This is part seven of an 8-part series breaking down each position group as the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs get ready to start spring practice on Tuesday. The Bulldogs will conduct 15 practices over 32 days, culminating with the annual G-Day spring intrasquad game at Sanford Stadium on April 15.
ATHENS – March 11 was proclaimed “Javon Bullard Day” in the city of Milledgeville by Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan. A parade was also held in his honor the same day. On Friday, the Georgia defensive back visited every school in the Baldwin County district.
This red-carpet treatment was for a football player who was rated the 643rd prospect in the country when he signed with the Bulldogs in out of Baldwin High in 2021. Turns out, Bullard was slightly under-valued by the self-proclaimed recruiting experts.
The consensus 3-star prospect will open his junior campaign as an All-America candidate.
“Keep going, just keep going,” Bullard told television reporters covering his parade in Milledgeville on Saturday. “Dreams do come true. I am living testimony of that.”
A year later, Bullard stands as a primary reason the Bulldogs believe their secondary will be successfully rebuilt – again. No position on Georgia’s team has undergone more remakes the past few seasons.
Before last season, the Bulldogs were wondering how they were going to replace safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Derion Kendrick. The year before that, it was Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Richard LeCounte and Tyrique Stevenson.
On one hand, that’s to be expected as the group features five different positions – two safeties, two cornerbacks and a “star,” the name the Bulldogs use for the nickelback, or fifth DB. It was at the star that Bullard starred last season. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound rising junior piled up 46 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks from that spot as a sophomore last season.
Bullard tended to do his best work in the postseason. He led the Bulldogs with six tackles in the SEC Championship game with over LSU and was named defensive MVP for both of Georgia’s College Football Playoff appearances, against Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and TCU in the National Championship Game.
He had three tackles, a sack and rather notable pass break-up against Ohio State in the semifinals. But Bullard saved his best work for the title game.
He had two interceptions and a fumble recovery, all in the first half of the 65-7 victory over the Horned Frogs.
“As a kid, you always dream of moments like this,” he said afterward. “And just to see those moments and accomplishments and things like that come true; it’s just a surreal feeling. I’m extremely blessed to be in the position I am.”
Georgia is extremely blessed to have Bullard back in a secondary that will be undergoing yet another transformation in 2023. On one hand, the Bulldogs can say they’re set at star with Bullard back to man the position. Then, again, it’s also known as a “slot-corner” defensive position, and Bullard could be considered an answer at the cornerback position, where Georgia is losing All-American Kelee Ringo. Bullard also could play safety, where the Bulldogs are losing another All-American in Christopher Smith.
Coach Kirby Smart is emphatic about playing the five best defensive backs in the secondary, regardless of position, just like the Bulldogs do on the offensive line. For that reason, don’t count out Bullard making the transition to either spot. He certainly has the talent and attitude to make such a transition. And Georgia has another capable option at star in fifth-year senior Tykee Smith.
But Bullard is obviously a defensive playmaker for the Bulldogs at the star position, and they could do worse than to just let him continue to do what he does.
Whatever the case, Bullard seems willing to do it. In Los Angeles, on the day after the Bulldogs secured their second consecutive national championship, he was already talking about what’s next for Georgia’s defense.
“We’ve still got a season to play,” Bullard said. “The guys that leave, they leave with a legacy and lot of pride, but we’ve still got to play football. And the guys coming back are gonna have to be ready to work.”
- Returning starters (3): CB Kamari Lassiter, S Malaki Starks, STAR Javon Bullard
- Starters lost (2): CB Kelee Ringo, S Chris Smith
- All eyes on: Daylen Everett and Nyland Green
- Outlook: The competition is going to be fast in furious during the spring as the Bulldogs seek to settle on a First Five with which to enter summer workouts and preseason camp. The biggest question mark is who might succeed Kelee Ringo at cornerback. Last year, Georgia didn’t switch between field-side and boundary side corners as it had in the past. Ringo typically guarded the left side of the defensive secondary and Kamari Lassiter the right. What’s unknown is whether that will continue and, if so, if Lassiter remains on the right side, where he earned Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest grade for the season among Georgia’s defenders. Regardless, the other spot figures to be the focus of an intense competition between rising sophomores Daylen Everette and Nyland Green. Everette saw the most action in the secondary, taking snaps in 14 of the Bulldogs’ 15 games and finishing with 13 tackles and a pass break-up. Most of Green’s work came on special teams but, as a third-year player and one Georgia’s fastest athletets, he’s ready to prove he can be an every-down DB for the Dogs. At safety, the Bulldogs are set at one spot with the return of freshman All-American Malaki Starks. Georgia will benefit from the return of strong safety Dan Jackson from a foot surgery that cut short his junior season at the midway point last year. He has started five games and played in 22 in his career. Rising sophomore Jacorey Thomas will battle for playing time at safety, among several others.. The return of fifth-year senior Tykee Smith at star along with Bullard will allow DB coaches Will Muschamp and Fran Brown to consider moving one or the other spots. As ever, cross-training will be a priority. Also, the Bulldogs signed four defensive backs in the 2023 recruiting class, all high-4-star prospects, plus Charlotte athlete Kyron Jones, who could play a number of different positions, both offensively and defensively. Who works where will be a major objective during the spring session.
- Up next: Quarterbacks
- Specialists: Georgia’s rich kicking tradition up for grabs
- Offense line: Turnover at tackle but reason for optimism
- Defensive line: Nazir Stackhouse resembling Jordan Davis
- Running backs: Kendall Milton ‘trusting process’
- Linebackers: ‘Pop,’ Mondon back to man the middle
- Receivers: Transfers add to stacked receiving corps
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