Georgia Bulldogs: Kennar Johnson

UGA position groups to improve: No. 1

February, 14, 2014
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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
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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.”

UGA redshirt review: defense

December, 20, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Yesterday we reviewed the players who redshirted on offense. Today we move to the defense.

[+] EnlargeDavin Bellamy
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNDavin Bellamy, a former four-star prospect, could work his way into the DL rotation this spring.
John Atkins, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 119 overall in 2012, No. 11 defensive tackle
This season: The prep school transfer did not seize a role in the defensive line rotation, but impressed coaches and teammates with a promising skill set that could help him play multiple positions in the future.
Veteran's perspective: “John Atkins' footwork is crazy for a big guy. He's like 320 -- we're the same size – and he has amazing footwork and work ethic. He's going to be one of those guys popping off the scene next year.” -- sophomore defensive lineman Chris Mayes

Davin Bellamy, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 299 overall, No. 25 defensive end
This season: Underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason, but could have played this season according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were it not for the emergence of Floyd and Jordan Jenkins at his position.
Veteran's perspective: “Bellamy's a big-bodied kid. I know just from being around him, he has a giant attitude. And when I say that, it's a good thing. He believes in himself and what he can do. He thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, which is the attitude that you have to have when you're playing football because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody will.” -- junior defensive end Ray Drew

Paris Bostick, Fr., ILB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 55 safety
This season: Grantham compares Bostick's skills to those of another converted safety -- former UGA linebacker Alec Ogletree. Bostick suffered a toe injury during the summer and returned to practice during the season.
Veteran's perspective: “Bigger than what most people think -- real big dude now. He's just trying to learn the system and figure out where he's going to fit in at. … He's a real big dude, but he still runs like a safety. He's fast. He's going to be a real good addition to us.” -- junior linebacker Ramik Wilson

Shaquille Fluker, Jr., S
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 36 on Junior College 50, No. 2 safety
This season: Initially set back by an array of physical ailments, Fluker was designated as a redshirt candidate by midseason. He announced this week his plans to transfer in search of playing time.
Coach's perspective: “I can't comment on any medical situation, but everybody wants to play more, obviously, and I hope wherever he goes, he gets to play. I hope he finds a good home. I like him a lot. He's a good kid. I'm very confident we had his best interests at heart the entire time he was here at Georgia and we treated him well.” -- coach Mark Richt

DeAndre Johnson, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 84 defensive tackle
This season: The youngest defensive lineman on the roster, Johnson needs to have a productive offseason in order to crack a veteran-heavy rotation next season, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a low-pad-level player, just a young guy that's got to build up and get more experience and get comfortable with the game. … I think he'll be able to play the 3-technique as he has to learn the game and progress. For his size, he's pretty shifty, so I think he'll be all right.” -- Mayes

Kennar Johnson, Jr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 4 safety
This season: Injuries slowed Johnson's development early in the season and the coaches opted to redshirt him instead of utilizing another inexperienced player in a youthful secondary.
Veteran's perspective: “KJ is an athlete. He's very fast. It just comes with being able to compete and learning the system. I think he was kind of put in a bad situation coming in playing behind Corey [Moore], playing behind Tray [Matthews], who was here in the spring, and playing behind Josh [Harvey-Clemons] who's been here for two years. … [Johnson and Fluker were] playing behind guys who had already been here that grasped the system very well. That kind of put them behind the 8-ball a little bit.” -- junior cornerback Damian Swann

Shaun McGee, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 43 defensive end
This season: Capable of playing inside or outside, McGee's development this offseason will establish which of the two spots he plays next fall according to Grantham.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a little bit shorter, but he's very strong. His legs are massive and he can run. He has great speed off the edge, so I see that being one of his best contributions to the team.” -- Drew

Reggie Wilkerson, Fr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 163 overall, No. 15 athlete
This season: Enrolled in January and was on track to contribute this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during summer workouts.
Veteran's perspective: “Reggie had a pretty good spring and he had a freak injury during the summer doing [pass skeleton drills] and we lost him. But I think he can be a big key and big part of this secondary with what we already have with Sheldon [Dawson], with Shaq and with [Brendan] Langley.” -- Swann

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.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia opened as a 36.5-point favorite for Saturday's game against North Texas, which should be enough to light a fire this week under the Hutson Masons, Reggie Carters and Jonathon Rumphs on the ninth-ranked Bulldogs’ roster.


