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Georgia’s ‘Triple Threat’ at safety must first survive an intense competition under a new coach

Georgia’s ‘Triple Threat’ at safety must first survive an intense competition under a new coach

Georgia’s ‘Triple Threat’ at safety must first survive an intense competition under a new coach

Georgia’s ‘Triple Threat’ at safety must first survive an intense competition under a new coach

Georgia football-J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte-Spring Preview-Wealth of experience at safety-Georgia Bulldogs


Part XVI: The Safeties

This is Part 15 in a series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.

ATHENS — Richard LeCounte, Tyrique McGhee and J.R. Reed have played together so much, they probably ought to have a nickname. Call them the “Three Amigos,” or perhaps something more sinister sounding like “Triple Threat” or “Trilogy of Terror.”

Whatever you want to call them, Georgia’s trio of returning starters at the safety positions have played a lot of ball together. Between them, they’ve seen action in 94 career games, including 52 starts. Many of those starts have come together the last two seasons. Last year they took field together first seven times. Now a senior, Reed started every game the last two seasons, 29 in all. LeCounte was next to him for 13 of those last year.

Generally that’s a good thing. There is no substitute for experience and the familiarity and intimate knowledge of coach Kirby Smart’s defensive system between those three is through the roof at this point. That said, Smart is always quick to say that there is no guarantee when it comes to playing time. His goal is to recruit “over” current players every year and let competition and performance sort out who gets to spend the most time on the field.

To date, the Fearsome Threesome has been the best option. But each member of that trio has been getting pushed to varying degrees at their respective position. That figures to intensify this spring.

  • Reed is probably the safest. The Bulldogs’ starter at right safety — Georgia no longer refers to it as “strong” and “free safety” — not only has been tremendously productive with 66 tackles last year and 145 over the last season, but he also serves as a defensive captain and team spokesperson. As such, Reed has been on the field for almost every snap. Only Christopher Smith, a rising sophomore, has logged anything approaching a notable number of reps.
  • LeCounte (5-11, 190), who mans the left safety spot, led the Bulldogs in tackles last year with 74 and had an interception and 29-yard return against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. But he was getting challenged late last season by Otis Reese, a 6-3, 210-pound rising sophomore who’s combination of size and speed that excites new secondary coach Charlton Warren.
  • McGhee gets on the field as Georgia’s “Star,” or nickelback. It’s a position that requires great versatility as the star gets heavily involved in both pass coverage and run support. The 5-10, 187-pound McGhee held his own in that regard, recording 23 tackles and an interception while also getting one of his seven starts at cornerback. But McGhee was getting pushed late in the year by the 6-1, 200-pound Mark Webb, who will be a junior this fall.

Other lettermen, such as juniors Ameer Speed and William Poole and sophomore Christopher Smith, are also fighting to get in the mix. The thinking is that Georgia needs to get bigger at a position where current starters average 5-11 in height and 188 pounds.

But so far, Georgia’s “Tremendous Trio” has taken down all comers. If they’re able to do that again this season, they’ll definitely deserve a nickname. And a good one this time.

Here’s breakdown of the back third of Georgia’s defense:


  • Returning starters (3): Left safety — Richard LeCounte III, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, junior; right safety — J.R. Reed, 6-1, 194, senior; star/nickel — Tyrique McGhee, 5-10, 187, senior
  • Others returning: Mark Webb, 6-1, 200, junior; Otis Reese, 6-3, 210, sophomore; Christopher Smith, 5-11, 180, So.; William Poole, 6-0, 190, junior; Ameer Speed, 6-3, 211, Jr.; Hugh Nelson, 6-2, 198, RFr.; Jake Skole, 6-2, 215, RSo.; Cameron Hill, 6-1, 181, RFr.
  • Early enrollees: Lewis Cine, 6-1, 185, Fr.; D.J. Daniel, 6-1, 185, Jr.
  • On the way: None known.
  • Analysis: Counting walkons, Georgia has about 22 defensive backs who will suit up with the team this spring. That includes corners as well as safeties. But with Charlton Warren coming from Florida as the Bulldogs’ new DBs coach, nothing is set in stone. There might be safeties that become corners, corners that become safeties and either one of them could end up logging time at the star position. But building depth at the two traditional safety positions will be a priority as the Bulldogs have encountered some significant attrition of late. The troubled Deangelo Gibbs, a former 5-star prospect, has transferred to Tennessee, where he will be immediately eligible. Likewise, Tray Bishop, a former 4-star recruit who would’ve been a redshirt sophomore, is currently sitting unclaimed in the transfer while he awaits the outcome of a serious legal matter. Those two third-year players were expected to be filling consequential roles at this point. Not coincidentally, Georgia remains somewhat undersized overall in the back third of its defense and will look to get bigger.
  • Bottom line: Georgia caught a break when Reed opted to become a fifth-year senior rather than enter the NFL draft like so many of his teammates did. His experience and leadership gives the Bulldogs’ secondary a strong foundation on which to build no matter how the position battles shake out around him. LeCounte remains one of the best overall athletes in the entire secondary and seemed to have been just nanoseconds away from making some huge plays last season. But too often LeCounte came up short, and his competition with Reese will be one of the most intriguing position battles to watch this spring. The options are limitless for Georgia’s famous star position, starting with the veteran McGhee but continuing through a myriad of possibilities. Whether the safeties remain status quo or Warren initiates a major shake-up, safety is expected to be a team strength for the 2019 Bulldogs.

