Hard-hitting Cine giving Bulldogs a boost in secondary

Georgia coach Kirby Smart reacts after defensive back Lewis Cine made a big play. Hyosub Shin / hyosub.shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Georgia coach Kirby Smart reacts after defensive back Lewis Cine made a big play. Hyosub Shin / hyosub.shin@ajc.com

Lewis Cine has always laid big hits.

Ever since his Pop Warner days as a kid, Cine, a sophomore safety for Georgia, has been drawn to the speed and aggressiveness that comes with playing a hard-nosed, physical brand of football.

“Football is supposed to be played fast, supposed to be played physical,” Cine said Tuesday. “That’s how it’s always been, and I’ve never shied away from contact or showing the world how aggressive I am when playing the sport. I’ve always played like that, from Pop Warner to high school and even now.”

Sometimes, that aggressiveness can get Cine into trouble, as it did when he was ejected for targeting against Florida on Nov. 7. A high-speed collision over the middle of the field with Gators tight end Kyle Pitts ended up as a helmet-to-helmet hit when Cine came in to make the tackle and Pitts instinctively lowered his head to protect himself.

The impact left both players looking dazed, and both Pitts and Cine entered concussion protocol. Cine didn’t miss time, largely because Georgia’s game against Missouri on Nov. 14 was postponed. Pitts has yet to return to action and had nasal surgery after the hit, but is expected to play Saturday.

“Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve done anything different because I was playing fast, and he did what came natural to him, which was protecting himself,” Cine said. “At the end of the day, the call was made. There’s not much I can do about it now. What’s done is done, but now it’s just making sure that doesn’t repeat itself again.”

Though he said he’s always working to learn tackling methods that will keep both himself and his opponents safe, Cine said he doesn’t plan to change the way he plays anytime soon.

Cine should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the way he plays through the last few games of this season as senior safety Richard LeCounte remains out, which has thrust Cine to a larger role both on the field and as a leader.

LeCounte hasn’t played since a motorcycle accident Oct. 31, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday that LeCounte hasn’t yet been able to practice. Both Cine and Smart said LeCounte is missed, both for his skill and for the confidence he brings to the defense.

“You can’t go wrong with Richard being on defense,” Cine said. “He brings a whole lot of juice and energy to the defense. For one, I’m really, really, really waiting until the day he starts playing back. Hopefully, that’s very soon. We love Richard’s energy, and that’s what we’re missing.”

Added Smart: “You cannot find a game that (LeCounte) didn’t have some crazy break out of the middle or run down a reverse or just make an acrobatic interception. Just that moxie and playmaking ability is probably one of the biggest things, and confidence. He breeds confidence, and it trickles down into the other players.”

In LeCounte’s absence, Cine has had to step up and become more of a vocal leader. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him, but Smart said he sees the potential in Cine as a leader.

“(We) challenged him in the leadership department,” Smart said. “It’s not something that he’s had to do. He hasn’t been natural and comfortable with it, but he certainly can do it, because Lewis is one of those people that leads by example.”

Cine said he’s felt himself grow in his communication ability, particularly on the field when telling his teammates what’s coming. And as long as LeCounte remains out of action, Cine will continue to grow in that leadership role. He stressed multiple times Tuesday that communication is critical, and it sounded as if he’s ready and willing to become the kind of communicator the Bulldogs need.

“Communication is always important, in life and in football,” Cine said. “One miscommunication can lead to a bust, and it could cost a defense, cost a team. One thing I always say is you can never overcommunicate. You have to overcommunicate, and that’s really important in the game of football.”