Georgia Bulldogs: Bacarri Rambo

It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first-team workout, this week we're making five predictions related to the upcoming practices.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann seems like the only safe bet to hold on to a starting job in the secondary next fall.
Today’s final prediction: The secondary remains in flux

No element of Georgia’s defensive drop-off was more concerning than the secondary, where the Bulldogs tumbled from eighth nationally in passing defense in 2012 to 60th last season, with their yards-allowed average jumping nearly 50 yards per game, from 175.6 to 227.4.

It was somewhat understandable, given that the Bulldogs had to replace four longtime contributors at safety (former All-American Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams) and cornerback (Sanders Commings and Branden Smith), three of whom were drafted. But the secondary’s growing pains were the most obvious and anger-inducing element of Georgia’s defensive struggles a season ago.

Coach Mark Richt and his staff certainly hope that the experience the group gained last fall will lead to a smoother fall -- and we do expect the secondary to improve under first-year defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt -- but today’s prediction is that the depth chart will remain in flux beyond spring practice.

That will be for a variety of reasons. One is that some players who could compete for immediate playing time -- I’m thinking of the versatile Shattle Fenteng, whom ESPN listed as the top junior-college cornerback prospect for 2014, and cornerback Malkom Parrish -- are not even on campus yet. Another is that Tramel Terry is only a few practices into his transition from receiver to safety, while cornerback Reggie Wilkerson is still on his way back from a torn ACL suffered last summer.

We know who the leading contenders are in these position races -- senior Damian Swann, junior Sheldon Dawson and sophomores Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley all return at cornerback, while safeties Corey Moore, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger all gained starting experience last fall -- but Pruitt shouldn’t be in any hurry to anoint anyone as a starter. After last year’s results, he has no reason to do such a thing.

Swann is the safest bet to remain in the starting lineup. He has started 27 games in a row, after all, and is by far the most experienced player in this bunch. But beyond the senior cornerback, the other slots should be completely up for grabs. That grew even more certain when Richt booted starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons off the roster about a month ago.

Pruitt has a couple of nice pieces to work with in this youthful secondary, but the group has a long way to go before it could be considered consistent -- or even competent. The coach has gotten impressive results from his defensive backs in previous stops at Alabama and Florida State, and he will almost certainly repeat that success at Georgia.

Don’t expect it to occur overnight, however. The improvement process will begin this spring, and it seems highly likely that competition at the various secondary positions will continue well into preseason practice.
Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll look back at the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the last decade.

Today, we'll look at No. 5: The 2008 class that produced a couple of All-Americans and perhaps the greatest wide receiver in school history.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesA.J. Green had a stellar career at Georgia.
The stars: A.J. Green seemed destined for greatness even before he became a Bulldog -- and he lived up to that advance billing as soon as he arrived on campus. In three seasons, Green accumulated 2,619 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns (totals that rank third and second, respectively, in school history) before becoming a Pro Bowl receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals. Center Ben Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo also earned All-America honors from at least one group during their careers, and cornerback/return man Brandon Boykin won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player as a senior in 2011.

The contributors: Several players from this class made a major impact at Georgia. In addition to the previously mentioned players, offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, kicker Blair Walsh, receiver Tavarres King, cornerback Sanders Commings and defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Cornelius Washington all performed well enough to become NFL draft picks. Walsh slumped as a senior, but had two of the best seasons by a UGA place-kicker during his sophomore and junior seasons. King didn't generate the attention that Green did, but his career totals of 2,602 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches are fourth and third in school history.

The letdowns: About half of this class failed to contribute much of anything. Running back/linebacker Richard Samuel played a minor role for most of his career although he was the No. 35 overall prospect on the ESPN 150. For a variety of reasons, several members of the class either never enrolled at Georgia (Xavier Avery, Toby Jackson), transferred (A.J. Harmon, Marcus Dowtin, Dontavius Jackson, Makiri Pugh, Nick Williams) or struggled with health issues (Bryce Ros, Jonathan Owens) that prevented them from completing their careers in Athens.

