Kirby Smart has long been regarded as one of the top defensive back coaches in all of college football. He also played safety in college. So it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about the position group.
And while Smart said his team is “never where I want to be,” this time of year, he does seem to like what he has in the secondary this spring.
“There’s a few guys that have played a lot of snaps here, with the likes of (Eric) Stokes, Tyson (Campbell), J.R. (Reed) and even Richard (LeCounte),” Smart said “Those four guys have played a lot of snaps. We’re trying to get those other guys ready to go play and the good thing is they’re here to get these reps.”
Those other guys Smart is referring to are the three defensive backs Georgia signed in its 2019 class. DJ Daniel, Tyrique Stevenson and Lewis Cine all enrolled early with the Bulldogs. Those three are giving an already deep group even more talent.
Of course, the starters in the secondary are far from decided. It’s way too early to say who will be filling the shoes of the departed Deandre Baker, but there are options.
There’s also the fact that while junior Richard LeCounte is a returning starter for Georgia, there are also some areas of his game that need to improve.
Tackling was an issue for LeCounte last season. Despite leading the team with 74 tackles, he also led the team with 15 missed tackles. As a sophomore, LeCounte also had an interception, two forced fumbles and three pass break-ups.
Tackling part of the reason why sophomore safety Otis Reese is seen as a candidate who could push for LeCounte’s job. Reese did start the Auburn game last season in place of LeCounte.
The sophomore is also quite a bit bigger than LeCounte, as Reese is listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. LeCounte comes in at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. But this spring hasn’t gone all that well for Resee, as he’s been in-and-out of Georgia practice recently due to being sick. He did not take part in Georgia’s scrimmage on Saturday.
Smart also told reporters that Georgia is training LeCounte at both safety spots this spring.
And that has made things a little bit more difficult for the junior safety.
“He still doesn’t know his assignments in and out, and I think he’d be the first to tell you,” Smart said. “We are trying to train him at left and right safety and he’s only played free safety before and that’s for his development and growth. ”
It seems unlikely that Reed will lose his job, but LeCounte could fill that role next season after Reed exhausts his eligibility.
Smart knows he is asking a lot from LeCounte. But the Georgia coach feels confident LeCounte can handle the extra workload.
“It puts a little more responsibility on him to know the calls very well. If you have to play both safety positions, it’s a little more taxing you mentally,” Smart said. “He’s responded well, he just has to continue to grow.”
There’s still a very good chance LeCounte ends up starting for Georgia when the Bulldogs open up against Vanderbilt on Aug. 31. And the tough love Smart is giving LeCounte now will likely make him a better player in the season to come.
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