Georgia Bulldogs: Shaq Fluker

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt still makes the occasional tongue-in-cheek wisecrack about his lack of vision when he redshirted future All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno in 2006, a season in which he had veterans Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin -- all of whom made it onto NFL rosters -- in the backfield.

But Georgia’s coach has stepped away from that conservative approach somewhat in recent seasons. Today, if a need exists and a new Bulldog is capable of addressing it, Richt’s coaching staff is more than willing to allow him to play a leading role -- with players like tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, receiver Malcolm Mitchell, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and former safety Alec Ogletree making big impacts as true freshmen.

That philosophy will remain evident this fall, particularly on Todd Grantham’s defense which must replace 12 significant contributors. Several of those replacements will be brand-new Bulldogs, while additional reserve roles will also go to freshmen and junior college transfers who impress the coaches over the next few weeks.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman Tray Matthews enrolled early and claimed the starting free safety job during an eye-opening spring.
“The big thing is to evaluate the players that we have coming in,” said Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator. “We’ve got roughly I think 17 new faces on our [defensive] roster from last year and we want to do a good job of evaluating those guys early and developing the skillset of those guys as well as the guys that we’ve got that have been here for a while.”

For the most part, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s starting lineup is in solid shape as the Bulldogs prepare to open preseason camp on Thursday. There are questions about how the offensive line rotation will shape up and which players will seize roles at receiver and tailback, but most of the key pieces return from last season’s high-scoring offense.

It’s entirely possible, though, that junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph and freshmen Tramel Terry and J.J. Green will contribute immediately at receiver. And it’s entirely likely that either A.J. Turman or Brendan Douglas, if not both, will carve out a role behind Gurley and Marshall at tailback.

“I’d like to have a third and a fourth tailback. ... I do like we got some bigger guys in Douglas and Turman,” Bobo said. “We’ve got to get those guys ready -- get them on special teams, get them playing, get them confidence, treat them like we treated Gurley and Marshall last year because we’re planning on playing them.”

Grantham’s defense is where the greatest concentration of newcomers will be found this fall, however. There are openings on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary that will almost certainly go to a freshman or juco transfer.

Freshman safety Tray Matthews, who enrolled in January, was the talk of Georgia’s spring practices thanks to a number of big hits. But he’s far from the only new Bulldog who will be up for strong consideration throughout August as the coaching staff attempts to determine which players will contribute in the fall.

Up front, juco transfers Chris Mayes and Toby Johnson and prep school transfer John Atkins all figure to play a role. The No. 4 overall prospect on ESPN’s Junior College 100, Johnson is fully recovered from last fall’s knee surgery and has been working out without limitation this summer alongside his new teammates.

“He’s ready. He’s doing everything we’re doing,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said. “He looks he’s 100 percent to me.”

Inside linebacker Reggie Carter also made a mark in spring practice and now has company from summer arrivals Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, as well as Shaun McGee, who Grantham said will work at strongside and inside linebacker during camp.

And the secondary will be littered with new faces, including juco transfers Shaq Fluker and Kennar Johnson and freshmen Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley. Grantham mentioned Fluker as a candidate to play immediately at strong safety and said Wiggins and Langley will receive similar consideration at cornerback.

Tight end Arthur Lynch, for one, said the 6-foot-1 Langley has been impressive in the Bulldogs’ summer passing sessions.

“I think Langley’s a guy that can be pretty good,” Lynch said. “He’s very athletic and he runs like a deer. He can run for days and he’s very fast.”

Richt’s staff recruited the 31 newcomers with the knowledge that there would be numerous spots to fill this year, and that many of the signees needed to be prepared to play right away. That was the purpose of bringing in a program-high 13 players in January so they could participate in offseason conditioning and spring practices, and it was a factor even with signees who couldn’t arrive on campus until the summer.

They’ll soon get their chance to crack the rotation -- and don’t be surprised if on Aug. 31, a significant number of them are playing scrimmage downs and on special teams in the Bulldogs’ opener against Clemson.

“Anytime you can go against quality people in practice, it allows you to become better and truthfully it allows you to find out where you are,” Grantham said. “It allows you to find out what your strengths are and maybe what the things are you need to work on.”