The results: The talent in this class was impressive -- 11 players from the group made it onto an NFL roster -- but there were enough flameouts that we won't rank it higher on the list. Nonetheless, many of these players helped the Bulldogs win back-to-back SEC East titles as upperclassmen after a disappointing 6-7 result in 2010. With Green, who looks like a potential Hall of Famer at this point, headlining the group, Georgia's 2008 class definitely belongs on our list.

Georgia DBs coach Lakatos resigns

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Georgia announced Thursday evening that secondary coach Scott Lakatos has resigned for personal reasons.

“We are very appreciative of Scott's contributions to our program over the last four years and I have a great amount of respect for him as a coach and as a person,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said in a release. “We with him and his family nothing but the best.

Lakatos joined Richt's staff in 2010 and the Bulldogs ranked second in the SEC in pass defense last season. That secondary was stocked with senior talent -- including NFL draft picks Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings -- but their departures ushered in an inexperienced set of defensive backs and a far less effective pass defense.

The Bulldogs finished 60th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (227.4), and the secondary was the weakest link on a green defense that took an overall step backward from its efforts in 2011 and 2012.

Georgia should return all of its key defensive backs from this season, including starting cornerbacks Damian Swann and Shaq Wiggins and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger.

Secondary looking to grow in 2014

December, 31, 2013
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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.”

Obviously.

[+] 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 TaxSlayer.com 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.”

Moore helping Terry adjust at safety

December, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – Corey Moore has taken on the role of teacher this week.

The junior safety's pupil? Redshirting freshman Tramel Terry, who up until bowl practice had been a receiver at Georgia.

“I'm trying to do the best that I can. I know we've got some new faces back there, so I think I'm just going to take their hand like [Bacarri] Rambo and Shawn [Williams] did to me,” Moore said, referring to the pair of longtime Bulldogs starting safeties and current NFL rookies. “So it should be an exciting process.”

Because of his explosive playmaking skills, Terry was among Georgia's highest-rated 2013 signees. ESPN listed him as the nation's No. 89 overall prospect and No. 9 athlete, and coaches raved about his potential as a future offensive weapon.

Needless to say, it seemed like a surprise move when Terry practiced with the safeties this week, but Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said it had been a long time coming. While Terry practiced at receiver along with the other scout team members, the defensive coaches started to take notice of what looked like an excellent defensive back in the making.

“I just think that the defensive coaches were kind of keeping an eye on him and kind of coveting him and kind of playfully recruiting him a little bit,” Richt said. “Sometimes if a guy's on your scout team, they hang around the defensive coaches more than the offensive coaches when it comes to practice time. And they liked what they saw and thought it might be a good move for the defense.”

At 6-foot, Terry certainly has a body type that fits the average NFL safety instead of the rangier pro receiver. That was one of the arguments defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could make in proposing a change to Terry and the offensive coaches.

“I think Coach Grantham's background in the NFL and just how he sees prospects and things of that nature, he really sees him as a great-looking safety prospect,” Richt said. “It was something that the defensive staff was all for, and actually kind of started it off, started the whole conversation.”

The transition is obviously in its extremely early stages, however. Before almost every practice rep in the periods of practice that are open to the media, Terry receives plenty of instruction from defensive graduate assistant Mike Macdonald and veterans like Moore and Connor Norman.

Terry played some defensive back in high school, but has a long way to go to be a proficient college defensive back. But he has already flashed a willingness to tackle – an attribute the big-hitting Moore appreciates.

“I was telling him, 'If you get confused, just do what [Macdonald] says: 'Kick [butt].' Just go out there and just play,” Moore said. “But I told him, 'If you ever run across something that you do not know, you ask a coach first. And if you can't get to him, you can always come to me. Just try to pick up on some of the knowledge that Connor has because this is his last year.' That's where I basically learned the ins and outs of this defense.”

Moore's new role as Terry's teacher is not valuable only for the former freshman receiver. It's also valuable for Moore, who will be one of two seniors in the 2014 secondary along with cornerback Damian Swann. Those are the players who will likely help organize their young position mates for summer position workouts and passing sessions.

Moore just enjoyed his first steady playing time this season after Rambo and Williams' departure, so he was in the pupil's role for most of his career. Now Moore – and the talented young players he will try to lead -- can help Georgia's secondary recover from an erratic 2013, starting with this week's on-campus bowl practices.

