able to jell a year ago, despite losing Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews, was that the Bulldogs held a much better mental edge throughout the year.
“We had the same people in 2013 to 2014,” Davis said. “We came in 2014 with a relentless mindset that we would not let other teams bully us around or make big plays on us.”
Pruitt believes that the defensive staff, including assistants Tracy Rocker, Mike Ekeler and Kevin Sherrer, are able to build fundamentals due to the coaches’ background in coaching high school football. That history is one of the reasons Pruitt instructs his defensive backs to learn by concept first. Therefore, if the members of the secondary understand the basic concepts, they can plug in at numerous positions.
Every Georgia defensive back is cross-trained to some level at cornerback, safety and star, which has led to what’s perceived as a more well-rounded group of defensive backs.
“That’s the reason why a lot of us can play different spots,” Davis said. “We don’t learn just one position and stick to it. (Pruitt) really tries to help us to be all-around players, so we can find the best people. Just because you came in as a corner or came in as a safety, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll play that position for this team. He says he wants to play the best people on the field. If we have a lot of people who can play a lot of different positions, that’s the better we are.”