Georgia Bulldogs: Devin Bowman

UGA position groups to improve: No. 1

February, 14, 2014
Georgia doesn't open spring practice until March 18, so we'll use the next few weeks to look ahead to those all-important workouts and preview what to watch once the Bulldogs get started.

Today we continue a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. After touching on the inside linebackers, offensive line, outside linebackers and safeties, today we conclude the series with the cornerbacks, who struggled last season while rotating several players into starting positions.

1. Cornerback

[+] EnlargeShaq Wiggins
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 300 cornerback Shaq Wiggins was up and down as a freshman for the Bulldogs.
Battling for No. 1: As much as the safeties irritated Georgia's fans last season, the cornerbacks were just as maddeningly ineffective, if not more so. A year after leading the team with four interceptions, Damian Swann failed to pick off a single pass in a disappointing junior season. He led the team with eight pass breakups but failed to become the lockdown corner it looked like he had the potential to be during his first season as a starter. The other cornerback position was a revolving door with Brendan Langley opening the season as a starter before becoming a player that opposing quarterbacks targeted. Shaq Wiggins started eight of the last nine games, but there were times where the undersized freshman was a liability. Sheldon Dawson also started a game, although he was burned repeatedly in that game against Georgia Tech before the Bulldogs mounted a comeback to win in double overtime.

Strength in numbers: On one hand, Georgia used a number corners during the 2013 season, so there are plenty of players with on-field experience. On the other hand, the group didn't exactly impress. Swann, Wiggins, Langley and Dawson will all be back -- and it will be the second season of actually contributing for all of them except rising senior Swann. Naturally it's a reasonable expectation that some of all of them might improve upon a rocky first season, particularly with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt coming aboard to coach the group. Th Bulldogs also have Devin Bowman, a rising junior, as a member of the group.

New on the scene: It would not be a huge surprise to see signees Malkom Parrish or Shattle Fenteng jump into the mix immediately at corner. The super-athletic Parrish was the No. 77 overall prospect in the ESPN 300, and Fenteng was the No. 3 overall prospect in the Junior College 50 and the top cornerback. The Bulldogs also have Reggie Wilkerson and juco transfer Kennar Johnson coming off redshirt seasons. Wilkerson, an early enrollee last season, might have played a role if not for a season-ending knee injury that he suffered during summer conditioning workouts. Also, as we mentioned on Thursday, Shaquille Jones and Dominick Sanders have the versatility to play either cornerback or safety depending on need.

Secondary looking to grow in 2014

December, 31, 2013
Mark Richt painted a realistic picture last week when asked what it might take for Georgia's secondary to improve beyond its dismal showing of 2013.

It's a matter of inexperienced players -- basically the only kind of defensive back on the Bulldogs' roster -- developing confidence, he said.

“We've got to make a play first, then we've got to have a series that goes well, then a couple series, then a half, a game where you start making plays, you start getting better, you start gaining confidence,” Richt said. “But really we did not see that. I didn't see that throughout the year. There's some work, obviously, that's got to be done.”


[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons
AP Photo/John BazemoreIt might have been a rough season for Josh Harvey-Clemons and the young Georgia secondary, but 2013's trial under fire should help the Bulldogs next season and beyond.
The stats by now are no secret. Georgia's secondary, which lost four of its top five players from 2012, was the weakest link in a shaky defense this fall. The Bulldogs ranked 10th in the SEC (68th nationally) in pass defense, allowing 232.8 yards per game. They were No. 84 in pass efficiency defense, allowing a 133.99 passer rating. And only two conference teams surrendered more yards per pass attempt than Georgia's 7.6 (Arkansas at 7.9 and Kentucky at 8.2).

It was a rough season any way you view it, although the Bulldogs hope it was only a temporary problem caused by a secondary that ranked second in the SEC in pass defense last season (Georgia's 175.6 ypg allowed in 2012 were just two yards behind conference leader Alabama) breaking in an entirely new group of defensive backs.

“I think every DB we have has played in a game or two,” said cornerback Damian Swann, who along with safety Corey Moore will be the only two seniors in the bunch next fall. “And I think with those guys getting some experience, it's going to be great. Now they know what to expect, now they know how tough it is to play in this conference. I'm really looking forward to seeing these guys get after it.”

Swann's statement is not entirely true. The Bulldogs will also have cornerback Reggie Wilkerson -- who missed the season after tearing his ACL during summer workouts -- and safeties Tramel Terry and Kennar Johnson, who both redshirted this season. They also have commitments from ESPN's No. 1 junior college cornerback, Shattle Fenteng (Loganville, Ga./Hutchinson Community College) along with incoming freshmen Malkom Parrish (ESPN's No. 73 overall prospect for 2014 and No. 9 athlete) and Kendall Gant (ESPN's No. 32 safety).