“I'm just getting into it now, as you guys know,” Moore said. “I'm pretty much the vet at the safety spot. But it's pretty fun. I know what I have in store for those young guys. We can be a great defensive back corps if we want to. It's just the fact of us going out there and wanting to be great.”

Georgia now has options at safety

November, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Whenever an injury or suspension has impacted Georgia's lineup throughout his time as defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham's standard line was that it was a chance to create depth.

That being the case, Georgia has had more than enough opportunity to build depth at safety this season -- although the transition from longtime starters Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo to a group of newcomers has frequently been bumpy.

“It's just a process,” Grantham said. “You just stay the course and believe in the system and get the guys the reps they need and build on what they do well and try to improve the things that maybe they didn't do as well.”

Williams and Rambo started the vast majority of Georgia's games at safety between 2010 and 2012, so their departure for the NFL after last season created a huge hole at the back end of the Bulldogs' defense. Sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons -- the team's defensive MVP of spring practice -- and true freshman Tray Matthews were the offseason favorites to fill that vacancy, but a one-game suspension to Harvey-Clemons to open the season and a hamstring injury for Matthews have allowed the duo to play together for just three games.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsSafety Tray Matthews is expected to be back in the lineup for the first time since the Bulldogs' win over LSU in September.
Matthews should play Saturday for the first time since the Bulldogs' Sept. 28 win over LSU, which was the last time that Matthews, Harvey-Clemons and fellow safeties Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger all played in the same game.

Matthews has battled injuries essentially since preseason practice started in August, which put a damper on the excitement he generated during spring practice after enrolling at UGA in January.

“Even though he was here in the spring, he still has got to continue to work hard at perfecting what he does,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “In the meantime, some other guys have been playing a good bit and getting some experience and things like that. But yeah, we'd definitely like to get him going out on the defensive scrimmage downs, and I'm sure he'll do it this week.”

Georgia's long list of injury issues on offense has been the main storyline of the season entering Saturday's game against Appalachian State, but the issues at safety have been nearly as devastating -- particularly when you consider the lack of experience the group brought into the season.

True freshman Mauger is the only member of the foursome who has played in all eight games, while injuries and illnesses to the two junior college defensive backs in the 2013 signing class, Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson, have prevented either from playing in a single game.

“This season has been a devastating year, but I feel like moments like this, it brings out the best in people,” said Moore, a junior who joins senior Connor Norman as the group's elder statesmen. “'You can never be scared of competition,' my dad always told me. Injuries create opportunities, and there were plenty of opportunities out there that different players had to step in and make plays.”

Moore has dealt with injuries himself. He tore the LCL in his knee while trying to block a punt during preseason practice and missed the Bulldogs' opener at Clemson. He didn't practice without a brace until the week of the Oct. 12 Missouri game. But he has made a couple of big plays for the Bulldogs in recent weeks, intercepting a pass two games ago against Vanderbilt and recording a 14-yard sack on Florida's final drive last week that helped Georgia put away a 23-20 win.

For the first time in a month, Moore is part of a safety group that is close to full strength -- Harvey-Clemons is also back after missing the second half of the Vanderbilt game and was frequently subbed out against Florida -- which provides options for Grantham and defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos that largely haven't existed this season.

“All four of those guys have had some snaps, so you feel comfortable rolling those guys in there,” Grantham said. “That allows you to maybe have some different packages where you can play with three safeties and things like that, too. Injuries create depth. It's been a process for those guys, but they've done a good job working hard and now we've got some depth.”

Mauger -- one of the least-heralded members of the 2013 class -- was thrust into position to where he had to play, but Grantham credited him for learning both safety positions and for his cerebral approach to the game. Mauger did not expect to play as much as he has, but the long list of injuries at his position forced him to fill a larger role than he might have otherwise.

“It is quite a surprise at some point,” he said, “but then again I worked so hard for it, so why not?”

Now with Matthews back, Grantham and Lakatos are actually in position to consider their options at safety. Grantham didn't tip his hand as to whether Matthews will start, noting only that “he'll definitely play,” but production matters more than who plays the first down, he said.

All four players will have an opportunity to produce, and slowly the group is becoming less of a liability than the one that was nearly devoid of on-field experience when the season started.

