Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons earned MVP honors in his first spring in Athens, but after news came down on Tuesday that he would miss the first game of the season at Clemson due to an incident involving marijuana, the Bulldog coaching staff is left with big shoes to fill.
Harvey-Clemons wasn't just slated to start at strong safety. He was also going to play the "star" position, a hybrid between a cornerback and safety that plays over the slot receiver, when the Bulldogs go to the nickel defense.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham went as far as to say," He's (Harvey-Clemons) not going to be coming off the field much."
With that said, it is important to note that Grantham and defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos were going to be charged with finding a strong safety for when Harvey-Clemons rolled down to play the star position, but now the defensive staff will have to fill two positions for game one at least.
Below, UGASports takes a look at some of the candidates to take over at both positions.
• Connor Norman (redshirt junior) - Norman probably has more game experience than any safety on Georgia's roster. Norman started two games as a redshirt sophomore in 2012 at free safety, and played most of the second half against Mississippi State in 2011 at strong safety. In the spring, Norman manned the strong safety position when Harvey-Clemons moved down to play "star" and coaches have praised him due to his knowledge of the defense. Norman is more of a strong safety and that is good news for Georgia as freshman Tray Matthews will more than likely get the snaps at free safety. Norman hasn't flashed much play making ability, and has had a couple of instances where he struggled to find the ball in the air in coverage. He is, however, a strong tackler and can quarterback the defense. Going into fall camp, Norman will have the leg up on other incoming safety prospects.
• Corey Moore (junior) - Moore is a true junior who was highly ranked coming out of high school. His experience has been almost exclusively as a strong safety and special teamer over the last year, but it doesn't appear as if the proverbial light has come on for the former four-star prospect. This is a golden opportunity for Moore as he will have a chance to make a move as a strong safety and lock down the position for when Harvey-Clemons returns and plays his role in nickel. There isn't much to suggest that Moore is ready to step in and be the regular starting safety, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility for the Griffin native to make the most of this opportunity.
• Shaquille Fluker (junior) - Fluker will be reporting to UGA in a few days as a JUCO signee in the 2013 class. On film he is one of top JUCO safety prospects in the country. He is an explosive and fearless tackler with excellent instincts. He shows the kind of underneath range you love in a safety, and at 6'1" 205 pounds, he has the size to come up and support against the run and to get physical with tight ends. Fluker also appears to possess solid ball skills when he decides to go after the football over the big hit. If we are basing this of talent alone, Fluker is the guy UGA would go with at the position. He will, however, have to learn the position well enough in fall camp to earn the trust of Lakatos and Grantham.
• Kennar Johnson (junior) - Like Fluker, Johnson will report in a few days as a JUCO signee. Johnson is an interesting possibility here because of his ability to play both safety positions and cornerback. He spent his freshman year of junior college at strong safety and his sophomore season at cornerback. He isn't an explosive thumper like Fluker, but he is very long and athletic. Johnson may be more of a candidate to fill in for Harvey-Clemons at star because of his experience at cornerback, but keep an eye on him at strong safety as well.
• Quincy Mauger (freshman) - Mauger reported to UGA this spring but saw most of his time as a free safety. At 6-feet, 205 pounds, Mauger has the size to play the strong safety position and come up in run support, but his skill set as a ball hawk seems to make him more of a free safety. Add to that the fact that he, like Matthews, is a true freshman and the UGA defensive staff will likely be reluctant to add him to an already young defensive backfield.
• Damian Swann (Junior) - Swann played the star position in 2012, but that was because of Georgia's experience at cornerback. The Bulldogs had Branden Smith and Sanders Commings who could play on the outside in nickel situations, and that allowed Swann to slide inside and play over the slot. Swann has the most experience at the position, but this is one of the more unlikely scenarios due to the amount of youth that UGA would have to depend on at cornerback.
• Kennar Johnson (junior) - As we stated earlier, Johnson has experience as a safety and a cornerback and this could be a position where the Georgia coaches decide to work him all fall. Johnson has the length and athleticism to do his job in coverage, but he also has the physicality and size to play in the box and support against the run.
• Brendan Langley (Freshman) - The star position is an important one in Grantham's defense, so the staff could be hesitant to rely on a freshman here. Langley, however, is an incredible athlete with the size and strength that few freshmen possess. Langley is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and is an excellent tackler in space. He is raw as a cornerback, but there is a possibility that Lakatos and Grantham give him a great deal of work at the star position this fall in preparation for game one. It is doubtful that Langley starts there in game one, but we expect him to get some reps for the sake of depth and competition.
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