The Georgia Bulldogs have only had two spring practices this year, but the 2013 team's starting lineup is already taking shape.
Having an idea of what roles players will fill from now is important because the Bulldogs have a lot of work to do before the season being on August 31, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Because the Bulldogs lost 14 lettermen on defense, 12 of whom were starters, one would think the team would take a step back.
Back in January, I wrote a piece on why the Bulldogs defense will be much improved this season compared to last season. Now that it’s the start of spring practice, it’s time to update this list based on how the unit has looked so far this spring.
Here are five reasons why the Bulldogs’ defense will be better in 2013.
There are a few Bulldogs that have a really good chance to have a breakout season and Ray Drew is at the top of that list.
After playing the reserve role at outside linebacker and defensive end the last two seasons, Drew comes into this spring as the No. 1 defensive end.
The former five-star prospect from Thomasville, Georgia, feels like he can make a huge impact this season. At 280 pounds, Drew has the quickness off the ball and should be able to take on the opposing guards and centers in the SEC.
Drew has waited patiently to get a chance to prove himself. He will not waste this opportunity.
Another player poised to have a breakout season is Josh Harvey-Clemons, who is expected to see plenty of action at safety this season.
Harvey-Clemons played mostly on special teams last year, but with Shawn Williams graduating, Harvey-Clemons will compete with Corey Moore for the starting strong safety spot.
In a piece I wrote earlier on Harvey-Clemons, I stated that many players think that he is most skilled player on the team. Once Harvey-Clemons masters the strong safety spot and gains 15 more pounds to his 6'5", 220-pound frame, he will make the move to inside linebacker which is his natural position.
No matter what happens this spring or summer, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said that Harvey-Clemons will be out on the field against Clemson on August 31. That is how highly the coaching staff thinks of the sophomore safety.
In the piece focused on the improved level of play for Georgia's defense, the linebackers were listed as one of the key reasons.
This time, one linebacker is the reason the defense will be better that linebacker is Amarlo Herrera.
The inside linebacker from College Park, Georgia will be one of the leaders on the team and because he is the player that has the most experience.
In 2011, Herrera tallied 37 tackles and one forced fumble in eight starts. In 2012, Herrera started nine games and totaled 70 tackles, one interception for a touchdown and two forced fumbles.
Because of the lack of substantial experience for most of the defensive players, Herrera will make sure that everyone is on the same page and everyone has the same goal.
Based on what Herrera has done the last two years, he will be even better in 2013 and the players around him will feed off his energy.
Another player that will play the leadership role is Damian Swann who had a breakout year in 2012.
Swann returns to the lineup as the team’s leader in interceptions with four.
Swann did not begin the 2012 season as the starter, but worked his way into the starting role because he was able to play well in the reserve role.
Now he comes into this spring as the most experienced defensive back, which means he will have to be a leader for the rest of the group.
If Swann is able to help teammates Harvey-Clemons, Moore and Devin Bowman develop into better players (as he did with Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings last year), the secondary will be a very strong group in 2013.
Each school is starting to have more signees enroll early. In Georgia’s case, 13 of their 33 signees enrolled in January, which is the most in school history.
Of those 13 early enrollees, seven of them are expected to play on defense.
Nose tackle John Atkins is expected to contribute right away as well as safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger as they have gotten a lot of reps during spring practice.
Getting these players in early is a huge advantage. They will have a good understanding of the playbook in the fall, which will lead to fewer mistakes when they take the field in a regular season game.
Fewer mistakes lead to more opportunities to makes plays so expect Atkins, Matthews and Mauger to be key contributors this season.