“You've just got to stay the course, believe in what you're doing and know the system works and just keep being consistent in your message to them and the things that you want them to do from a technique/fundamentals standpoint,” Grantham said. “And then it'll start clicking and they'll start playing fast and they'll make some plays.”

Four ways for UGA to generate turnovers

October, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo became All-Americans in part because of their abilities to steal the ball from opponents -- Jones with his persistent motor and pass-rush skills and Rambo with his ability to get into position to make drive-killing interceptions.

They led a Georgia defense that generated 62 turnovers over the last two seasons, a total that ranked eighth nationally and second in the SEC behind only LSU's 63. Jones and Rambo are now in the NFL, however, while 10 other contributors from last season's defense are also no longer on the roster.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham went from having one of the league's most experienced defenses to one of the greenest. It's no secret the results have been ugly, with Georgia ranking last in the SEC in scoring defense (33.7 ppg), second to last in third-down defense (43.7 percent) and last in turnovers generated (five).

The last figure is striking considering that three of those turnovers -- muffed punts by Clemson and LSU and a lost fumble for a touchback by Tennessee's Alton "Pig" Howard as he dove for the pylon in overtime -- came either on special teams or by a fluke accident.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia freshman linebacker Leonard Floyd is second on the team in sacks with four.
As with most of Georgia's defensive shortcomings, the turnover drought is largely a product of youth. But there are ways that the Bulldogs can create more turnovers, and they discussed four key factors in generating more takeaways this week:

Mature before our eyes: Georgia's inexperience is the factor that will require the most patience.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt explained that a young defender's first obligation is typically to make the basic play before attempting the explosive play, but the Bulldogs have struggled with both to this point.

“They're still just trying to get lined up right and play the right fundamental and get a guy on the ground or just bat a ball down rather than go for the pick and that type of thing,” Richt said. “So they're learning and as they go. They'll get more comfortable and they'll be able to make more plays.”

Grantham insists turnovers have always been an area of emphasis, but the Bulldogs say they're working on it even more lately.

“We really haven't worked on it as much as we should in practice, so now we're emphasizing it a lot more and working on getting the ball out,” safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said.

Drills only get a player so far, however. For most, increased effectiveness is a byproduct of experience.

“We can work drills till we're blue in the face, but you've got to do it in the heat of the battle,” Richt said. “You've got to keep coaching it, teaching it, show the situation where, 'Hey, in this situation here, you might could have raked the ball out. Instead of just wrapping up the QB, you might could've stripped it out of there.' ”

Strip the quarterback: One of the reasons Jones was dangerous was his ability to not only sack opposing quarterbacks, but to strip the ball from their hands.

He led the nation in sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles (seven) and frequently capitalized on what Grantham said is the easiest route to a turnover.

“The quarterback fumbles more than anybody else on the team because he's looking down the field, not at a [rusher],” he said. “A runner is looking to know that, 'Hey, they're going to hit me. I'm going to protect the ball.' A quarterback's looking to throw the ball down the field. So from that standpoint, there's a better chance to get the ball out.”

Georgia's defensive linemen and outside linebackers, many of whom are underclassmen and first-time starters, haven't developed such savvy yet.

“Coach is probably going to have us doing drills [this week] trying to get a sack with the ball out, so we're probably going to work on that all this week trying to prepare us for [Vanderbilt],” said freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who is tied for fifth in the SEC with four sacks.

Dislodge the ball: Maybe the most overlooked play in the Bulldogs' 42-10 win against Georgia Tech last fall was when Rambo halted the Yellow Jackets' first drive by ripping the ball out of Robert Godhigh's hands at the goal line and returning the fumble 49 yards to midfield.

Georgia scored another touchdown shortly thereafter and it was quickly 14-0 Bulldogs. Tech never threatened Georgia's lead again that day, although it could have been a different ballgame if not for Rambo's early takeaway.

“I remember Rambo dislodging a couple guys from the ball, kind of learning how to dislodge the ball. There's a technique to it, there's an art to it,” Grantham said.

Swarming to the ball also helps. Once Rambo had help on the Godhigh tackle, he had the confidence to try to rip the ball from the Tech runner's hands.

“We've just got to be around the ball,” said linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who has Georgia's only forced fumble. “If more people are around the ball to make a tackle, then one person can pull it out.”

