ATHENS, Ga. -- There still might be some question over where Josh Harvey-Clemons plays within Georgia’s defensive scheme this fall, but there is no doubt that he’ll play somewhere.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham confirmed that much on Wednesday afternoon.
“He’s going to play for us. He’s one of the best players that we have in my opinion,” Grantham said. “He’s obviously got to go out and earn that from us. But I think that from a learning standpoint, [last season] gave him the best chance to learn all the concepts that we’re going to ask him to do moving forward and now our job is getting him the position that he can greatly affect the game.”
Harvey-Clemons -- whom ESPN rated as the nation’s No. 1 outside linebacker prospect and top player in the state of Georgia when he signed with the Bulldogs a year ago -- started his career at safety and played mostly on special teams.
He had been a force in pass coverage with a number of interceptions during preseason practice, but didn’t have much opportunity for playing time at safety with seniors Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo in the picture. Most of his 14 tackles as a true freshman came while covering kicks.
Harvey-Clemons admitted that was discouraging, particularly for a player who arrived on campus with considerable acclaim. But he also came to the understanding that his time would arrive soon enough.
“Of course I would have liked to have been out there more and playing, but I understand the team that we had, it was full of veterans and guys that already knew what to do,” Harvey-Clemons said during bowl practice. “Midway through the season, I kind of had to accept that and accept my role. I’ve just got to come and work hard next year to be out there.”
Regardless of where he settles position-wise, Harvey-Clemons gained valuable experience practicing almost exclusively as a slot defender (or “star” as Grantham dubs the nickelback/outside linebacker hybrid position). Whether he ends up at linebacker or remains at safety, the athletic 6-foot-5 defender should be able to excel that position because of his wide range of playmaking skills.
He actually played a similar role at Lowndes (Ga.) High School.
“It’s kind of the same position I played in high school when I played safety because I was basically a walk-down safety, a strong safety,” Harvey-Clemons said, “so I feel comfortable there in the flat and being able to read the quarterback and stuff like that. It’s really kind of the same as a linebacker.”
It’s no secret that a factor in whether he stays in that safety/star role or shifts down to linebacker will depend in part on whether he adds any weight to his wiry frame. He was listed at 207 pounds last season, which is in line with what the shorter Rambo and Williams played at, but significantly less than the playing weights of starting outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Jordan Jenkins.
He doesn’t necessarily have to gain 30 pounds between now and August to play outside linebacker this fall, but 207 is probably too light to adequately take on blockers at the line of scrimmage.
“I might start making him go to using his right weight on some workouts because he definitely needs to gain some weight for next season,” said Jenkins, who worked out together with Harvey-Clemons and fellow freshmen Josh Dawson and James DeLoach when they arrived on campus last summer. “Because right now, he’s a little bit too skinny. He could eat a couple more Wheaties in the morning.”
Other than the star position, Harvey-Clemons will feel like a rookie at whichever traditional position he plays. He hasn’t learned outside linebacker at all and barely got any practice reps at one of the safety spots, so he knows he’ll face a learning curve somewhere.
But he looks forward to the chance that he and other young defensive backs such as cornerback Sheldon Dawson will have this spring and fall in attempting to replace the four seniors who recently left the Bulldogs’ secondary.
“I hope it’s us because I really do miss being out there on the field a lot, like in high school, playing all the time and being that leader,” Harvey-Clemons said. “It’ll be a chance for us to step up, me and Sheldon, because most of the time we’re on the same side. So it’ll be a chance for us to step up and show that leadership and make plays so we can be out there.”
That opportunity will most certainly exist for Harvey-Clemons according to his defensive coordinator.
“He’ll be out there somewhere. I know who I’ve got,” Grantham said. “The thing of it is, the position he played for us last year … to play those things, I felt like he needed to be in the secondary room and do those kind of things. We’ll evaluate that as we move forward.”