For a moment, the cupboard of safeties was nearly empty; only one safety—former walk-on Connor Norman—has any significant playtime under his belt. However, head coach Mark Richt and his staff helped stock it on national signing day last week. The Bulldogs brought in one of the top high school safeties in the state, Tray Matthews, and a hard-hitting junior college transfer, Shaquille Fluker. The Bulldogs stockpiled JUCO standout Kennar Johnson, Kell's Quincy Mauger and Plant (Fla.) High's Paris Bostick as well. With two open positions and five newcomers, the competition will no longer be only among returnees Norman, Corey Moore, Marc Deas and Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Beginning with strong safety, Corey Moore appears to be the heir to Williams' throne. Cut from similar thread, Moore is fit for strong safety because of his desire for contact. In fact, the Griffin native started the first, and to this point only, game of his career as a wide receiver in a play designed for him to block. Moore has the ability to come up and, like Williams, almost act like an additional, more athletic linebacker to help on rushing plays.
Josh Harvey-Clemons is an interesting storyline to follow this offseason. He could definitely work his way into the rotation at safety if everything remains status quo, but the desire among the staff is to have Harvey-Clemons, or ‘JHC' as he's become known on message boards, bulk up and move to outside linebacker to give Georgia another quick and athletic pass-rusher. If he remains at safety, at the current weight, he could one to watch at either safety spot, though he was listed as a backup free safety last season. JHC was a prized five-star recruit of the 2012 signing class, and coaches want to get him on the field as soon as they can.
Fluker could also be in the mix at strong safety for his aggressiveness and tackling ability. During his recruitment, Fluker said he was recruited to play Williams' spot, but he probably has the skills to play at whichever safety position the Bulldogs need him most. The JUCO standout has an electric highlight tape of jarring hits and impressive interceptions. If he brings the same energy and level of play to Athens, he will quickly find himself in the starting rotation.
When Rambo was suspended at the start of last season, the Bulldogs leaned on Connor Norman to help bridge the gap until Rambo's return. Norman started the season opener against Buffalo and the road opener the next week at Missouri. He played in all twelve games after that on special teams and some at safety. This season, Norman could find himself again on the opening day roster with an impressive spring and fall camp. Coaches trusted Norman last season, and the experience he gained last year certainly gives him an advantage among the inexperienced returnees and newcomers.
Marc Deas contributed regularly on special teams last season, and his blocked a punt against Tennessee came at a crucial moment and helped preserve the victory. Listed at free safety, Deas has appeared in 28 games in the last two years but has only four tackles. Deas, who nearly left the program in the spring of 2012 after his redshirt freshman season, was not able to beat out Norman for the free safety spot during Rambo's suspension. A strong offseason, though, could have Deas in the mix for the starting spot in 2013.
Matthews, a touted safety from Alec Ogletree's alma mater Newnan, could be one of the few incoming freshman with a chance to start immediately next season. Matthews has the size and closing speed to be an impact player in Georgia's secondary. That impact could come early if he can beat the learning curve most freshmen encounter, but enrolling in January should help expedite the process.
Quincy Mauger also enrolled early and could be a dark horse for playing time next fall. Mauger racked up 154 tackles and six interceptions in his final two seasons as a Kell Longhorn, and he earned 2012 Class AAAAA all-state recognition by the AJC. Like Matthews, if Mauger can get a grip on the concepts and playbook this spring and summer, he could be looking at some playing time in the fall.
Johnson was relatively unknown until his commitment in November, but the 6-foot-2 defensive back has experience at both cornerback and safety at the junior college level. Johnson would prefer to play safety and chose to attend Georgia because he wanted to play as soon as he arrived. Johnson is spending the spring working out at home in South Florida after being forced to enroll in the summer rather than January. However, if Johnson continues to add mass, he could be a big contributor soon for Georgia.
Another incoming freshman that will fight for playing time is Paris Bostick. At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Bostick already has solid size to play either safety position. Bostick was a physical safety in high school that could line up deep or closer to the line at Georgia. He is yet another skilled safety that could play either spot. With his size and coming from a well-developed program like Plant, which produced Aaron Murray and Orson Charles, Bostick could be on the fast-track to playing time.
Every Friday, Jonathan Branch will break down each position on the 2013 Georgia defense. Stay tuned for next week's breakdown, when we look at another position with holes to fill—Cornerback.