Better breaks on passes: Another product of youth is that Georgia's defensive backs have broken up a handful of passes that could have been interceptions had they gotten just a split second better break on the ball.

Several members of Georgia's secondary discussed the need to improve their “eye control” -- reading the depth of a quarterback's drop and quickly deciphering how the play might develop based on what they see.

That means not biting on a play-action fake or getting out of their assigned zone -- and again, becoming sound in that area typically comes with experience.

“When you're a pattern match team and you're matching routes, you're reading the eyes of the quarterback and that gives you a chance to break on the ball based upon the distribution of the routes,” Grantham said. “The quicker you can do that, the better break you can get on the ball, which allows you to get the pick.”

Shaw will test UGA defensive discipline

September, 3, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps because of Georgia’s offensive ineptitude in its 35-7 loss last season to South Carolina, Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw’s impressive performance seemed to fly under the radar.

Look over Shaw’s run-pass line from that game -- 6-for-10 passing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, plus 78 rushing yards and another score -- and you won’t confuse him for dual-threat Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesGeorgia knows from painful experience just how dangerous Connor Shaw is running or passing.
But make no mistake, Shaw’s ability to make things happen with his arm and legs played a major role in South Carolina jumping to a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Containing the shifty quarterback will be a major order of business for the Bulldogs in Saturday’s rematch.

“Most of the time when you have a quarterback like that, you might see an opening just to go inside on a tackle or something like that and he just slips outside and that’s when the big plays happen,” Georgia defensive end Josh Dawson said. “So staying to your keys and being fundamental, that’s going to be the biggest thing of containing a quarterback like that. Just try to apply as much pressure as you can. I feel like if we can do that, we can have a chance.”

A season ago, though, Georgia had difficulty with the fundamental aspects of defending him.

On the second play of the game, Shaw launched a jump ball that receiver Damiere Byrd snatched away from Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo for a 42-yard gain. Three plays later, Shaw hit a wide-open Bruce Ellington with a 20-yard touchdown pass, and the Gamecocks were up 7-0.

Shortly after Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was intercepted on the ensuing drive, South Carolina was on the move again, going 69 yards in 11 plays and scoring on a 14-yard pass from Shaw to Rory Anderson.

In just those two drives, Shaw went 5-for-6 for 100 yards and two scores, and he ran twice for 17 more yards. With a defense as good as South Carolina’s, Shaw’s early efficiency had a devastating impact on Georgia’s chances.

“Connor Shaw is a very difficult quarterback to manage in how he runs the football, and he threw the ball extremely well,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Although Georgia’s defense did not exactly hem in Clemson's Tajh Boyd last weekend, who totaled five touchdowns in a 38-35 victory, the Bulldogs believe there was some value in facing one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks before facing Shaw in their conference opener Saturday.

“You tend to figure out what running quarterbacks’ tendencies [are],” Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. “Like if they don’t see something open, they’ll tuck it and run it just about every time. So it’s really like practice leading up to playing South Carolina’s quarterback.”

Their teams’ offensive philosophies -- South Carolina’s grinding offense is built around physicality, including the running style of its hard-nosed quarterback, while Clemson’s wide-open scheme attempts to get its large group of talented skill players into open space, with big plays a regular possibility -- are extremely different, and so are their quarterbacks.

That makes a comparison between Georgia’s strategy against Boyd versus its strategy against Shaw somewhat invalid, defensive lineman Mike Thornton said.

“I don’t think it’s worth comparing those two because they’re two totally different teams with I feel like two different philosophies as far as running the ball and having an outside passing attack,” Thornton said. “So I wouldn’t compare the two, but we definitely have to get after Connor Shaw.”

That much is certain. Georgia learned that lesson the hard way a season ago.

Their rocky 2013 debut reminded the Bulldogs of the importance of playing their assignments properly on defense, and they will be tested in that area again Saturday.

“[We have keep staying] to our keys and just knowing what can happen when you get out of your gaps and whatnot,” Dawson said. “Playing Boyd was an eye-opener and it was something we needed early in the season. Coming into the South Carolina game, you have Connor Shaw, who does the same thing, so it’s something that’s going to help us this week.”