Add those players to the numerous freshmen and sophomores who played big roles this season -- cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley, Sheldon Dawson and Devin Bowman and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger -- and the Bulldogs are well on the way to rebuilding a depth chart that took a huge hit. The losses started coming after the 2011 season, when cornerbacks Nick Marshall and Jordan Love and safeties Quintavious Harrow and Chris Sanders all departed either by dismissal or transfer, followed by the exodus of Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith for pro football after 2012.

“Some young guys got thrown into the fire,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think it's like I told them, I said, 'When you get thrown into the fire, you can either get hard or you can wilt.' And I think they've gotten harder. I think I've seen a couple guys really improve, probably more than they would've if they hadn't been in that situation. So you've got to play the cards you're dealt and find ways to win games.”

The question now is how they improve to the point where they are not the liability they were this fall, clearing a path for Georgia to win more than the eight games it has won thus far in 2013.

Moore believes progress will be a natural development out of this fall, when Swann was the only regular who entered the season with a start on defense.

“We were pretty young this year and [had a] lack of experience,” Moore said. “Immaturity played a big factor this year and lack of experience and just communication and getting to know each other better on the field. I think that played in big this year. I think next year, we're not going to have those problems.”

That's the plan, anyway, and what Georgia's players and coaching staff will spend this offseason making sure will be the case when the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson.

It was far from a banner season for Grantham's defense and, while that was not entirely unexpected, the coaches know the secondary must show marked improvement over the next year, starting with the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl date with Nebraska.

“Did we have a chance to be pretty good? Yeah. When that's going to happen? I don't know,” defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said. “A hundred different things, how they turn out, is going to affect that. That's what we had do work through, and we're still working through that, as we get ready for this game.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- If the halftime score of Georgia’s team scrimmage on Wednesday is in any way a preview of the Aug. 31 opener at Clemson, there are going to be some unhappy Bulldogs fans in Death Valley.

“I’m thinking right now I’m going to have Clemson with a 28-0 lead going into the third quarter and see if Georgia can come back and win it, so stay tuned. We’ll see what happens,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Tuesday’s practice.

The Wednesday evening event at Sanford Stadium -- Georgia’s third and final preseason scrimmage -- will serve as a practice game for the opener. For the first time, Richt’s staff will split the roster into expected contributors for the Clemson game versus everyone else.

That scout team will simulate Clemson, and will attempt to defend the four-touchdown halftime lead with reserve quarterbacks Christian LeMay and Faton Bauta simulating Tigers star quarterback Tajh Boyd against the veterans.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireMark Richt says some starting jobs are still up for grabs.
“Tomorrow is a very important day,” Richt said. “It’s the first time that it’s Georgia versus somebody instead of Georgia versus Georgia. It’s been offense versus defense up until this time. Now the No. 1 units get to play on the same team, get to cheer for each other instead of give each other a hard time. And our coordinators can actually have fun together instead of competing against each other. So that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to it.”

It also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to practice logistical situations, such as from a kickoff to a scrimmage series or following a change of possession, for the first time in a game-like environment. And they’ll do so with the personnel who will have to make those in-game transitions on Aug. 31.

“It’s just to get everybody more prepared for the game -- the things that we’re going to actually be doing and to put it in play,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith. “That sort of thing.”

Although the coaching staff informed the players Tuesday which ones will start out on the scout team, Richt and Smith both said they have seen youngsters battle their way into playing time during the season after initially being cast aside with the scout team. Richt used former Bulldogs linebacker Odell Thurman as an example of a player who fought his way off the scout team, and said players can similarly change opinions again with starting positions or contributing roles.

“There’s probably some starting positions on the line,” Richt said. “I know there’s some guys that probably still could possibly turn a coach’s head and say, ‘You know, this kid’s ready to play.’ There’ll be some guys that are playing for Clemson that could possibly sprout or however you want to say it or just play so well that we’re like, ‘You know what, maybe we ought to give this guy some reps.’ ”

One area that will remain a concern beyond Wednesday’s scrimmage is the injury-depleted secondary. The group which must already replace three starters and will be without strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons -- who is suspended for the opener -- continues to struggle with injuries.

Of the 13 players listed on Georgia’s Tuesday pre-practice injury report, seven were defensive backs including expected starting safety Tray Matthews (out with a hamstring strain) and the only returning starter, cornerback Damian Swann (limited with a hip flexor/groin strain). Cornerbacks Sheldon Dawson (shoulder sprain) and Devin Bowman (hamstring strain) and safety Corey Moore (knee sprain) -- all expected contributors this season -- were either limited or held out on Tuesday.

“The group that goes with Georgia, it’ll be interesting to see how much time the Clemson quarterback will have to get the ball off,” Richt said. “I think we’ve got a good enough line that’ll be playing for Clemson tomorrow that should be able to protect the quarterback, should be able to allow him to make some passes.