10 NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

John Atkins, nose guard
Thomson, Ga./Hargrave Military
ESPN ranking: Four stars, Was No. 11 DT when he initially signed with Georgia in 2012
Breakdown: Atkins enrolled in January after spending last fall at Hargrave and ended spring practice as the Bulldogs’ No. 3 nose guard. He’ll compete with Michael Thornton and a fellow newcomer -- juco transfer Chris Mayes -- for a chance to contribute in the middle of the defensive line.

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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.

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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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);


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DawgNation on the radio: March 5

March, 6, 2013
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The Georgia Bulldogs have started spring practice and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. On Tuesday morning, DawgNation joined ESPN’s Athens affiliate 960 The Ref to talk about spring camp, recruiting and more. Some of the topics discussed were:
  • How will the new practice schedule help the coaches?
  • Which position battles are the most important in this camp?
  • Will the depth chart be set after camp?
  • How prevalent are threats from fans in recruiting?

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

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

Here are five positions that bear close watching this spring:

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DawgNation signing day live blog

February, 6, 2013
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Welcome to DawgNation's live coverage of national signing day for the Georgia Bulldogs. We'll be with you throughout the day providing up-to-the minute updates on Georgia's Class of 2013.

Watch live coverage on ESPNU | Talk signing day in "The Pound"

Follow the live blog after the jump.

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Signing day primer: Georgia 

January, 23, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- With national signing day exactly two weeks from today, DawgNation looks ahead to what Georgia has coming and who the Bulldogs still need, and why.

Team needs: Georgia has a number of holes to fill, considering the defense is losing 10 players who started last season. All-American junior Jarvis Jones and two-year leading tackler Alec Ogletree have declared for the NFL draft, which means the incoming prospects will have to be ready to play early.

Also, consider that Georgia only signed one player for the secondary, one wide receiver and not one inside linebacker in the class of 2012. Those positions are a priority. The secondary is in special need of attention as both starting safeties and two starting cornerbacks were seniors this past season. The Bulldogs have decent depth at the outside linebacker spots but the SEC championship game proved Georgia needs help on the defensive line. Junior nose Kwame Geathers has also opted to leave early for the NFL, so Georgia needs to sign some quality prospects to fill in the defensive trench.

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Dawgs Snapshot 2013: Shaq Fluker 

January, 22, 2013
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To gear up for 2013 national signing day, DawgNation's Radi Nabulsi is breaking down every commitment in the Bulldogs' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Safety Shaq Fluker, Meridian, Miss./East Mississippi | 6-foot-2, 200 pounds

Committed: Aug. 4, 2012

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps it says something about the seasoning of Georgia’s 2013 defense, or lack thereof, that safety will actually not be the Bulldogs’ least-experienced position.

Nose guard takes that dubious honor. And yet with the departure of a pair of essential seniors Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo, the back end of the defense will face just as many questions when spring practice opens in early March.

U.S. Army All-American Tray Matthews -- who graduated from Newnan (Ga.) High School early and enrolled at Georgia this month -- hopes he can provide some answers.

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DawgNation on the Radio

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
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With just over three weeks until signing day, the recruiting updates are coming fast and furious. DawgNation joined ESPN’s Athens affiliate 960 The Ref to talk about recruiting and more. Some of the topics discussed were:
  • What does Dee Liner’s decommitment from Auburn mean for Reuben Foster and Georgia?
  • What is the latest on Georgia safety commit Shaq Fluker?
  • Who does Georgia hope to close with and where is Alvin Kamara headed this weekend?
  • How nervous should Georgia fans be on signing day?

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

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

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

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Position scouting report: Safety 

January, 4, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and project how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s safeties:

Current two-deep depth chart:
Shawn Williams (Sr.), Corey Moore (So.)
Bacarri Rambo (Sr.), Connor Norman (So.)

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The Georgia coaching staff wanted to have at least 10 players enroll in January so the prospects could get a head start on their academics and go through spring camp. The Bulldogs have plenty of room thanks to graduation, transfers and dismissals.

John Atkins
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comJohn Atkins (pictured) and Leonard Floyd were not cleared to leave Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy early, so they will not enroll at UGA next month.
But two players that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham expected to see in the Athens after the new year will not be enrolling until much later. Defensive end John Atkins and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd needed permission from the dean at Hargrave Military Academy to leave before classes ended to enroll at Georgia. They did not get it.

“The dean did not let us out in time so we will enroll in May,” Atkins told DawgNation in a text.

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