But before Georgia's coaching staff can help its reserves gain some on-field seasoning, the starters must first take control against a resilient Mean Green (2-1) club that outscored Ball State 31-7 after the first quarter on Saturday to win, 34-27.

“Just this past weekend, you saw Michigan playing Akron, and I don't know what their mindset was going into the game, but I know what it was, I'm sure, when the game was over,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, referring to Saturday's game in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines needed a last-minute goal-line stand to defeat Akron, 28-24. “I think everybody's just got to understand that we must focus very, very hard on improving, but we need to focus very hard on our game plan.”

Nonetheless, as long as Georgia's starters take care of business against the Mean Green, there should be more than enough playing time to go around for backups and those returning from injury to get some work in a game.

Repeat -- as long as they take care of business.

“We'll play the game as it happens,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of the prospect of playing Mason, the backup quarterback and potential 2014 starter. “Coach has never been one and I've never been one to say, 'Hey, you're playing this series, that series.' We're going to go out there with all our bullets, so to speak, and play the game and take it from there.”

Against North Texas -- a team that ranks 94th nationally in total defense, allowing 435.7 yards per game -- the opportunity should arise to filter in some of the players who rarely saw the field in the first two games against Clemson and South Carolina.

That might include freshman tight end Jordan Davis or offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow, neither of whom has played to this point. Or more of fellow freshmen like Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Ryne Rankin, Quincy Mauger and Shaq Wiggins, who have contributed mostly on special teams.

“I would think anybody that's going to play has been on special teams and you've kind of seen them in there doing something,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Guys that maybe haven't done anything, I think right now the plan would be not to play those guys. Now obviously injuries or something could change that, but if I was looking to give you a barometer on the guys to expect moving forward, it would be guys that are playing on special teams right now.”

Grantham's prediction doesn't include someone like Rumph, the junior college transfer who missed the first two games and a chunk of preseason practice with a hamstring injury. Richt said last week that the wide receiver was healthy again and should be available against North Texas if he sufficiently knocks off the rust this week in practice.

“I don't know if he'll get in as a rotation from the very beginning or it will be contingent on how the game goes,” Richt said. “I'm not sure exactly where he's at, but he'll be available to play. He was getting a lot of work on special teams. Coaches are trying to incorporate him back into that. If he wasn't injured, I think he'd have been playing by now, scrimmage snaps and special teams snaps.”

Preseason injuries also affected defensive lineman Chris Mayes and defensive backs Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson – all junior college transfers, as well – so some combination of that trio could also figure into the coaches' plans at some point.

Otherwise, it could be the freshmen and reserves who take over in the second half so long as Georgia's starters build a big early lead. And that could be valuable at positions like receiver, tailback and inside linebacker where the Bulldogs could stand to develop some of the younger players who aren't at the top of the depth chart.

“Like I said at the beginning of the year, it was a concern of mine, the depth at tailback,” Bobo said, although such a comment could apply at several positions. “It was good to get Brendan Douglas in [against South Carolina] and J.J. Green got a carry. He got a carry, got in last week.

“So we've got to continue to develop that depth if injuries do happen. It's a rough and tough league. We played two very good opponents in the first two weeks and guys played a lot of snaps and hopefully we'll get healed up and be ready to go.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Mark Richt expects left tackle Kenarious Gates and tailback Keith Marshall -- both of whom left Saturday's game against South Carolina with injuries -- to be available in time for the Bulldogs' next game, Sept. 21 against North Texas.

Gates appeared to injure his right ankle, opening the door for Mark Beard to take over at left tackle in the second half of the Bulldogs' 41-30 victory. Marshall jogged on the sideline and rode a stationary bike behind the Georgia bench after apparently injuring his left knee, but did not touch the ball again after a 10-yard run late in the third quarter.

“Anybody who was injured, including those two, any kind of X-rays or whatever that we looked at, everybody's fine. They all came out negative,” Richt said on his Sunday evening teleconference. “We're expecting everybody to be able to play in our next ballgame.”

Richt also expects receiver Jonathon Rumph to be available for the first time following a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two games.