“There’ll be some receivers on that team that can make plays. So it’s not going to be a situation where they’re not going to get tested. I’m not saying they’re going to be as good as Clemson by any stretch, but they’ll be good enough to put some pressure on them.”

Wilkerson out for the year

June, 13, 2013
Freshman cornerback Reggie Wilkerson had an impressive spring camp after enrolling last January. The Florida native received praise from coaches and teammates about how quickly he was picking up the defensive schemes. But earlier this week he was injured during the voluntary summer workouts and now he will redshirt for the 2013 season.

“I won’t be playing next year,” Wilkerson said. “I tore my ACL and my meniscus.”

Wilkerson said a freak accident led to his injury.

“We were doing 7-on-7s and the receiver ran the wrong route,” Wilkerson said. “I ran into him, the tight end and the strong safety also. That just blew my knee out. I am the only one that got really hurt. I didn’t want anyone to know until tomorrow but people have already put it out on Twitter. I was getting ready to start but you know how it is.”

The Georgia secondary was already in the process of replacing four starters from last year, and with the news that safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss the season opener against Clemson, Wilkerson’s injury further depletes a thin secondary. Defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos will now have to rely on Damian Swann, Sheldon Dawson and Devin Bowman to man the cornerback spots, with true freshmen Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley getting looks, as well. Junior college transfer Kennar Johnson is coming to Georgia to play safety but could also help at cornerback, where he lined up last season.

Wilkerson will have ACL surgery on Friday at noon ET.

DawgNation Roundtable: Secondary 

June, 3, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- Just when it looked like the identities of Georgia’s secondary starters were becoming clear, we learned that sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss the Bulldogs’ opener at Clemson.

That threw open the door for other players to enter the lineup for the opener, not only in the four traditional secondary spots but also in the nickelback role that Harvey-Clemons figured to fill most of the time when the Bulldogs deployed five defensive backs.

However, we’ll keep the question simple for this week’s DawgNation roundtable: With Harvey-Clemons out of the picture for the first game, who will be the starting four in the secondary when Georgia plays its base defense against Clemson?

DawgNation Mailbag 

May, 1, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- With the spring camp over and the spring evaluation period underway, this seems as good a time as any to reopen the DawgNation Mailbag. We missed two weeks with the release of the ESPN 150 rankings and all the fireworks last week with the commitments of Sony Michel and Jeb Blazevich so let us get back to your burning questions.

gilly5134: I know it's hard to judge but how do you think the ACL injuries will affect Michael Bennett and Tramel Terry next year? I know it takes a lot of guys a while to get that mental edge back after realizing they can break.

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UGA CB to watch: Sheldon Dawson

April, 25, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- Sheldon Dawson appreciates the attention he has received in some corners as a potential breakout performer on Georgia’s defense this fall. But the rising sophomore cornerback is quick to point out that he hasn’t accomplished anything yet.

That’s exactly the attitude the Bulldogs’ coaching staff seemed to want to emphasize this spring with its young defense, encouraging players like Dawson to work hard this summer and earn a starting spot in the fall.

[+] EnlargeSheldon Dawson
John Adams/Icon SMISophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson is a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2013.
Although he didn’t play much as a freshman last fall, Dawson certainly has the ability to do it. The multi-position athlete received mixed reviews from the various recruiting services, but was actually listed as the top overall prospect in Tennessee by two of them. That athleticism showed up some last season with Dawson contributing mostly on special teams, but now that he has had time to learn his role in Georgia’s defensive scheme, his playing time should expand significantly on scrimmage downs.

As Dawson reminds us, he hasn’t locked down a starting job by any means, but a strong spring and impressive speed and coverage skills make him a player worth watching in Georgia’s secondary.

2012 review: Dawson appeared in 13 games, mostly on special teams, and won the team’s Newcomer of the Year award. He finished the season with 12 tackles, including a season-high three in the win at Missouri.

2013 preview: As a sophomore, Dawson’s role won’t be limited to special teams play. He’ll be a leading contender for a starting job when the Bulldogs open preseason camp in August, but he’ll have to fend off a number of alternative candidates including Reggie Wilkerson, Devin Bowman and Shaq Wiggins.

Spring prospectus: Dawson seemed to be helping his cause to become a starter prior to injuring his hamstring in the Bulldogs’ second spring scrimmage. He intercepted three passes in the two scrimmages, but did not participate in G-Day or the two practices afterward because of the injury. Nonetheless, Dawson got beaten in coverage a time or two and also made more than his share of plays, which could give him a leg up on the other contenders in the coaches’ estimation.

Career potential: Damian Swann needs somebody to step up and win the starting spot alongside him and Dawson took the biggest step toward doing that this spring. This might be Swann’s final season as a Bulldog, so Dawson could help ease the transition if he begins showing some leadership and performs well on the field like Swann did last fall in his first season as a starter.

