Dawgs field veteran defense

Richt, Grantham not worried about future despite senior-laden unit

Updated: August 19, 2012, 6:01 PM ET
By David Ching | DawgNation

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt admits having a moment of discomfort when looking at Georgia's senior-heavy defensive depth chart, but the first few days of preseason practice have helped alleviate some of the Bulldogs coach's concerns.

Eight of the starters on Georgia's post-spring defensive depth chart are seniors -- not including star junior linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, who will also be eligible to enter the 2013 NFL draft -- and Richt's staff is certainly aware of the turnover that will create next fall.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew makes the tackle
AP Photo/Erik S. LesserSophomore linebacker Ray Drew should be one of the future leaders of the defense.
However, after watching newcomers like linebackers Jordan Jenkins, James DeLoach, Josh Dawson, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerback Sheldon Dawson fly around the field in the Bulldogs' first few practices, Richt knows experience might be a concern, but talent will not be an issue.

"I remember this offseason, just looking at it and thinking, 'Gosh, what's it going to look like the next year with all these guys leaving?' But just after practicing these three days, I'm feeling like we're going to be OK," Richt said after Saturday morning's practice. "We're going to be a little green, but we've got to give some of these young guys some opportunities so they won't be totally inexperienced a year from now."

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he feels no need to force young players into games this fall simply to give them on-field experience prior to 2013. Luckily for Grantham, he believes some of the freshmen and other underclassmen will earn playing time this fall simply because they are among the Bulldogs' best available options.

"I think you look at who can help you now because to me it's obviously about winning, which is what's important now to me," Grantham said. "We want to find ways to get the best guys on the field and it just so happens that some of those guys are freshmen.

"So we're going to work to develop them and get them in position, so that way they can give us some depth. And then as guys move on, you've got some guys to come in and play for you. And then you go out and recruit and you keep the cycle going."

All four projected starters in the secondary -- cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings and safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo -- are seniors, as are the three players who form the defense's front line, nose guard John Jenkins and defensive ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington.

Senior inside linebackers Michael Gilliard and Christian Robinson will also be gone next year, while Jones, Ogletree and nose guard Kwame Geathers could take a long look at early entry for the NFL after this season.

Without all or most of those players, Georgia will be forced to stage a substantial rebuilding effort. Players like defensive end Garrison Smith and Ray Drew, linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera and cornerbacks Damian Swann and Malcolm Mitchell will likely remain along with the aforementioned freshmen, so Grantham will still have impressive pieces to deploy next fall.

"We're going to be ready no matter what because we're practicing hard behind great players like [Jones] and Cornelius," Wilson said. "We're going hard and getting tips from them and preparing ourselves for our time if our number is called. So we're going to be just fine at every position."

Washington believes it will be important for the youngsters to play some this fall, but that the departing players also need to help teach them as much as possible so they will be more prepared for increased roles next season.

"It's going to be very important," Washington said. "I think the bigger thing is that the older guys kind of take the younger guys under our wing and show them the ropes and teach them what to do. I think that's going to be the biggest part of it."

Georgia has loaded up on heavily recruited defensive players in the last two years, which should help with next year's transition to a younger crop of talent. Drew, Mitchell and Swann all ranked among ESPN's top 76 overall prospects in 2011, while Harvey-Clemons, defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor and Jordan Jenkins ranked among the nation's top 67 players in this year's signing class.

The Bulldogs' defensive coaches remain excited about each of those players' capabilities once they step into starting roles -- whenever that time comes. Many of them will be heavy contributors this fall, so Georgia certainly will not start from scratch in 2013.

"Anybody under that draft-eligible group, you've still got your Ray Drews and Garrison Smiths and Michael Thorntons and all those guys then you've got these other young guys coming in, some of that younger linebacking corps -- Amarlo and Ramik and those guys," Richt said. "I see that the future is going to be in pretty good shape, as well."