“We hope he's 100 percent,” Richt said. “He was close. He practiced some, he just couldn't cut it loose. He couldn't go full speed and we didn't want him to push it, and so now I can't imagine him not being able to go full speed by the time we play this next game.”

Georgia will also get a player back from suspension, as place-kicker Marshall Morgan's two-game punishment for an offseason arrest is now complete. Although Patrick Beless is a perfect 10-for-10 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goals -- not counting a field-goal try against Clemson where a high snap prevented him from attempting a kick -- Richt said Morgan will resume his kicking duties against North Texas.

“Marshall has made a mistake, Marshall has been disciplined for that and I'm not going to continue to punish him,” Richt said. “And so right now, I'm expecting Marshall to come in and take over the kicking duties, but it's good to know that Patrick is capable in big games and can come in in a pinch if we need to.”

Georgia's coach is not sure when to expect junior college transfers Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson to jump into the mix in the Bulldogs' depth-deprived secondary. Neither player has gotten into a game yet, largely because of injury setbacks during preseason practice.

“Right this minute, I don't see them jumping in the game anytime soon,” Richt said. “But as the season goes on and their careers go on, we're happy with their talent base, their ability. They just kind of got behind the 8-ball with reps because of some injuries and some missing of practice time.”
Todd Gurley, Trey DePriestKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley had 105 total yards and two touchdowns in Georgia's scrimmage Wednesday, part of a much more focused effort by the Bulldogs' offense.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Since his team will open the season at night against Clemson, Georgia coach Mark Richt wanted his team’s final two scrimmages to be under the lights.

Richt got exactly the conditions and energy level from the team that he was hoping for in Wednesday’s second scrimmage of the preseason -- a marked difference from the Bulldogs’ listless effort a week ago.

“I thought it would be a good idea to do it this week because I just wanted it to be a nice, cool night, I wanted everybody to be well-rested and I just wanted to see a lot of energy out there,” Richt said. “It was like night and day from the first scrimmage as far as just the energy level out there.”

Georgia’s coaches got what they expected from their starting units, as well, with those groups mostly having their way against the backups in traditional series and situational scenarios.

“When you scrimmage like this and you go ones versus twos, you hope that your No. 1 offense is going to have a pretty good go against your No. 2 defense and vice versa. And that’s about how it’s gone,” Richt said. “If your second offense was just thrashing your No. 1 defense, then you’ve got a really, really serious problem. But that’s not the case. I thought both No. 1 units played pretty good.”

Several of Richt’s assistant coaches said recently that they would begin narrowing the field of candidates for playing time after Wednesday’s scrimmage so that they would have defined roles when they hold their third and final scrimmage next Wednesday. Richt said the coaches would grade film of the scrimmage within the next 24 hours, but their personnel decisions will likely take at least a few days.

“It’ll be maybe a day or two before we start trying to figure out ... and it won’t be exact until probably next Wednesday,” Richt said. “I would think by next Wednesday when we have that practice game, we’ll have a really good idea of our lineup.”

As for statistics, there were no particularly eye-catching numbers on Wednesday -- unlike last week’s scrimmage, when starting quarterback Aaron Murray threw three interceptions. Murray bounced back to go 14-for-18 for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception on Wednesday, with backup Hutson Mason finishing 9-for-19 for 107 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley was the offensive star of the evening, rushing five times for 33 yards and two touchdowns and adding three receptions for another 72 yards. Tailback Keith Marshall had six carries for 39 yards and freshman Brendan Douglas added seven rushes for 50 yards and two catches for another 31 yards.

“[Douglas] was very impressive today,” Richt said. “He ran the ball well, he ran with power, he ran with some vision, he continued to pass [block] pretty good. He’s not perfect in that area.”

Blake Tibbs and Michael Bennett caught the two touchdown passes and Malcolm Mitchell led the receivers with four catches for 58 yards.

Josh Harvey-Clemons, suspended for the opener at Clemson, led the defense with seven tackles and three pass breakups. Amarlo Herrera had five tackles and two pass breakups, while T.J. Stripling, Connor Norman, Garrison Smith and Leonard Floyd all had four stops. Floyd also made a tackle for a loss and would have recorded a sack, Richt said, if not for being blatantly held by an offensive tackle.

