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Two freshmen might start in Bulldogs’ secondary

ATHENS — Georgia’s Kirby Smart is still keeping whatever depth charts he possesses hidden in his back pocket. But position hierarchies are gradually coming into view as the Bulldogs move ever closer to Saturday’s season opener, and Smart is helping provide some of the clarity. 

Perhaps Smart was in a giving mood since reporters met him out at the UGA Intramural Fields for his post-practice briefing Tuesday. He was there to address the Redcoat Marching Band and thank them for all they do each season, including the upcoming one. 

When asked about the secondary, probably the most convoluted of all the Bulldogs’ position groups at the close of preseason camp, Smart pretty much laid it all out there. The nickelback position — or star as Georgia calls it — probably has been the least clarified spot of all. But Smart cleared that up in surprising detail. 

At the end of it all, it sounds it will be either Walter Grant and William Poole or Deangelo Gibbs when going with a linebacker versus a defensive back at star. 

“Star is a unique position,” Smart explained. “We have a star that’s a linebacker and we have a star that’s a DB. So, Walter Grant has worked a lot at the star-linebacker. Otis (Reese) has worked a lot at star-DB. William Poole and Deangelo (Gibbs) have both worked at star-DB. We’re kind of using Otis more like a linebacker, so we have two stars. It would be Walter and Poole or Walter and D-Lo right now.”

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Probably the most intriguing of those players is Reese. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound true freshman from Leesburg was projected by many to play outside linebacker in college. He generally works with the safeties in practice but, physically, has an ideal frame for being able to handle both responsibilities of the star position. 

“He’s pretty good,” Smart said. “He’s physical. But you want a guy who can cover, too. Lorenzo (Carter) could cover really well and run. He was exceptionally fast for that size. Walter and Otis don’t move quite like Lorenzo, but they’re very physical and they’re good tacklers. He does fit the mold.” 

The rest of Georgia’s defensive backfield is mostly solidified, with the possible exception of the cornerback position opposite of senior Deandre Baker. Smart mentioned sophomore Mark Webb and redshirt freshman Eric Stokes first when discussing the options there. But then he went on for a good while about Tyson Campbell.

Campbell is the 5-star freshman corner from Miami. Based on his recruiting ranking and the battle with Alabama to get him to sign with Georgia, he’s the one player who was brought to Athens specifically to compete for playing time at that position. 

We’ll all get to see him in action Saturday against Austin Peay. 

“He’s fast. That’s what he is, fast,” Smart said of Campbell. “He has the ability to make a mistake and catch up. He’s been very level-headed, doesn’t get rattled a lot, he’s a talented kid. So we’re going to put him out there and let him go play some. He may be rolling some with Mark Webb and Eric Stokes, but he has progressed. And he’s only had like 20-something practices. He’s coming along pretty fast and I hope he continues to do that.” 

There doesn’t seem to be much debate about Richard Lecounte and J.R. Reed as the Bulldogs’ safeties. 

Georgia is having to replace three of its five starting positions in the secondary this fall and has recruited a ton of defensive backs the last two years just for that purpose. Smart said, just because he didn’t mention a lot of the other young players’ names doesn’t mean they’re not competing or in position to run down playing time this season. 

“In the secondary, we have three to four freshmen that are in there competing and battling, but they may not be out there on the field (Saturday),” Smart said. “But that freshman class is talented. I just don’t know if they’ll be forced into action. It’s going to come down to injuries, you’re going to see some of them on special teams. But I don’t really care what they were ranked coming in. I care how they do when they get here.” 

Smart was asked to discuss his philosophy of not revealing his team’s depth chart before the season opener — or any time really. His staff never produces a depth chart, per se, for the sports communication staff to share with media. Instead, UGA’s sports info staff fashions one from the lineup that was utilized in the previous game each week. 

“That’s not like a big deal to me,” Smart said. “A lot of people write and make a big deal about that. I didn’t plan that out and say, ‘ooh, there’s no depth chart.’ What I like to do is have guys compete. And I also don’t want the other team to figure out who the Sam is and who the Star is and who the safeties are. I want them to ID those people. To be honest with you, I don’t have all their information all the time and it’s not always accurate when it comes to that. 

“Our kids know. Our kids are communicated with and we substitute every day, so they have to know.”

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