1st Team Secondary in good hands for Clemson

ATHENS-When the first-team defense is on the field, Georgia is in good shape in the secondary.

Cornerback Bruce Thornton is starting for the third straight year. Free safety Sean Jones and corner Decory Bryant have a full season of starts under their belts. Thomas Davis is back at the safety position he opened at began last year.

That is as good as any secondary in the Southeastern Conference, and that foursome alone would have little trouble improving Georgia's pass defense numbers (sixth in the SEC in efficiency defense, 14 touchdown passes allowed).

But they'd better be in shape.

The reason Davis was moved back to safety from linebacker? An injury to starter Kentrell Curry followed by an injury to backup Greg Blue. Thornton's backup is Kenny Bailey, a former tailback. Bryant's backup is Mike Gilliam, a former tailback. Jones' backup is true freshman Tra Battle, who is not even listed in the media guide. And Davis' backup is a redshirt freshman named Olaolu Sanni-Osomo.

All that, plus Tim Jennings and Demario Minter are suspended for the first two games, and B.J. Fields will sit for the opener.

The four starters have the knowledge and ability, but perhaps the most important thing is that they are in the best shape of their careers. With so little experience backing them up early in the season, it is doubtful defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder and secondary coach Willie Martinez aren't looking forward to giving them too many breathers.

"We know what we have to do," said Thornton, a senior from LaGrange. "We know we have to practice hard, because we'll have a whole lot of snaps." Blue is out until at least October. Curry will miss at least the opener at Clemson, and probably the home game against Middle Tennessee State.

"Everything's going good," said Curry of his rehabilitation. "I'm not sure exactly when I'll be back. We just have to wait and see how it feels." Curry, an all-SEC candidate, is trying to pitch in with some advice. He had 69 tackles and four interceptions while starting every game last season. "I try to help," said Curry, a first-team all-state player at Stephens County in northeast Georgia. "I talk to 'em all, young and old. The young guys have to come in and learn the system, but they look good."

The younger Bulldogs like Thomas Flowers, Mikey Henderson and Paul Oliver have been plagued by cramps. And losing players the caliber of Blue and Curry is an obvious problem, for it's hard to develop depth and get better with key players sitting.

But he can't worry much about who is not on the field.

"I'm just trying to get the kids prepared every day and not dwell on it too much," Martinez said. "Guys getting injured is part of it. We've got some guys that are out and those guys that have stepped in have to do their job now."

Bailey has the most experience of the second line of defensive backs, having moved their before spring practice in 2002. He played in all 14 games last year. Gilliam was redshirted last year as a tailback, then transferred to defense before spring practice.

"He's going to have a role this year," Thornton said of Gilliam. "But it's so different from offense, especially playing running back."

Davis may be the biggest key early on.

The talented redshirt freshman from Randolph-Clay was moved to linebacker during the 2002 season and was a standout. The Bulldogs have depth problems at linebacker, but are so thin in the secondary right now that Davis was moved back to fill Curry's spot.

Davis is ready to return to linebacker, as soon as Curry is healthy again.

"I'm there as long as they need me," said Davis, who is at his linebacker weight of about 220. "But I'll be ready to get back."

Despite the lack of depth, Georgia will have a physical secondary. Davis is a hitter, and Derrick Holloway has moved to safety from linebacker. Those two weigh about 220 pounds, while Jones and Sanni-Osomo are near 210. Martinez is counting on those newcomers to pick things up quickly.

"We don't think we're complicated," he said. "You always gotta be careful with what you're putting in. Obviously, you don't want a bunch of players out there that are trying to think. They're just reacting to what they see. That's still our goal."

Thornton has no concerns.

"The good thing about it is we're on the same page," he said. "We've eliminated a lot of the mistakes we made last year."

With all the new faces, the Bulldogs hope they don't have to make them all over again..

Secondary depth chart:
(for Clemson)

Bruce Thornton, 5-11, 200, sr. 
Kenny Bailey, 5-11, 192, sr.

Thomas Davis, 6-1, 220, RS soph. 
Olaolu Sanni-Osomo, 6-1, 211, RS fr.

Free safety: 
Sean Jones, 6-2, 209, jr. 
Tra Battle, 5-11, 170, fr. 
Derrick Holloway, 6-4, 223, jr.

Decory Bryant, 5-11, 187, sr. 
Mike Gilliam, 5-7, 180, RS soph.

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