Post-spring position review: CB 

April, 25, 2013
Editor’s note: Our DawgNation post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the cornerbacks:

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UGA spring preview: 5 players to watch 

February, 28, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- As Georgia prepares to open spring practice on Saturday, the Bulldogs should have considerable competition for available playing time -- particularly on defense.

Here are five players worth watching between now and the G-Day game on April 6:

1. Josh Harvey-Clemons: The rising sophomore will essentially be a rookie when he jumps into the competition at both outside linebacker and safety this spring. He’ll play both positions this fall based on matchups according to coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Harvey-Clemons -- ESPN’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2012 signing class -- played almost exclusively in a nickelback role last season, so he has a lot to learn. His athleticism will give him the opportunity to become one of the Bulldogs’ most dynamic playmakers at his new spots.

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UGA spring preview: 5 positions to watch 

February, 28, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. -- Coaches always emphasize the importance of competition during spring practice, and there will certainly be more than enough at Georgia once the Bulldogs start spring drills on March 2.

The competition on the defensive side of the ball will be the story of the spring, as coordinator Todd Grantham and company work to find replacements for the 12 departed regulars who figured heavily into the Bulldogs’ defensive plans last fall.

Here are five positions that bear close watching this spring:

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ATHENS, Ga. -- This won’t be the most crucial offseason of Todd Grantham’s relatively brief time at Georgia -- that honor goes to 2010, when he started installing his 3-4 scheme shortly after joining Mark Richt’s staff in January -- but it might be the one with the most roster uncertainty.

The Bulldogs will lose 11 key players off its 2012 defense, and that number could grow to 12 if junior nose guard Kwame Geathers declares for the NFL draft, so spring practice will feature major competition within every defensive position group.

“I kind of put them up on the board the other day and we’ve got some talented guys. It’s just a matter of developing them and working them and filtering it,” Grantham said. “Our depth is going to be better than it’s been the last couple of years, but it’s going to be young. So there’s a little bit at every spot.”

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Position scouting report: Cornerback 

January, 3, 2013
Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and project how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s cornerbacks:

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDamian Swann will provide the Georgia secondary with experience and leadership in 2013.
Current two-deep depth chart:
Sanders Commings (Sr.), Devin Bowman (RFr.)
Damian Swann (So.), Branden Smith (Sr.)

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Freshman DBs' time is nearly here

December, 21, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- Josh Harvey-Clemons and Sheldon Dawson aren’t accustomed to riding the bench, so the freshman defensive backs were forced to swallow their pride this fall.

As members of a Georgia secondary that featured four valued seniors -- safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams and cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith -- the freshmen eventually had to accept that they probably would not crack the rotation this fall. Not that such a reality was easy to accept.

“It was real hard,” said Harvey-Clemons, whom ESPN listed as the No. 17 overall prospect, the top outside linebacker and the top player in the state of Georgia when he signed with the Bulldogs in February. “I’m not going to lie to you, I had some nights where I was like, ‘Man, I’m going home.’ I’d come in and call my granddad and talk to my people and they just told me to keep playing and my time’s going to come.”

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'Dream Team' class gets results 

November, 2, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. -- Recruiting battles matter. The results are almost always indicative of what future success a program can expect. Georgia is hoping that the fierce battles it won in 2010 will continue to pay dividends going forward.

On signing day 2011, the Bulldogs received letters of intent from 26 members of the “Dream Team” recruiting class --a moniker that Mark Richt bestowed on that year's signees. Despite having lost seven members of that class to transfers, dismissals and academic ineligibility, the Dream Team is 2-0 against Florida with one SEC East title to its credit and another title within reach this season.

Prior to that class, Georgia had a 14-12 record during the previous two seasons, including the program’s first losing season under Richt. He and his staff hit the recruiting trail hard in 2010 and the results have been obvious.

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UGA midseason report card: DBs 

October, 14, 2012
Sanders CommingsDaniel Shirey/US PresswireWhile Sanders Commings has proved his worth among the D-backs since coming back from suspension, his effort, including two picks of UT's Tyler Bray, isn't enough to propel the unit.
Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is at the halfway mark, and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We'll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Considering the depth chart mess that existed within Georgia’s secondary before the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Bulldogs have experienced numerous continuity issues in pass coverage.

Whatever the reason, a defense that ranked 10th nationally against the pass last season (176 yards per game) and fifth in interceptions (20) looked nothing like its formerly dominant self -- even after most of the group reunited when All-America safety Bacarri Rambo returned from a season-opening, four-game suspension.

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Peach State: Top Tier Recruiting Ground?
California, Florida and Texas are largely considered the "Big Three" in college football recruiting. But national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to explain why Georgia deserves to be in the top tier and has numbers to prove it.