UP NEXT:  Georgia lost a ton of experience off its coaching staff. Will anybody notice?


The post Georgia’s ‘Triple Threat’ at safety must first survive an intense competition under a new coach appeared first on DawgNation.

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  • Devon Gales, the former Southern University football player who was paralyzed in a 2015 game against UGA, is returning to football. Gales has been hired as an assistant football coach at Jefferson High School, per accessWDUN.com’s Bo Wilson. The new job will be around 20 miles away from UGA. Former UGA recruiting coordinator Bob Pittard is a social studies teacher at the high school. Per the website, the hiring of Gales was the idea of Jefferson superintendent Dr. John Jackson. It was after Gales shared his story with the Jefferson senior class. “It was brought to our attention upon meeting this wonderful family that Devon missed the game and practices and being part of a football team in the game he still loved so much,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart told the website. “Dr. John Jackson had the idea of getting him involved in our program in some way and how our young men would benefit from his living example, character, strength in facing adversity and perseverance.” UGA donors and fans raised funds to build a handicapped-accessible house in Jefferson for Gales and his family. The post Devon Gales makes his return to football appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has emphasized several times in several ways that championship football requires all units working together. Indeed, much of the Bulldogs’ offensive and defensive scheming is predicated on Smart and his staff analyzing strengths and weaknesses and game arriving at core alignments and plays. The sooner Georgia knows itself, the better, and that makes the Bulldogs’ 15 spring practice dates pivotal. Here’s a way-too-early positional group ranking, an order that could be affected by an updated injury report or the emergence of a newcomer. 1. Offensive line The lock: Junior left tackle Andrew Thomas, Outland Trophy candidate. The question: Sophomore Cade Mays, where does he fit in? 2. Defensive backs The lock: Senior safety J.R. Reed, team leader of defense. The question: Sophomore Tyson Campbell, will skills match elite speed and ideal length? 3. Specialists The lock: Senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. The question: Can Georgia adequately replace Mecole Hardman? 3. Quarterbacks The lock: Junior Jake Fromm, third-year starter, offense on his shoulders. The question: How much of the offense can freshman Dwan Mathis pick up? 4. Linebackers The lock: None. The question: Can senior Tae Crowder become the playmaker Georgia lacked last year? 5. Running backs The lock: Junior tailback D’Andre Swift, Hesiman Trophy candidate The question (s): Will production match 5-star ratings of James Cook and Zamir White in 2019? 6. Receivers/tight ends The lock: Junior receiver J.J. Holloman is the go-to target. The question: Can graduate transfer tight end Eli Wolf fill the void left by Isaac Nauta? 7. Defensive linemen The lock: None. The question: Will sophomore Jordan Davis become an SEC dominator? More Georgia football spring 2019 Georgia linebackers: most improved unit? UGA running backs 4 spring football questions 5 questions for UGA spring football, it’s Jake Fromm’s team Does Georgia have championship level Defensive line? Questions 4 questions for Georgia football O-Line 3 pre-spring football questions on Georgia QB situation Kirby Smart provides preview on young receivers  Georgia secondary still best in the SEC? The post Georgia football: Way-too-early team spring position group rankings appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Best I can tell, it has been my task to cover college football spring practices for about 26 of the 31 years that encompass my sportswriting career. There were a few years that I wasn’t covering college football. There were a few more that I bounced around and saw a little bit of a lot of different teams. Most of time, though, I’ve been charged with covering all of Georgia’s spring practices. There have been times those practice sessions have been pretty interesting, some times that they’ve been incredibly dull and all over the place between. I’m anticipating the Bulldogs’ spring practice this year to be fairly intriguing. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the main one is the influx of new players. Early enrollment was a fairly new concept in the 1990s and still a bit of a rarity then. Quarterback Eric Zeier was one of the first high-profile recruits to do it and it served him very well that first year. Zeier served notice at the 1991 G-Day Game that he was going to be a factor that season, and boy was he ever. Since then, early enrollment has become a regular part of the recruiting process. Nowadays, everybody everywhere has at least a hand full of signees that come in early and get embedded with their respective teams since the first week of January. But it remains somewhat rare to see as many new players come in early — 14 — as Georgia has this year. Fourteen is a lot. The most ever for the Bulldogs. They had 13 in that 2013 class that included 30 total signees (and experienced some of the worst attrition ever for Georgia football). It’s not the most in college football. Alabama had 16 enroll early out of its 23-man recruiting class this year. But 14 is a bunch of new Bulldogs, no matter how one slices it up. That in and of itself cranks up the competition factor. Georgia has several areas in which it’d love to get some impact from from some of these early arrivals. Quarterback, linebacker and defensive back immediately spring to mind. I’d say receiver, too. But, oddly enough, the Bulldogs weren’t able to bring in any of their wideout signees early Dominick Blaylock happens to attend a school in Walton High that doesn’t allow it. Georgia has experienced the same thing with players it