Georgia’s defensive secondary is a primary concern this offseason. Such trepidation is justified statistically by a mediocre 2013 performance and anecdotally by the dismissal of two starting safeties (Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews) and the transfer of a starting cornerback (Shaq Wiggins).
But the 2014 season is not over before it begins for this unit. Yes, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt should bolster the position group the same way he did at Alabama and Florida State. Equally important, however, is the arrival of four impressive new Bulldogs.
These four incoming defensive backs could save the Dawgs defensive secondary.
The younger brother of former Bulldog Chris Sanders, Dominick Sanders arrived in Athens as a 3-star safety according to 247Sports. That being said, it’s possible that Sanders either played out of position or was underappreciated at Tucker High School.
In high school, Sanders played alongside Kirk Tucker (an Oklahoma State signee), Dre Jackson (a rising senior with an offer from Georgia Tech) and Duke Shelley (a rising senior with a handful of impressive offers) in the defensive backfield. With so much surrounding talent, Sanders may have been overlooked by coaches and scouts alike. At the very least, his opportunities to shine were likely limited.
Sanders' greatest attributes are his ball skills and ability to make plays, and in Pruitt’s swarming defense he could find a spot early as an aggressive corner—even if he only sees the field in specific situations. To be sure, he has the size to play safety at the SEC level, but he could contribute immediately with a position change.
Shaquille Jones, also a 3-star cornerback according to 247Sports, presents an equally compelling set of physical characteristics. At 6’2”, 175 pounds, Jones may develop into a tall, rangy cornerback. Or, he could bulk up into an imposing safety.
Jones’ biggest weaknesses are his reaction time and slowness in changing directions. In that regard, the safety position may make a little more sense as roaming responsibilities may suit him better than man-to-man coverage. Fortunately for him, Georgia is in desperate need for help at the safety position.
Considered one of the nation’s 70 best prospects by the 247Sports Composite Rating, Malkom Parrish will play early and often for this Georgia secondary. He has decent height for a cornerback (5’10”) and tremendous strength at 185 pounds, and already looks the part of a college defensive back.
Damian Swann is the expected starter at one cornerback position, but the departure of Wiggins and the move of Brendan Langley to wide receiver has opened up the opposite slot. Parrish will compete for that job immediately. Don’t be surprised to see him starting by midseason as he will benefit from the teaching and discipline of Pruitt. As head coach Mark Richt told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer this spring:
We’ll be fine. I mean shoot, Jeremy said three of his players that played (in the secondary) at Florida State last year were true freshmen. And it may be we have some freshmen that play. But whoever’s in there will be disciplined and know what they’re doing and play it well. So we think we’ll be fine.”
Parrish could be the latest in a long line of true freshmen contributors in a Jeremy Pruitt secondary.
Shattle Fenteng, a 3-star signee (per 247Sports) out of Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, possesses too many skills to stay on the sideline for long—especially in a secondary this depleted.
At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Fenteng fits the build of the big, striking safety that Georgia loved trotting out onto the field in the early Richt years. And yet, he’s got the recovery speed, lightness of foot and instincts to play the cornerback position.
The most logical solution is to plug Fenteng in wherever needed. There will be no shortage of questions in this secondary. Fenteng, who’s become something of an internet workout legend this summer, will be one of the most versatile answers at Pruitt’s disposal.