Defensive end Toby Johnson recorded the one official sack.

Freshman cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley both made interceptions, with Langley returning his interception 48 yards for a touchdown. Richt said Langley also broke up a pass at the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

The two freshmen are not just competing to be the backups at cornerback, Richt said, they’re competing with Sheldon Dawson to win a starting job alongside junior Damian Swann.

“I’d say they’re all still competing, other than Swanny’s going to be in there,” Richt said. “But who the other starter will be, it’s just a matter of watching what happened in this scrimmage and what happens between now and next Wednesday, probably.”

Kennar Johnson and Lucas Redd also intercepted passes.

The Bulldogs are still contending with a number of injuries, as 15 players appeared on Wednesday’s injury report -- including safeties Tray Matthews (shoulder/hamstring), Corey Moore (knee sprain), Shaquille Fluker (illness), Marc Deas (elbow sprain) and Paris Bostick (foot surgery).

Nose guard Chris Mayes (concussion), linebackers Tim Kimbrough (knee sprain) and Chase Vasser (ankle sprain), receivers Reggie Davis (knee sprain), Rhett McGowan (ankle sprain) and Rantavious Wooten (hamstring strain), tailback A.J. Turman (knee/ankle) and tight end Jay Rome (ankle sprain) were also sidelined.

The good injury news, Richt said, was that he did not believe the team suffered any new injuries during the scrimmage.

“It was a good day. No one was banged up today,” Richt said. “Sometimes the next day you hear something, but today Ron [Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine] came to me and said everything looked good, so that’s a blessing.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Having played at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College -- a hotbed of junior college football talent -- Kennar Johnson has already faced comparable levels of speed and athleticism to he will see in the SEC.

“The junior college league that I played in [the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges], they called it the SEC of junior college,” said Johnson, one of five juco players who joined Georgia’s roster this season. “You’ve got a lot of those guys who go to the SEC and are SEC players in football, they just can’t make it out of high school [academically]. So I’m seeing it. … It’s just maybe one level higher than what I saw.”

Toby Johnson
Hutchinson CC Sports InformationFour-star defensive tackle Toby Johnson is the highest ranked of Georgia's five junior college signees.
Rarely is it the physical side of the sport that impedes a junior college transfer’s progress once he arrives at Georgia, however. The biggest obstacles are picking up the complexities of the Bulldogs’ offensive or defensive schemes and adapting to the more regimented schedule that accompanies life inside a big-time football program.

As with most of their predecessors, that’s how Georgia’s newest juco transfers see it.

“I get frustrated all the time,” admitted Toby Johnson, who as the No. 4 prospect in ESPN’s Junior College 100 was the highest-rated of Georgia’s five juco signees. “I’m just going to get better every day in meetings and stuff. I’m the type of player, I’ve got to walk through it.”

The most productive junior college transfer of Mark Richt’s Georgia tenure, nose guard John Jenkins, encountered the same issues during the previous two seasons in Athens. He struggled after arriving in 2011 before eventually picking up the scheme and enjoying a strong second half of the season. He was good enough last fall to become a third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.

But those first few weeks and months on campus can be a shock to the system following a less demanding experience in junior college.

“In juco, we didn’t do much,” said Shaquille Fluker, a big-hitting safety from East Mississippi Community College. “Because here it’s like we’re starting in the morning and work out through all the day. … Here, they’ve got our whole day [scheduled].”

Receiver Jonathon Rumph was the first member of the group to face that culture shock, having arrived on campus in January and participated in the Bulldogs’ spring practice.

Although the 6-foot-5 Rumph was one of the stars of Georgia’s spring game, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was critical of Rumph’s overall spring performance. After a few months on campus and a bit more time to refine his technique, however, Rumph has Bobo singing a different tune today.

“His improvement from the spring is a big jump,” Bobo said Sunday. “He’s smoothing out. He’s still overall a little bit learning the offense, learning how to run routes, and then at the same time using his size. But I know going into the spring game, he really didn’t make any plays for us in practice and made a couple of those in the spring game. But now he’s made some plays in fall practice, which is good to see.”

It’s on the defensive side where Georgia will be especially reliant on the former juco players, though. Along with the two Johnsons and Fluker, nose guard Chris Mayes could also play an important role on a defense that has a number of holes to fill after losing 12 key players from last season.

