The dismissal last week of three Georgia football players coupled with the legal trouble facing Sanders Commings has left put the Bulldogs in a pinch in the secondary.
Initially thought to be a team strength heading into the 2012 season, Georgia’s defensive backfield is suddenly left precariously thin and extremely vulnerable after head coach Mark Richt booted off the team Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders. Including the departure of three other defensive backs since the start of last season — Jakar Hamilton, Derek Owens and Jordan Love all left, allegedly of their own volition — that leaves the Bulldogs with just nine scholarship defensive backs heading into spring practice next month.
Included in that number is senior and starting cornerback Sanders Commings. However, Commings is not expected to be available for at least the first couple of games next season due to his arrest on a domestic violence/simple battery charge last month. Unless those charges end up getting dropped, Commings is likely looking at a suspension of at least two games.
Game 2 is, of course, on the road against pass-happy Missouri. The Tigers return starting quarterback James Franklin, leading receiver T.J. Moe and two other receivers with 20 or more catches from last season. Meanwhile, they added wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruiting prospect, on national signing day.
The Bulldogs will play most of the season with four senior starters — Commings and Branden Smith at the corners and Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams at the safeties. Rising sophomore Damian Swann figures to fill in for Commings. But Swann is likely to be the starting nickelback as well and, as we’ve seen, Georgia probably plays 66 percent of the time in its nickel package.
So which players will be the sixth and seventh defensive backs on the field for the Bulldogs is the real issue here. It will have to come from a group that includes sophomore safeties Marc Deas, Corey Moore and Quintavious Harrow, redshirt freshman Devin Bowman and true freshman and recent signee Sheldon Dawson of Memphis. Georgia also has several walkons in the secondary, including juniors Blake Sailors and Luis Capella and sophomore Connor Norman. But generally if you’re having to play walkons you’ve got problems.
The lack of depth could affect the Bulldogs in other places as well. Branden Smith, for instance, was expected to return kicks and take some snaps on offense. But the Bulldogs might need to weigh the risk of Smith multitasking against the possibility of injury and/or fatigue. They’re going to need Smith to play great on defense next season, first and foremost.
And what about Georgia’s defense beyond this season? Again, all four starters are seniors. Who are the cornerbacks of the future? Are they on campus yet? Are there some 2013 prospects that are good enough to come in and start in the SEC?
Granted, that is a somewhat pessimistic view. As we’ve seen from defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, he has a decidedly NFL mentality when it comes to playing time, keeping his starters in the game for the entirety regardless of time or score. And his very mantra is to put the 11 best players on the field regardless of their declared position. You’ll never hear a coach, particularly that one, say they can’t get it done.
Here’s another thought: Would Georgia dare play Malcolm Mitchell on that side of the ball? The rising sophomore was the Bulldogs’ most explosive wide receiver last season. But he was, after all, considered one of the best DBs in the nation coming out of Valdosta High. Could he play defense even part-time?
All food for thought. It’s not my intention to preach doom-and-gloom for Georgia’s secondary. Again, at full strength and with everybody present and accounted for, there are few defensive backfields in the nation that can compare. But suffice it to say, injuries or further attrition of any sort could spell big trouble for this secondary.
Again, a brief rundown: