Even after losing Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Deandre Baker to the NFL draft, the Georgia Bulldogs are still awfully deep in the defensive backfield.
As Georgia edges closer to a week one meeting with Vanderbilt, safeties Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed will likely combine with corners Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell to form one of the most experienced secondaries in the SEC.
The quartet has 57 starts between them, with even more talent potentially coming off the bench in the form of highly touted freshman Tyrique Stevenson.
“Tyrique Stevenson is a special guy,” Stokes said. "If you want somebody that can track a ball like a wide receiver, it’s pretty much him. I’m coming in thinking, 'Dang, this guy has tremendous ball skills.'”
With talent like that coming in, Stokes said every position in the secondary will have to be earned.
“We’re always competing. Nobody’s spot is solid right now,” Stokes said. “We’re always switching in practice and going up against different matchups to get better as a unit."
Stokes started three of the final four games of last season and has continued to develop his individual game this summer to keep that starting spot.
“I’m trying to work on my technique at the line with my press and jam,” Stokes said. “Same with 50/50 balls. We drill 50/50 balls every day at practice.”
Playing alongside Stokes in the first-team at practice has been Richard LeCounte. The third-year safety started 13 of 14 games last year and was named to the preseason All-SEC Third Team ahead of the 2019 season.
“Rat Trap Richard”, as Kirby Smart is fond of calling him, said he’s stepped into more of a leadership role and wants to do his part to help the younger guys get better heading into this season.
“Having a lot of the younger guys looking up to me is a great thing,” LeCounte said. “It gives me more responsibility knowing they’re watching me and they expect me to be at my best.”
First-year defensive coordinator Dan Lanning will be relying on this secondary group to lead from the backfield and cause the havoc the coaching staff has emphasized all offseason.
Lanning developed a havoc formula this spring. The goal is to force a fumble, interception, tackle for loss or a pass breakup on at least 20% of Georgia’s defensive snaps this season.
Class doesn't start until August 14, but the Georgia secondary has been getting quite the math lesson in Lanning’s summer school. But it’s almost time to play for this group with an August 31 matchup against Vanderbilt less than a month away. The defensive backs will be ready.
“We’ve got a lot of savages in that room,” Stokes said. “A lot of guys are hungry. I’m just trying to keep up with everybody else.”