Their physical maturity was one factor in Georgia’s pursuing them as recruits, as an older player might be better prepared than a true freshman to contribute immediately. In addition, signing five juco players -- the most for a single signing class in Richt’s UGA tenure -- was part of a numbers game.

Georgia’s 33-man class was also the largest overall in Richt’s career, so signing a group composed solely of high schoolers would have created a glut of freshmen on the roster. The coaching staff wanted a bit more balance than that.

“If you take all freshmen, then four years from now you’re going to be in a similar situation,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “So by taking a couple of junior college guys, I think it balances out your class with some older guys and new guys. Sometimes older guys have a little more experience, maturity and things like that. They’ve all had to catch up with the system.”

Georgia dealt with a severe shortage of scholarship players over the last couple of seasons thanks to various forms of roster attrition, so the huge signing class helped the Bulldogs finally get back around the NCAA’s 85-man roster limit.

The juco transfers and many of their signing class mates are sure to play right away -- and even if they don’t start, simply having them on the roster is a pleasant change for Richt’s staff because of the competition they bring to their respective positions.

“We always look and say, ‘All right, of all the players that are available to recruit, what combination of players gives us the best chance to win?’ ” Grantham said. “There’s nothing that says when you sign that guy, it always has to be that he’s going to be the lockdown starter. It could be to provide depth. It’s based upon how they play and how they produce, but at least you have numbers at the position. That’s the big thing.”

SLOW STARTS FOR JUCO ADDITIONS
Georgia signed five junior college players this year -- the most of any season since Mark Richt became the Bulldogs’ coach in 2001. Here’s a look at how Georgia’s previous juco transfers under Richt performed in their first seasons on campus.

2012
OL Mark Beard: Started two games at left tackle and ranked among top reserves on offensive line.

2011
NG John Jenkins: Started seven games and finished with 28 tackles, six tackles for a loss and three sacks.

2010
S Jakar Hamilton: Started five games and made 27 tackles. Intercepted a pass in opener against Louisiana-Lafayette and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.

2009
K Brandon Bogotay: Kicked off twice while serving as Blair Walsh’s backup.

2008
LB Akeem Hebron: Returned to team after one-year hiatus at Georgia Military College. Recorded one tackle in six games as a reserve linebacker.

2007
OG Scott Haverkamp: Started the first three games and appeared in seven games before leaving the team.
DT Corvey Irvin: Recorded 13 tackles and two tackles for a loss in 13 games as a reserve defensive lineman.
OT Vince Vance: Appeared in 11 games as a reserve offensive lineman.
DE Jarius Wynn: Recorded nine tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack in 13 games as a reserve defensive end.

2001
DE Nic Clemons: Recorded three tackles in five games as a reserve defensive lineman.
OT Kareem Marshall: Started five games at offensive tackle.
CB Brandon Williams: Made 13 tackles and broke up three tackles in 10 games as a reserve defensive back.

Signee Johnson fails to qualify

July, 22, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Rico Johnson finally learned his fate on Monday.

The three-star receiver from Swainsboro (Ga.) High School announced on his Twitter account that he failed to meet NCAA eligibility standards and will not enroll at Georgia with his fellow 2013 signing classmates.

Johnson completed two online courses this summer in an effort to become eligible, but it was apparently not enough.

“Unfortunately NCAA didn't take my two online classes but I'm still rockin [with] DawgNation to the death of me. See [y’all] at the top!” Johnson tweeted.

Now Johnson will wait to learn whether he can enroll at a prep school this fall and potentially enroll at Georgia or another program next year or whether he must attend junior college.

Johnson was the last member of Georgia's 33-man signing class who was waiting to learn his NCAA fate.

Mark Richt’s coaching staff knew on signing day that Devondre Seymour (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett) was not going to qualify with this class. The four-star offensive lineman has since announced that he will attend Hinds Community College and attempt to enroll at Georgia in 2015.

Receiver Uriah LeMay (Matthews, N.C./Butler) and defensive back Kennar Johnson (Clermont, Fla./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) arrived on campus late in the summer -- after the bulk of Georgia’s other signees -- leaving Rico Johnson as the only player with an undetermined status.