Georgia Bulldogs spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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GEORGIA BULLDOGS

2012 record: 12-2

2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, SEC East)

Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OL Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, ILB Amarlo Herrera

Key losses: OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, S Shawn Williams, S Bacarri Rambo, NG John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, WR Tavarres King

2012 statistical leaders (* - returner)
Rushing: Gurley * (1,385 yards)
Passing: Murray * (3,893 yards)
Receiving: King (950 yards)
Tackles: Alec Ogletree (111)
Sacks: Jones (14.5)
Interceptions: Swann * (4)

Spring answers
1. Safety starters: With 2011 All-Americans Rambo and Williams completing their college careers, the Bulldogs entered the spring with two big holes at safety. It appears sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and January enrollee Tray Matthews have all but claimed the starting positions, however. Harvey-Clemons was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of spring practice, and Matthews generated the most buzz of anyone this spring with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Georgia’s inexperience along the back end of the defense is not ideal, but the two youngsters could become a pleasant surprise.

(Read full post)

Spring cleaning: Connor Norman

May, 1, 2013
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Editor's note: Over the next couple of weeks, we'll clean out our notebook from Georgia's spring practice to tell the stories we didn't get to before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. Previously we featured fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Jay Rome and defensive end Ray Drew. Today we recap a conversation with safety Connor Norman from a few days before the G-Day game.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Connor Norman doesn’t necessarily want to become a coach, but he assumed that role almost by default this spring.

As the only Georgia safety who has actually started a game on defense, he naturally felt somewhat like a teacher as he helped younger teammates such as early enrollees Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger experience their first taste of college football.

“There’s a lot of young guys and I feel like I have a pretty decent understanding of the defense, so I feel like if that’s part of what I do, then I’m out there helping,” said Norman, a fifth-year senior. “I guess I do see myself as a teacher.”

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With four players selected in Saturday's final rounds of the NFL draft, Georgia concluded the three-day event with eight players picked -- matching the program's record for most players picked in one year.

Last year the Bulldogs nearly tied the previous program record, eight in 2002, by having seven players selected. They reached the record this year when safety Bacarri Rambo went to the Washington Redskins in the sixth round -- although several players who hoped to hear their names called Saturday went undrafted, including nose guard Kwame Geathers, who opted to skip his senior season in college to enter the draft.

Georgia players halted a conspicuous trend Thursday when outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (17th overall to Pittsburgh) and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (30th to St. Louis) were both picked in the first round. It had been eight years since Georgia had a defensive player picked in the first round, dating to when David Pollack and Thomas Davis were both first-rounders in 2005.

Defensive players dominated this draft class for Georgia, with seven of the eight picks having played under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham last season. Along with Jones, Ogletree and Rambo, nose guard John Jenkins (third round, New Orleans), safety Shawn Williams (third round, Cincinnati), cornerback Sanders Commings (fifth round, Arizona) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (sixth round, Chicago) were picked this year.

Receiver Tavarres King (fifth round, Denver) was Georgia's only offensive draft pick.

Shortly after the draft concluded, defensive end Abry Jones tweeted that he had signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Meanwhile, several other former Georgia players became available to sign with teams as undrafted free agents. In the next few days, Geathers, receiver Marlon Brown, cornerback Branden Smith and linebackers Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard could sign with teams via free agency.

Post-spring position review: S 

April, 26, 2013
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Editor’s note: DawgNation's post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the safeties:

Returning players/stats: Connor Norman, Jr. (Two starts. 18 tackles); Corey Moore, Jr. (One start. 14 tackles, one tackle for a loss); Marc Deas, Jr. (One tackle, one blocked punt); Josh Harvey-Clemons, So. (14 tackles, one TFL, one pass breakup);

ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann’s hair isn’t thinning and he doesn’t wake up each morning with chronic back pain, but he does feel like the resident old guy in Georgia’s secondary.

The rising junior cornerback spent his first two seasons surrounded by veterans, but entered this spring as the only defensive back in the Bulldogs’ arsenal with any valuable field experience.

