"Young and inexperienced" was a good way to describe Georgia's secondary and in particular its cornerbacks coming into the 2002 season. Tim Wansley, Jermaine Phillips, and Terrell Bierria all NFL caliber players, had to be replaced by green rookies and true freshmen. The Bulldog secondary was considered the lone weakness on the 2002 team.
But now, deep into the season and with a division title, Georgia's secondary has played much better than most expected. Even Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt said that he was "a little bit surprised" about how well the secondary has played thus far this season.
Most of the surprises in the secondary have come from players that are either brand new or that are getting more playing time this season. Sean Jones had a huge game against Auburn recording two interceptions and one long interception return. It seemed like Jones stopped Auburn from taking the game over in the first half almost single handedly. Tim Jennings, a true freshman, recorded his first interception of the season against Florida, and although he did not return it for a touchdown, it was a big boost for the Dawgs. However, Jennings' second interception, against Ole Miss, was returned for a touchdown. The Ole Miss interception gave the Dawgs an easy seven points and all of the momentum. DeMario Minter has also shown his potential all season long in a back up role as well as on special teams. And Thomas Davis' future looks bright.
But not all of the outstanding play in the secondary comes from relatively new faces. One player from last year, Bruce Thornton, has been impressive too. Thornton's play has steadily improved since last season and Secondary coach Willie Martinez has said on numerous occasions that Thornton is still just learning the position. Decory Bryant has had an exceptional season on the other corner and Kentrell Curry has been outstanding at the Rover position vacated by Phillips.
And while Arkansas, Georgia's opponent in the SEC Championship game on Saturday, is predominantly a run team, Richt said that his secondary, particularly his corners had better come to play.
"There's going to be opportunities for our corners to really step up and play big because we will have to free up our safeties to stop Arkansas' run game," Richt said.
Richt went on to add that the same formula that the Dawgs have been using all season must continue against the Hogs.
"What's really helped our young guys is how well our front seven has played," said Richt. "With the amount of pressure that we have been able to get, its really helped our young guys cover better."