Georgia has star in Ringo, but secondary’s a concern

Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo celebrates his pick six in the College Football Playoff Championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo celebrates his pick six in the College Football Playoff Championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

SPRING PREVIEW 2022: DEFENSIVE BACKS

ATHENS — There probably isn’t a more famous and popular Georgia defensive back than Kelee Ringo. After his glorious 79-yard, pick-6 interception put away Alabama for the College Football Playoff championship two months ago, Ringo’s name will go down in Bulldogs lore alongside other all-time greats who executed unforgettable, game-defining moments such as Lindsay Scott, Scott Woerner, David Pollack and many others.

But masked by that incredible play at crunch time on the biggest of stages are many more humble moments for Ringo. The redshirt freshman cornerback from Tacoma, Wash., a former five-star prospect, was a good enough player to overtake a fifth-year senior and become a 12-game starter. But Georgia’s opponents also viewed him as a weak link in the secondary, sought ways to exploit him and often succeeded at doing so.

Ringo usually held his own in one-on-one coverage. Sometimes he did not (see postseason games vs. Alabama and Michigan). But even after making the play-of-the-century for the Bulldogs in the title game, Ringo was expressing relief as much as exhilaration.

“I was just trying to keep doing what I was doing,” he told reporters during the postgame celebration. “As much adversity as I went through during the game, I was able to come out successful and show my abilities. It’s really a blessing to be in this position.”

The fact is, Ringo’s famed interception came on an underthrown ball with the intended target open behind him. He gets full credit, though, for recognizing where the ball was, high-pointing his interception, hanging on to it and utilizing his sub-4.4 speed to carry it all the way to the end zone.

So, to be clear, Ringo is not just a good corner; he’s an excellent one. He received a 73.3 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus last season and projects among the top 10 at his position in college football for next year. But entering his second season as a starter, he remains an incomplete work.

And without safety Lewis Cine protecting the back end, Derion Kendrick locking down the other side of the field and Georgia’s famed defensive front assuredly supplying pressure, Georgia’s opponents will view the Bulldogs’ secondary as exploitable, until they prove they are not.

Here’s how it looks heading into spring practice:

  • Returning starters: CB Kelee Ringo (6-2, 205, RSo.), SS Christopher Smith (5-11, 190, Grad.)
  • All eyes on: CB Kamari Lassiter, S Javon Butler, freshman DB class
  • Outlook: Once again, there was way more turnover in Georgia’s secondary than the Bulldogs needed or wanted. Safety Lewis Cine turning pro as a junior was expected and justified, but cornerback Jalen Kimber hitting the portal for Florida and nickel Latavious Brini bolting for Arkansas was hurtful and unfortunate. Both would have been a big part of Georgia’s 2022 plans. Add to that another change in leadership – Fran Brown (Rutgers) replaces DBs coach Jahmile Addae, who left for Miami after one season – and there seems reason for concern. As it is, the Bulldogs will seek to rebuild with a nice mix of experienced players and young talent. Georgia signed the best group of DBs in the country and one of the school’s best of all time. Malaki Starks, Daylen Everette and Jaheim Singletary were consensus five-star recruits, according to the 247Sports composite, and Julian Humphrey drew a five-star rating from Rivals.com. In total, there are five new DBs in the 2022 incoming class, so the Bulldogs addressed their needs in a big way in recruiting. But it typically takes a while for freshmen to find their way onto the field. To do that, they’ll have to beat out some significant contributors and others who have been awaiting their opportunities. Senior safety/star William Poole came on strong at the end of the season, Javon Bullard played in nearly every game, as did former walk-on Dan Jackson, and cornerbacks David Daniel and Nyland Green are trying to overcome injury setbacks long enough to prove their worth. There might not be a more intriguing DB on Georgia’s roster than Tykee Smith. A former All-American and All-Big 12 defensive back from West Virginia, Smith was ready to start for the Bulldogs at the star position as a transfer last fall before getting besieged by injuries. First, a broken foot injury in preseason camp sidelined him, then a midseason torn ACL shut him down for the year. So, he ended up playing in one game and will have to sit out spring ball this year as well. But if he can stay healthy until then, Smith will enter camp in August as one of the Bulldogs’ most experienced DBs. That’s both a good and bad thing.

PREVIOUSLY …

This concludes Spring Preview 2022, a 10-part series that examined each of Georgia’s position groups leading into spring practice. The Bulldogs will conduct their first of 15 spring practices – three per week for five weeks – on Tuesday in Athens. The annual G-Day Game is scheduled April 16 at Sanford Stadium.