By Ryan Black
For the AJC
ATHENS – Mark Richt believes there is talent returning to his team’s secondary next season. The problem is, he hasn’t seen it on the field yet.
With Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, Branden Smith and Shawn Williams graduating, the only underclassman defensive back who has seen significant playing time this season is sophomore Damian Swann, who has started all 13 games.
The impending departures have left Richt feeling uncertain about the state of his secondary for 2013.
“I have no earthly idea who is going to play DB for us next year based on the maturity level of the group that we have here right now,” he said. “I don’t think they’re mature enough to be the starters and I told them, ‘You’re competing with guys that aren’t even here yet. We’re recruiting our tails off and we’re going to bring some guys in here. You guys are here and we’re going to compete and we’re going to see who really belongs back there. Don’t think just because you’re next-in-line that it’s your job, because you’ve got to earn it.’”
While Richt conceded it was unlikely that any player from last year’s recruiting class would have been able to wrest a starting job away from the secondary’s senior quartet, he said those remaining have no excuses next year. If they don’t step up their play, there are hungry freshman who haven’t stepped on campus yet who could easily assume the reins.
“There’s not guys just waiting in the wings that have a guaranteed slot, there’s not guys that played a ton of snaps,” Richt said. “Now ‘Swannie’ (Swann) is a proven player to me, but the rest of them? They haven’t proved it to me yet. I hope they do. I love them and I want them to be the very best they can be, but they’ve got to earn it.”
Josh Harvey-Clemons had no issue with Richt calling out the inexperienced defensive backs, himself included. The true freshman safety said will use it as motivation.
“This year I feel like a lot of things were going real fast because we already had guys that knew what to do and knew their role, so everything was going fast for the secondary people just coming in,” he said. “I feel like this offseason we’re going to work hard.”
The Valdosta native vowed to put in the work for one simple reason: he got too familiar with not being part of the action this season.
“I hate sitting on that sideline, so I’ve got to find a way to get on the field,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
But the raw returner drawing the most attention from teammates is Sheldon Dawson. Fellow freshman Jordan Jenkins said there have been countless times in practice where Dawson’s athleticism stood out.
“I remember looking back a couple of times when the ‘twos’ were in (with) Sheldon coming in and breaking up some pretty good passes and not letting guys burn him deep,” he said. “I remember him on a couple of instances this week and last week coming up and batting balls down and jumping up over guys bigger than him. He’s definitely going to be a play-maker next year.”
Sophomore receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who played the first four games this season at cornerback before moving to wide receiver for the last nine contests, vouches for Dawson.
“I just see it. I just see it in him,” Mitchell said. “He’s going to be a great player. I don’t say that often. I see good players, but I see something really different in him. You’ll see it. Just watch him.”
Other lettermen fighting for playing time next season include redshirt freshman cornerback Devin Bowman and sophomore safeties Marc Deas, Corey Moore and Connor Norman. Dawson was the only DB to sign in the 2011 class.
Commings insists there won’t be any noticeable dropoff. If it wasn’t for he and the other seniors, he said his younger teammates’ ability would have surfaced already.
“They just haven’t had a chance because they’ve had guys like us seniors in front of them,” he said. “I think all of those guys can contribute.”
Christian Robinson didn’t strike quite the same cheery note as Commings. The secondary should improve over time, the senior inside linebacker said, but not without suffering through some growing pains first.
“Somebody is going to step up. That’s what always happens,” he said. “It might not be the best product at the time, but you give it time, you give it a few games and they’re no longer rookies anymore at that position. They just need to learn a little bit more and I think they’ll be able to pick up the pace.”
Richt not convinced Twitter needed to hype program
Twitter is one of the world’s most popular social media sites. It is used by everyday people, news organizations and various other entities, including college football teams. Since taking over at Tennessee on Dec. 7, coach Butch Jones has used Twitter extensively, interacting with fans and updating followers on his day-to-day goings-on. After using his own Twitter account sparingly since starting one in 2009, Richt rejoined the social media site in May. That being said, Richt only has 203 tweets, compared to Jones, who has over 3,200.
When asked whether he would consider using Twitter more like Jones, Richt said not to count on it.
“I don’t feel like you have to Twitter to recruit or to promote your program,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m just saying I don’t know if it’s necessary. That’s for everybody to decide how they want to go about getting the word out. Please don’t misquote me. I think it’s fine to do, but I don’t (know) if it’s necessary for us, anyway. I don’t feel like we need to do it.”
Georgia’s injury list was lengthy for the second straight day. Wednesday’s report included receivers Malcolm Mitchell (groin), Tavarres King (hamstring) and Rhett McGowan (wrist sprain), noseguard John Jenkins (concussion), safety Marc Deas (knee) and fullback Richard Samuel (shoulder). Defensive end Abry Jones practice in a limited capacity, confined to a running-only regiment as he continues to rehab an ankle injury. … Richt wasn’t pleased with Wednesday’s practice, noting the only positive was having another on tap for Thursday. “It wasn’t quite what we’ve been getting,” he said. “The bottom line is I thought we got real sloppy today. It was not very good, but we’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”