Speed checks both boxes.
With corners Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell and DJ Daniel heading into the NFL draft and Tyrique Stevenson “portaled” down to Miami, Speed remains as Georgia’s only cornerback with any experience or significant knowledge of the team’s intricate defensive scheme heading into the 2021 season.
That still doesn’t mean he will be a starting cornerback this season. Smart reiterated that all defensive backfield positions remain “wide open” subject to practice-field competition.
About that, Speed seems unconcerned.
“I’m just helping my team out the best way that I can, trying to hone in on my technique and be that old guy that the young pups can lean on and just be there when they need me,” said Speed, who played in nine of the Bulldogs’ 10 games last season. “I bring good length and good speed to the defense. Also, I know the scheme very well, so those things can help me out.”
In a seven-minute interview with reporters after Tuesday night’s practice, Speed used phrase “God’s timing” three times. He couldn’t really say why it is he reached the fifth year of his career without a single start and intimated that wasn’t his job to determine anyway. That’s up to the coaches.
The bottom line is the Bulldogs’ have had some great corners matriculate ahead of him to this point, Campbell and Stokes just being the latest.
“Well, I’m blessed to be here,” Speed said. “God’s timing is different than everybody else, so I’m just here working and getting better and just waiting for that right moment where I’ll be able to step up and take my role.”
That time appears to be now. Georgia has continued to recruit at an otherworldly-level in the defensive backfield. Injuries contributed, but 5-star signees Jalen Kimber and Kelee Ringo both redshirted last season. Nyland Green, Javon Bullard, Kamari Lassiter and David Daniel are carrying that torch in the latest class.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs continue to scan the portal. A particularly strong candidate – cornerback Tykee Smith of West Virginia – just entered Thursday.
All the while, Speed stands at the ready. He remains confident he can get the job done, whatever that job ends up being.
“I want to know the whole secondary,” said Speed, who Georgia lists as 6-3. “I want to be able to do it all. So, anything the secondary needs, I want to drill it in because I want to be able to help at all the secondary positions. I know learning everything else will help me at my corner position and just make me better at my game.”
That’s always been Speed’s attitude, according to Geis. He said called Speed about this time last year to ask him if he needed some help finding another place to play.
Speed said, no thanks.
“When I brought (transferring) up to him, he said, ‘Nah, man, I really love it up here,’” Geis said. “I said, ‘OK. As long as you’re enjoying your time there, you’ll be fine.’ Those are great coaches up there, and he’s on one heck of a football team. I told him just do everything they say and it all will work out.
“Some kids are impatient, but he knew the numbers and he told me flat out, ‘Coach, I think I’m going to play next year.’ It looks like it’s going to work out for the kid now and I’m really happy for him.”
Speed actually has played a good bit while at Georgia, just not as a regular in the secondary rotation. He’s appeared in 35 games over the last four seasons, including two in 2018 when he was redshirted because of a wrist injury.
His primary contributions have been on special teams, where he had five tackles in 2017 and 2019. But last season he played more on defense. He got extensive work in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, coming on the field often in one of the Bulldogs’ third-down packages.
“That game definitely allowed me to get my feet wet and just to get a feel for things,” Speed said. “I definitely think it will carry into the spring and also into the fall.”
Speed is having to impress a new boss now. Jahmile Addae succeeded Charlton Warren as defensive backs coach after Warren became defensive coordinator at Indiana.
“He’s a real good dude,” Speed said of Addae. “I love his energy. He hones in on technique and the little things that help us master what we do and how to really be elite. So, he’s a really good dude, and I think we’ll do really well with him.”
At this point, Speed’s fate is fully in the hands of Georgia’s coaches. If he doesn’t end up with a major role as a senior, his stock in the NFL draft will be further diminished. But that’s not necessarily what motivates Speed.
“I love my teammates; I love the University of Georgia,” he said. “Pretty much everything you want to say, that’s why I’m still here today. So, it’s just realizing and understanding my situation and just knowing that it’s God’s timing and that’s different than everybody else’s has kept me real humble and patient about my experiences.”
That makes his old high school coach beam.
“I texted him about two weeks ago,” Geis said. “I said, ‘heard you’re The Man this year.’ He sent back one of those weird emojis with the sunglasses on. I’m assuming that meant everything was great. Hopefully things are finally falling in place for him now.”