Georgia should feel good about itself when it comes to the secondary.
Every starter from the 2015 season returns. Plenty of rotational players will be back, as well, making the defensive backs one of the more experienced groups on the roster. There’s a lot to like about the secondary, given it finished last season No. 1 in the country in pass defense.
Due to the youth in the back end, the Bulldogs played it safe to prevent big plays. Head coach Kirby Smart will enter the spring hoping a couple of these cornerbacks will emerge as man-coverage specialists so that he can scheme aggressively like he did as the defensive coordinator at Alabama.
At cornerback, Georgia returns Malkom Parrish, Aaron Davis, Rico McGraw and Juwuan Briscoe, all of whom played major roles at times in 2015. Parrish and Davis spent the majority of the season starting, although Briscoe jumped Davis for games against Florida and Kentucky.
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McGraw was Georgia’s top option at the nickel back position, which Georgia calls the “star.”
Each cornerback had positive moments during the season, which bodes well for Georgia considering that Parrish and Davis were sophomores, and McGraw and Briscoe were freshmen. Other rising sophomores to compete for rotational spots at cornerback are Deandre Baker and Rashad Roundtree, although Roundtree can play either corner or safety.
Shattle Fenteng will be a senior this season, and it appears Reggie Wilkerson, a safety who played in Georgia’s sub packages, has moved to cornerback, according to Georgia’s 2016 spring roster. Freshman early enrollee Chad Clay, who played high school basketball at Peachtree Ridge, will enter the mix, as well. Incoming freshman Tyrique McGhee of Peach County will join the corner competition this fall.
Georgia’s set at safety with Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger both returning. Sanders will arguably be Georgia’s best player on the defensive side after recording six interceptions in 2015. Sanders brings back a ton of experience as he figures to be one of the defense’s veteran leaders at this stage of his collegiate career.
Mauger brings versatility in the back end since he’s able to play both the safety and nickel spots. He recorded a team fifth-best 58 tackles and had five pass breakups. Behind Sanders and Mauger at safety are Jarvis Wilson and Kirby Choates. Georgia did lose Johnathan Abram to transfer, although he appeared in 10 games and received substantial playing time.
Statistically, Georgia was tremendous in the back end as it averaged only 156.5 passing yards per game. But the Bulldogs did face some option-oriented offenses late in the season — Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech — which skewed the numbers a bit.
Even so, Georgia returns a ton of experience and athleticism in the secondary, which could make it one of the defensive strengths in 2016. And it shouldn’t be too much of a concern when spring practices begin Tuesday.
“A lot of the secondary is back,” Smart said. “They didn’t put the secondary in a lot of tough situations last year and protected those guys. There weren’t a lot of cover guys back there. If we can get where we have better cover guys, we can put pressure more. If we can’t, then we have to be careful on third down. We’ve got to be able to execute and play fast.”