ATHENS – The bad news is the Bulldogs lost one-time starting safety Jakar Hamilton to a season-ending ankle injury this week. The good news for Georgia is there was a good chance Hamilton wouldn’t have started had he been healthy.
That’s chiefly because of the emergence of Shawn Williams. The junior from Early County has been one of the success stories in year two of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. With Hamilton sidelined for the entirety of preseason, Williams has been as solid as a block of granite in the back third of the No. 1 unit.
And he knows it.
“I pretty much know each and every play what I’m supposed to do,” said Williams, who started three games and played in all 13 last season. “I’ve got it down pat. I’d say [I'm grading] at least 95 percent.”
Not only has the light come on for Williams in terms of understanding schemes and knowing responsibilities, but his confidence has gone through the roof.
In regard to his ability to field the position, he said: “I’ve got the perfect size at 6-1-and-a-half , 220 [pounds]. I can run real fast. A lot of people underestimate my speed. And when I hit, I hit real hard.”
On losing Hamilton to injury: “We’ve got enough to play. We’ve got enough to play two or three secondaries. I feel comfortable about it. If the ones can’t get it done, the twos can get it done. We’re good.”
Heading into the last two weeks of the preseason, Williams appears to have locked down the safety position opposite Bacarri Rambo (the strong and free positions are interchangeable in Grantham’s system). Hamilton, a five-game starter last year, was listed behind Rambo entering camp but figured to be the next safety on the field regardless.
So that means some playing time is on the table. Sanders Commings is working much more now at safety than cornerback. Georgia also has Marc Deas and Connor Norman to turn to.
But Hamilton was also a prominent special teams contributor.
“I would think a young man like [freshman] Corey Moore would probably get a better opportunity to play on specials and he’s one step closer to the field as a safety also,” Richt said. “I would imagine that will light a fire under him a little bit.”
Williams’ flame is already burning hot.
“My name’s coming up because every day I’m just working to get better,” he said. “I try to make plays. That’s what I ask myself every time I step out on the field. What can I do to make a play?”
Crowell gets some work
Freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell was able to get in some limited work after missing four practices over the last six days due to a groin injury.
“He didn’t look full speed,” Richt said, “but he was healthy enough to get out there in a green jersey and run some plays.”
Originally Richt had predicted Crowell would return on Friday. Fellow tailback Richard Samuel, sidelined with a strained thigh muscle, won’t be back until “sometime next week.”
Georgia held a two-hour special teams scrimmage at Sanford Stadium on Thursday. The workout was punctuated with 20 minutes of 11-on-11 work.
Richt said junior cornerback Branden Smith is currently running first team as the punt returner. Smith was the top returner last season with 10 for 143 yards. Behind him is record-setting kickoff return man Brandon Boykin and freshmen Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann are “battling” for the No. 3 spot.
Asked if Georgia would operate with two deep safeties/return men on kickoff return this season, Richt said, “that’s classified information.” Boykin is the school record holder with 1,813 career yards on kickoff returns and four touchdowns.
Narrowing it down
Heading into the last half of preseason camp, the Bulldogs are almost ready to set the depth chart and start determining playing rotation. Richt said he and the coaching staff sat down this week and went over every freshman to determine whether the assistants were slating them for the two-deep on offense or defense and whether or not they’d be available for special teams.
Off of those evaluations the Bulldogs next week will organize the scout team and begin earnest preparation for the opener against Boise State. Richt wasn’t prepared to unveil any of those decisions.
“There’s some guys we’re pretty sure, there’s some guys we’re not sure and there’s some guys that probably won’t,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to give all that out because that usually causes players and moms and dads to maybe be happy or sad or whatever. I’m not ready for that today.”
Etc. . . .
Sophomore defensive end Derrick Lott, who had a deep cut on his right leg from a scooter accident late this summer, is now practicing without limitations. He backs up DeAngelo Tyson at right defensive end. . . . Georgia has now completed 15 of 29 preseason practices. Number 16 will be a full-contact practice Friday at 4:30 p.m. . . . Picture Day is Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs are expected to unveil the Nike Pro Combat uniforms they’ll wear in the Sept. 3 opener.