It’s a different feeling for Swann, who is going from student to big brother/teacher, but as spring practice winds down, he’s more comfortable with being the guy who is looked up to in this defense.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann broke up five passes and led the team with four interceptions last season.
“It was a challenge [to take on more responsibility this spring], but now it’s going to be even more challenging because I’m kind of the lone defensive back, period, that has established himself in this system,” Swann told ESPN.com Thursday. “A lot of people might look at it as me having to make more plays than I did last year, which is fine because that’s what I want to do.”

He also wants to make sure all the holes left by the departures of corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, along with safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are properly filled. These weren’t run-of-the-mill players, either. These were strong, veteran starters that any SEC team would have loved to have.

Now, the Bulldogs have to replace them with a slew of youngsters, mostly freshmen, and Swann feels somewhat responsible for guiding them this year. He isn’t looking to be a father figure, just the best big brother he can be.

Still, taking on a leadership role and having to teach has felt odd at times considering Swann wasn’t even sure how much playing time he was going to get last season.

After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2011, Swann began 2012 as a starter only due to a rash of suspensions in the secondary. With Commings sitting for two games to start the year, Swann said he wasn’t surprised by his heavy playing time, but when Commings returned, he still found himself in the starting lineup. Then, when the Tennessee game arrived in Week 5, he was named the strong corner starter and would stay there all season.

He expected to move back to the nickel at some point, which was fine, but taking over one of the top corner spots left him a bit speechless. He went from 60-70 plays a game to 80-90, which was a lot for a youngster like Swann.

“That was a big push for me, just being a sophomore playing all those snaps in the SEC,” Swann said with a laugh.

Swann started 14 games last year and led the team with four interceptions and also broke up five passes. He even recorded two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced two fumbles.

Quietly, Swann played a big part of Georgia’s defense last season, but he’s looking for an even bigger role in 2013.

“I want to be the guy that lives up to the expectations, that wants to be in the spotlight, that wants to cover your best receiver,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m willing to accept that.”

Swann is actually in an interesting spot. He starts off as the team’s top player in the secondary, but he might not get all the attention he wants this fall. Offenses usually tend to pick on the younger guys, so Swann might not have passes thrown his way as much as he’d like.

That means his teaching skills will have to be that much better as he tries to coach up the pups around him. The good news is after all the time he got last season, Swann thinks he’ll have more time to help than worry about his own game once fall arrives.

“Last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and to Georgia because imagine if I wasn’t to play and we graduated all those guys,” he said. “Now, it’s going to a whole entire brand-new secondary with hardly any experience. Me playing as much as I did puts us in a better situation.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Cornelius Washington realizes he is something of a walking draft-season cliché, but the former Georgia pass rusher seems OK with that notion. The formerly off-the-radar prospect was simply hoping for an opportunity to impress scouts -- and once that opportunity arrived, Washington was able to capitalize.

He didn’t generate much NFL buzz with a quiet senior season (22 tackles, three tackles for a loss, half a sack), but Washington has turned heads across the league with a series of impressive performances in pre-draft workouts.

“I was kind of at the bottom,” Washington said. “Between the Senior Bowl and the combine and what I’ve been able to do [last week at Georgia’s pro day], my stock I feel like is rising and I’m very proud of that.”

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UGA pro day notes: Chasing history 

March, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- After 17 of his former players worked out in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams on Thursday, Georgia coach Mark Richt expressed his opinion that this crop of ex-Bulldogs might set a new program record for the most players picked in one draft.

“I thought they looked great,” Richt said. “I don’t know what kind of times guys ran and all that kind of thing, but if you just look at their body types, how hard they’ve worked and just watched them do the drillwork and how smooth they looked, you could tell there’s going to be a bunch of Bulldogs out of this class make it in the league, and we’re excited about that for them.”

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMark Richt expects at least eight Bulldogs to be drafted off of Georgia's SEC East-winning roster.
Richt’s 2002 draft class holds the program record with eight selections, but it’s highly possible the Bulldogs will have at least that many players selected in next month’s draft. Six players -- linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones, defensive lineman John Jenkins, safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo and receiver Tavarres King -- all rank among ESPN Scouts Inc.’s top 115 prospects. Others like defensive lineman Kwame Geathers, defensive back Sanders Commings and defensive end Cornelius Washington all stand a good chance of getting drafted, as well, with an additional group of Bulldogs hoping to crack the draft’s later rounds or make a squad as an undrafted free agent.

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