ATHENS, Ga. - When Clemson spreads its offense and comes out throwing on Aug. 31, Sean Jones says he knows what to expect.
Georgia's young secondary, which includes new starters at the two safety positions, will be tested early this year. Though Coach Mark Richt says he is most concerned about his defensive front, the secondary has less experience than any other unit on the team.
"At the beginning of the season, they're going to try us in the secondary,'' said Jones, the former quarterback who now is the starter at rover, basically the same as a strong safety in the Georgia defense.
"We just have to be confident in ourselves, knowing they're going to come at us because we're young,'' Jones said. "We just have to play within ourselves and play as a group.''
At least Jones and starting free safety earned experience in backup roles last season. Jones played in every game, while Curry started the 2001 season opener and the Music City Bowl game.
Jones and Curry will replace 2001 seniors Jermaine Phillips and Terreal Bierria, who ranked second and third, respectively, in tackles last season.
"Terrell and Jermaine did a good job here of teaching us a lot of things about the game,'' Curry said. "Now coming into the starters job, I feel confident in what I'm doing, because I had people in front of me who left a lot.''
That doesn't mean Curry expects to replace Bierria's production.
"We can do it in a different way,'' Curry said. "Those were some guys you really can't replace. I feel confident we can make up for losing them.''
A couple of big hitters and redshirt freshmen are making noise in two-a-day practices as the top backups to Jones and Curry.
Greg Blue is the backup rover, and Thomas Davis is playing behind Curry at free safety.
It seems that Richt makes note of a big hit from at least one of the two young players every day, but there is no question that Curry and Jones are established as the starters.
"When the spring was over I felt good about the top two safeties, and I still do,'' Richt said. "But moving Davis from linebacker to safety and then Blue doing what he's been doing has really helped at least make us feel better. We don't know what they'll do on game day.''
Added Richt: "Jones and Curry have really played solid all the way around.''
Davis played eight positions at Randolph-Clay High School, but linebacker was not one of them. It's no wonder Davis, originally tried at linebacker last season, welcomed the move free safety. This time, the moving days may be over for Davis, who in high school played running back - rushing for 1,032 yards as a senior - quarterback, defensive end, defensive back, wide receiver, punter, kicker and kick returner.
"I feel like safety is where I can make an impact,'' Davis said. "When I signed, I thought I was going to play safety (from the start).''
Similarly, there were questions about the best position for Jones when he signed out of Atlanta's Westlake High School.
In the Georgia-Florida High School All-Star Game, Jones alternated with fellow Georgia signee David Greene at quarterback for the Georgia team. Jones passed for 2,490 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior, but he's not looking back or wishing he were still competing with Greene for playing time.
"I think I made the best decision of my life when I moved to safety,'' Jones said. "I feel really comfortable over there. I think I belong on the defensive side of the ball.''
NOTES: After a morning workout at Sanford Stadium that was devoted to the kicking game, Georgia practiced inside in the Ramsey Center Thursday afternoon. The move was based on the threat of rain..
"It gave us a little break from the pounding,'' Richt said. "We've been physical enough that if we miss one practice, we'll be fine. We've got some guys who are a little sore and banged up, so it was probably good to pull off the contact.''
Richt said the slower-paced practice inside also helped first-year players catch up.
Picture Day for the fans is Saturday at the Classic Center in Athens. Team mascot Uga VI will be available from 1-3 p.m. Players and coaches will follow from 2 to 4 p.m.
Charles Odum can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com