has signed out of Pace Academy, including Jamaree Salyer, Andrew Thomas and Trey Blount. But that’s where spring ball has changed a good bit over the years. It’s much more competitive over the course of 15 practices than it used to be. Those sessions can go a long way to determining who is going to be starter in the fall. Not always, but often. The ideal situation is getting as many positions locked down and decided in the spring, so those guys can work together as a unit as much as possible on a volunteer basis over the summer. That way they hit the ground running in preseason practice. No doubt you’ve read numerous accounts of what various people believe the be the most pressing priorities of the spring for the Bulldogs. As for me, the order of importance goes this way: Determine a receiver rotation; Identify a backup quarterback; Establish a starting center; Settle on a right cornerback; Figure out who else will help on defense. Going with the receivers first is an easy call for me. It has been well-documented that the Bulldogs lost 106 catches and 20 touchdowns from last year’s wideouts, the majority of those being compiled by juniors Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman. But that number actually goes up by 35 catches and 3 touchdowns when tight end Isaac Nauta and running back Elijah Holyfield are included. So the emphasis on throwing and catching the ball in spring practice is going to be heavy. It’s usually that way anyway this time of year, because it is rare for teams to pound on each other a lot this far away from the actual season. That said, Georgia will need to mindful of Jake Fromm’s arm health and be careful not to overthrow him. To that end, the Bulldogs would like to come out with a good idea who is going to be Fromm’s primary backup. I wrote extensively on Sunday about redshirt sophomore Stetson Bennett coming back via junior college and giving Georgia an immediate competent presence with regard to already knowing the offensive system. But freshman Dwan Mathis remains an intriguing figure, and one can he sure that the Bulldogs will work hard and fast to determine exactly what they have in this 6-foot-6 athlete who has run a 10.8 100 meters. Trey Hill leads the way to succeed Lamont Gaillard at center, but that’s not a given. As always, Sam Pittman probably suffer brain cramps from exploring all possibilities for determining the combination that results in the best five across the board. The competition to succeed Deandre Baker at right cornerback certainly will be intriguing. But starting with elevating Tyson Campbell there as Georgia did in the bowl game is the first in what are all positive alternatives at all the secondary positions. If early enrollees such as JUCO transfer D.J. Daniel or Tyrique Stevenson end up winning out, all the better. Same with outside linebackers. The recruiting at this position has been other-worldly. Between the 5-stars that are coming back and the ones coming in, something is going to have Conversely, that’s why I don’t list inside linebackers here. Certainly the Bulldogs want higher-level play than it got from the returnees last season. But I believe all the existing alternatives to be better than adequate and not necessarily paramount to Georgia’s cause.  And as exciting a prospect as is Nakobe Dean, ranked the No. 1 inside linebacker in America, I always think back to Roquan Smith’s struggles as a true freshman and how it was late in his sophomore season before he emerged as the star he actually was. Same on the D-line, same on the O-line, same in the offensive backfield, same on special teams. The rest of it is very much organic. That is, it’ll come together naturally through the teaching of concepts and fundamentals. The Bulldogs seek competition and improvement, but they’ll be able to go to war with they’ve got. What you’re NOT going to see is running back D’Andre Swift get much in the way of contact. I highly doubt you’ll see Zamir White get any at all. White, the heralded 2018 signee known as Zeus, is less than seven months removed from a second knee surgery that came eight months after the first. The Bulldogs will be very interested in seeing what the former No. 1 back in America can do, but that can wait until late summer, when he will have had a year to rehab and recover. Maybe the most important factor will be the Bulldogs getting used to some new voices and concepts from the coaching staff. For the first time since Kirby Smart has been head coach, somebody other than Jim Chaney or Mel Tucker will be putting together the practice script for the offense and defense, respectively. That said, I suspect it won’t change significantly from what Georgia has been doing the last four years. That’s why James Coley, Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann were appointed coordinators. They’re going to give Smart what he wants, which is more of the same. But it’s that — the newness factor — that’s going to make this spring so fun and interesting. And then, of course, they’ll tear up all the depth charts and start from scratch in August. The post Newness factor is what makes Kirby Smart’s 4th spring practice his most interesting at Georgia appeared first on DawgNation.
  • KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran is set to make his sixth straight start on opening day. The Braves said Monday that Teheran will face the Phillies on March 28 in Philadelphia. Teheran's run ties Hall of Famer Warren Spahn (1957-62) for the longest in Braves' franchise history during the modern era. Teheran is 1-1 with a 2.73 ERA on opening day. Earlier this spring, it had been thought Mike Foltynewicz might start on opening day for the Braves. But he's likely to be out until at least mid-April with a sore right elbow. New Phillies slugger Bryce Harper is expected to make his debut in the opener. He's had a lot of career success against Teheran, going 18 for 40 (.450) with eight homers and 19 RBIs. Teheran went 9-9 last season with a 3.94 ERA in 31 starts.