ATHENS, Ga. — The challenge for Georgia’s overhauled secondary seemed imposing enough: slowing down a Clemson offense that ranked sixth in the nation in scoring and 13th in passing last season in the opener on Aug. 31.
That’s why having four defensive backs who were expected to play be either sidelined or limited in practice just two weeks away from the start of the season is slowing the unit’s development.
“It’s hard to get better when you’re not practicing,” coach Mark Richt said. “It’s a problem, and playing Clemson, it does probably make it a little bit worse.”
Georgia entered the weekend with cornerback Sheldon Dawson limited from contact by a shoulder sprain, safety Tray Matthews limited by shoulder and hamstring injuries, safety Shaquille Fluker out with a lumbar strain and safety Corey Moore out with a knee sprain.
The Bulldogs already knew that talented safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will serve a one-game suspension to start the season.
“Regardless of the situation, we need everybody on deck,” said junior cornerback Damian Swann, the lone returning starter after Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings went in the NFL draft and Branden Smith signed as a free agent. “We need everybody to be healthy and to know what’s going on.”
The injuries have complicated the evaluation of the secondary.
“It looks banged up,” Richt said. “You can’t hardly get better if you don’t practice. You can learn some things watching walkthroughs, film study. You can learn, but until you’re out there doing it, it’s just so hard to get good at anything. Also, to know what they’re getting, what they’re comprehending, what they’re able to execute.”
The good news for Georgia is that two freshmen cornerbacks have emerged as potential playmakers.
Brendan Langley from Kell and Shaq Wiggins from Sandy Creek each had interceptions in Wednesday’s preseason scrimmage, which encouraged defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“The whole focus is getting guys ready to play for the first ballgame and for the season,” Grantham said. “We’ve had to move some guys around because of injury. In some ways, that’s OK, because it forces guys to learn more than one thing, which is a good thing. I thought our young guys were challenged (in the scrimmage) a little bit and made some plays. I see those guys getting better. …We just have to keep working.”
Swann remains upbeat despite what others may think of Georgia’s secondary.
“That’s just noise,” he said. “It’s just noise. Don’t nobody strap it up but us. Don’t nobody get on that field but us. When it’s time to get in between those white lines, we’ve just got to show up. We’re going to be ready. We’re going to be fine.”