He was one of Georgia’s six 2013 receiver signees, led by No. 1 junior college wideout Jonathon Rumph (Cayce, S.C./Holmes Community College) and versatile ESPN 150 selection Tramel Terry (Goose Creek, S.C./Goose Creek) -- both of whom enrolled in January.

Wilkerson out for the year

June, 13, 2013
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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
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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?

ATHENS, Ga. -- After losing their security blanket at safety, Todd Grantham and Scott Lakatos had to weigh their options at the position for the first time in a long while.

Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams started 80 percent of Georgia’s games (66 of a possible 82 starts) at the two safety positions since defensive coordinator Grantham and defensive backs coach Lakatos arrived on campus in 2010. So this spring might have felt like a throwback to the coaches’ first few months in Athens when they had to evaluate which young players were mentally and physically prepared to guard the back line of the Bulldogs’ defense.

“I want to see what they can do and how they can learn it and what they can handle because the days of just lining up and playing are gone,” Grantham said. “You’ve got to be able to affect the game with lost-yardage plays and pressures and things like that and your safeties have got to be really involved in that kind of stuff. So we’ve just got to continue to work and see what they can handle and then we’ll develop our game plans as we move forward from that.”

The good news for Georgia’s coaches is that two players with the athleticism to do those things -- Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews -- pushed into the lead for starting positions this spring. The bad news is that Harvey-Clemons, a sophomore, and Matthews, a true freshman who enrolled in January, have never started a college game and have a long way to go before they develop the knowledge and experience base that Williams and Rambo possessed.

Grantham said at Wednesday’s UGA Day meeting in Atlanta that he is not particularly concerned about their inexperience, however, because of the way they performed during spring practice. Harvey-Clemons was the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of the spring and Matthews’ big hits generated major buzz among the coaches and players.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNSafety Josh Harvey-Clemons, defensive MVP this spring, is expected to have a significant role in Georgia's defense.
“Tray’s a guy that he’s a good tackler in space, he’s got good ball skills, he’s physical,” Grantham said. “He actually knocked two guys out in three scrimmages. The only problem is one of them was a defensive guy.”

Nonetheless, safety is one of the most detail-oriented positions on the defense, so young safeties have to do a lot more than drop a receiver with a bone-crushing hit before Lakatos’ uneasiness about playing them in important situations subsides.

“[I watch] when they can get lined up, number one, and communicate with the rest of the team depending on the situation,” Lakatos said. “And when the offense starts moving people around, are they going to be able to handle the adjustments that we have to make? And once a guy can prove he can do that, then that’s when you start to feel a little more comfortable.”

In a matter of weeks, Georgia’s list of options at safety will grow once signees Shaquille Fluker, Kennar Johnson and Paris Bostick enroll in Athens for summer classes. Asked to name a few defensive newcomers that he’s excited to evaluate in preseason practice, Grantham named Fluker and Johnson before anyone else because he believes the junior college transfers “can have an immediate impact.”

“I think all of them have some upside and a skill set that they can help us,” Grantham said, also mentioning Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley as new cornerbacks who he will be excited to observe. “So I really look forward to all of them, but particularly the defensive back kind of guys.”

The reason for the intrigue is obvious since five of the Bulldogs’ eight defensive back signees are not yet on campus, and there is plenty of playing time available thanks to the departures of Williams, Rambo, Branden Smith and Sanders Commings.

Newcomers and young players will almost certainly fill a large portion of that void -- if they can prove to Grantham and Lakatos during preseason practice that they know where to be and have the ability to make the proper play once they arrive.

“We need to get roles established as soon as possible so we can get ready for the season. But a lot of that depends on how guys progress,” Lakatos said. “The more situations that we can create out there through practice and scrimmages and those type of things, the better we’ll have an idea of where they stand once the other guys get here, the May and June graduates.

“Then we’ll kind of put them in and see how they handle all the stuff without the benefit of spring practice. But we’re certainly going to give them opportunities and give them a lot of work when we start practicing in the summer and see where we go after 29 practices.”

DawgNation Mailbag 

May, 1, 2013
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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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Spring cleaning: Connor Norman

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
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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.”

(Read full post)

Post-spring position review: CB 

April, 25, 2013
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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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