ATHENS, Ga. — If you asked Josh Harvey-Clemons last fall about playing safety, the true freshman would’ve rolled his eyes.
Now, they eagerly light up when talking about his new position.
Harvey-Clemons practiced with the safeties all spring and started with the first-team defense for Georgia’s spring game Saturday.
“I’ve been waiting to get on the field the whole year,” said Harvey-Clemons, who primarily played on special teams last fall. “Now that I’m finally out there, it feels good.”
Harvey-Clemons and the first team defense stole the show at G-Day. Much of the off-season hype has surrounded the 10 returning starters on offense, and there were a number of question marks pinned on the depleted defense. But that didn’t keep the first-team defense from holding Aaron Murray and company to 245 total yards.
“I feel like it was a good, productive day,” Harvey-Clemons said before fretting over a dropped interception. “I should’ve had that pick but other than that, I thought it was a good day.”
The rising sophomore was a highly touted recruit in the 2012 class, listed as a five-star linebacker. But his 6-foot-5, 207-pound frame has limited him from staying there at the Southeastern Conference level.
Harvey-Clemons said that he’s uncertain whether his body will “mature” enough to pack on the weight needed to play linebacker. And if it doesn’t, he said he’d be comfortable remaining at safety.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he wants to utilize Harvey-Clemons’ unique physique when the defense lines up in nickel formation, specifically when opposing offenses are running three or more receiver sets.
“We’re hoping for him to learn our nickel position, which is a hybrid between a defensive back and outside linebacker,” Richt said. “It’s kind of perfect for him.”
Harvey-Clemons brings a vast skill set to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s unit. He’s tall, quick and can cover or rush the passer. Richt said those attributes give Harvey-Clemons an advantage on blitz packages especially.
The Valdosta, Ga., native isn’t the only new face in Georgia’s secondary this year, though. Early enrollee Tray Matthews has garnered arguably more hype than any Bulldog this spring. Harvey-Clemons said he and Matthews have a lot on their plates filling the void left by Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams.
“I feel like it’s a great challenge for us to follow their footsteps,” Harvey-Clemons said. “I feel like with us back there, I believe in him and he believes in me. We think we can be just as good as they were.”
Georgia opens the season at Clemson in what will likely be a showdown between two top-10 teams. The Tigers are returning seven starters on an offense that averaged 41 points per game, good for sixth in the country.
Richt said that breaking in his new defense against Clemson’s explosive scheme, especially the inexperienced secondary, will be a daunting task.
“It’s scary,” Richt said of gameplanning for Clemson. “They’re really good. (Quarterback Tahj) Boyd is one of the best players in America. They’ve got some really skilled receivers. They know what they’re doing. It’s going to be a big challenge, no doubt.”