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Talkin’ Spring Ball: Georgia’s Secondary

April in Georgia is a thing of beauty. Amen’s corner. Pimento and cheese sandwiches. Green pollen covers everything (OK, maybe that shouldn’t be on the list). In Athens, Spring also brings G-Day. Two weeks remain for Spring ball for the Georgia Bulldogs. We’ve looked at the running backs and wide receivers, and now we head to the defensive side of the ball for our preview. There will be new faces on the sidelines and the field for Georgia’s secondary. While the faces change, the talent remains ELITE.

Talkin’ Spring Ball: Georgia’s Secondary

Georgia’s Secondary New Coaches

The Georgia secondary will be under new leadership in 2024. Sure, Kirby Smart will still have a heavy hand, but the coaching carousel has shown Smart’s ability to locate and identify ELITE recruiters and coaches. Fran Brown departed after the SEC Championship game for the head coaching position at Syracuse, Smart made strategic moves to fill the gap. Instead of a singular replacement, Smart opted for two high-caliber secondary coaches.

In December, Smart enlisted Donte Williams to step into Brown’s shoes. Williams boasts a reputation as a top-tier recruiter across the West Coast, with notable stints at Oregon and USC. His interim coaching role at USC during the 2021 upheaval showcased his leadership mettle. Georgia has struck gold out west time and against under Smart, bringing in Kendall Milton, Darnell Washington, Brock Bowers, and Kelee Ringo. Capitalizing on Nick Saban’s retirement announcement, Smart secured another gem for his staff—Travaris Robinson.

Robinson, a recent fixture in Saban’s Alabama staff, brings a wealth of SEC experience and a close-knit bond with Georgia’s coaching circle, particularly with Will Muschamp. The two coached together at Florida, Auburn, and South Carolina. With college football’s limitation of ten on-field coaches, Muschamp transitioned back to an analyst role for the 2024 season. Like Williams, Robinson is an superior recruiter.

Georgia’s Secondary Leader

Malaki Starks, a native of Jefferson, Georgia, leads Georgia’s formidable secondary. He entered his third year as a starter in the Bullodg secondary and has showcased his prowess as one of college football’s top defensive backs, earning him leadership among the Bulldogs’ talented defensive lineup. Smart assessment showcases Starks’ ability on the field.  “He’s a really good athlete. He’s got the ability to play man-to-man. He could probably play corner if we asked him to because he’s a track kid in high school that had great track numbers.”

In his debut season, Starks announced his presence with authority. He snagged an interception in his college debut against Oregon and has since started every game. He finished his freshman season ranked third in total tackles with 68 stops, led the team in pass breakups with seven, and secured two interceptions.

Continuing his stellar performance into his junior year, Starks maintained his dominance on the field. Starting in every game as a defensive back, he accumulated 52 tackles, including 31 solo stops, showcasing his versatility and defensive acumen. His three interceptions and seven pass breakups further solidified his importance to the Bulldogs’ defensive strategy.

Starks shared in an interview in December at the Orange Bowl that he isn’t satisfied but is continuing to find ways to improve. “As far as my game, I want to take it to the next level whether that be anything and everything really,” Starks said. “Vision. Tackling. Playing the ball. Whatever the case may be, I want to take it to the next level.” Stark will be joined in the secondary by one of the top recruits in the Class of 2024.

Georgia’s Secondary New Players

The 2024 recruiting cycle featured several intriguing storylines involving Buford High School and Georgia. Last summer, Dylan Raiola transferred to Buford after initially committing to Georgia in the spring. Raiola, the top-rated quarterback, was considered a key addition to the Class of 2024 after missing out on Arch Manning last year. Flipmas came early when Raiola announced he was taking his talents to Lincoln to become QB1 for the Cornhuskers. Like any good soap opera, this wasn’t the end of the story between Buford and Georiga.

Flipmas came against on early Signing Day in December when KJ Bolden flipped his commitment from Florida State to Georgia. Bolden is an outstanding talent. According to 247sports, he’s a composite five-star prospect, ranked #11 nationally, #1 in safety prospects, and #2 in Georgia overall. Bolden showcased his talent as a defensive back, receiver, and returner at Buford. He projects as an elite-level player for Georgia’s secondary as highlighted in 247sports’ scouting report.

“He projects best as a deep safety who can erase mistakes and prevent touchdowns with his range and instincts. However, he has also shown that he’s quick and fluid enough to hang as a slot defender or outside corner. Speed and agility constantly show up on tape, which isn’t surprising given his decorated track and field background: bronze in the triple jump as a sophomore after qualifying for states in the 100-meter dash as a freshman. Ability to line up at multiple spots in the secondary while also contributing on special teams is likely to have him on the field sooner rather than later.”

Georgia’s Secondary Impact on the 2024 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft takes place at the end of the month in Detroit. Javon Bullard and Tykee Smith, key members of Georgia’s secondary in 2023, figure to have their names heard. Here is a quick projection and draft analysis of the two former Bulldogs.

  • Javon Bullard, Safety:
    Bullard is the #2 ranked safety in the draft. “Elite in man coverage – probably the best man defender amongst safeties in the entire draft class. Can get up under a receiver’s chin and has the speed to flip his hips and run downfield. Bullard has quick hands to jostle receivers early. But he’s at his best peeking into the backfield. Exhibits elite athleticism with exceptional balance and agility, enabling effective coverage and sideline range as a deep safety.” –NFL Draft Buzz
  • Tykee Smith, Defensive Back:
    Smith figures to be a mid-round pick. “Good strength to tackle. Plays with high energy and is a tough-minded overachiever. Physical run supporter in the Antoine Winfield mold with short-area explosiveness to leave his mark on ballcarriers.” – NFL Draft Buzz
Photo Credit: Bob Self/Florida Times-Union

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