The lone position on Georgia’s defense that lost a starter was in the secondary.
And while replacing Maurice Smith will be tough, the Bulldogs possess a few players who should be able to fill in and help get the job done.
Last season, Georgia defensive backs recorded 15 interceptions, with returning players logging nine of them. The secondary held opposing offenses to 183.8 passing yards per game, which ranked second in the SEC in 2016.
Georgia overcame some early-season struggles in the back end to form a tough group against the pass. With most of its players back, Georgia will look for even further improvement in the secondary.
Coming out of the spring, here is a look at where the defensive backs stand.
Post-spring depth chart
Left cornerback: Malkom Parrish, Tyrique McGhee
Right cornerback: Deandre Baker, McGhee
Star: Aaron Davis, McGhee, Deangelo Gibbs
Left safety: Dominick Sanders, Rashad Roundtree, Jarvis Wilson
Right safety: J.R. Reed, Davis, Richard LeCounte
Those on the way
Georgia recruited the secondary quite well by landing seven prospects in the class of 2017. Joining Gibbs and LeCounte this fall will be five cornerbacks.
Of the bunch, Hapeville Charter’s William Poole may have the best chance at seeing the field the earliest. Poole brings speed and a polished game to the table. But while Poole could probably step in and play soon in his career, beating out Parrish and Baker will be tough for anyone to accomplish.
Tray Bishop, who was originally a quarterback recruit for Auburn, will join Georgia in June as a cornerback. Bishop, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, may be the most athletic in Georgia’s recruiting haul.
Ameer Speed lives up to his name by being a fast corner with size at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. But speaking of speed, Eric Stokes may bring the most. The Eastside (Covington) prospect clocked a 10.39-second 100-meter dash during the track season, a blazing time for a soon-to-be college football player.
Hialeah, Florida signee Latavious Brini is another tall corner at 6-foot-2 who offers a solid combination speed and athleticism.
Georgia wanted to upgrade the height at cornerback and did so by bringing in five players at the position who are 6-foot or taller.
The secondary seemed set at the beginning of the spring. Then Reed, who redshirted a year ago after transferring from Tulsa, came on strong to state a case for a potential starting spot. And at the G-Day spring game, it culminated with Reed earning a start at safety.
A lot of football will sort itself out in August before the safety position is solidified. Davis started every game at safety in 2016 and could still wind up in that position. But if Reed proves his worth, then Davis could shift to the star position. That’s where he was originally slated to start at G-Day before a "medical issue" took Sanders out of the lineup.
If Davis winds up at safety, McGhee would then likely have the inside track at the star position. As it stands now, the former Peach County star is the next man up at both outside cornerback spots as well as fighting for the starting star spot. McGhee is a versatile defensive back who has a bright future in Georgia’s defense. Behind McGhee at star is Gibbs, a freshman early enrollee who could factor into the mix at safety as well.
On the outside, Parrish and Baker will look to build on what they did well in 2016.
The Bulldogs know what they have in Parrish and Baker, and should be set there. Georgia was fortunate a year ago that no major injuries occurred to those players, given the depth at the position. At G-Day, Parrish and Baker were backed up by two walk-ons since McGhee played at star. If all goes well health-wise, Georgia will be fine at corner. But if injuries occur, there will be plenty of young faces seeing the field earlier than expected.
Georgia has some solid options at star and should be fine when defending tight ends and shifty slot receivers. Gibbs is a big body who can physically challenge the bigger receiving targets. Davis offers size and speed to handle both. McGhee’s athleticism and toughness will serve him well in this role.
Sanders is set to lead this secondary once again after deciding to return for his senior season. As with the other defensive positions, the secondary appears strong heading into the 2017 campaign.