The biggest question facing the 2013 Georgia Bulldogs is the effectiveness of a rebuilt defense that will be without linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, defensive lineman John Jenkins, safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Sanders Commings.
Head coach Mark Richt is filling those holes with a talented group of youngsters who have tremendous upside but lack experience.
There's a problem brewing, though, since a lot of those replacements in the secondary are banged up and missing practice time.
Safety Tray Matthews—a 6'0", 196-pound early enrollee who is the presumed starter at free safety—missed practice on Monday and has been banged up for the majority of fall camp, according to Alec Shirkey of the Red & Black. Normally a true freshman being banged up prior to Game 1 isn't the end of the world, but Matthews is not only is a starter, he likely is one of the breakout stars in college football in 2013.
Matthews showed what he is capable of in Georgia's spring game, sticking his nose in and making a fantastic tackle after getting flipped by a defender, breaking up a pass in the end zone and stopping running back Keith Marshall on a critical 4th-and-1 play late in the game.
If his lack of work during fall camp forces him to take a back seat versus Clemson, that's a big blow to the Georgia defense.
But it isn't just Matthews who's ailing.
Strong safety Corey Moore is a likely fill-in for suspended safety Josh Harvey-Clemons for the opener against Clemson, but Moore was sidelined on Monday with a knee sprain, according to Shirkey. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson—the favorite to start at cornerback opposite Damian Swann—practiced in a green non-contact jersey, as did reserve safety Shaquille Fluker due to a back injury.
Not exactly the ideal situation for the Bulldogs to face a week-and-a-half before taking on the high-octane Clemson offense.
Following last Wednesday's scrimmage, head coach Mark Richt praised the play of freshman cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins, saying that both are pushing Dawson for playing time. Good for them, but at this point, they may have to play simply because everybody else is banged up.
Talk about bad timing.
Georgia is mixing and matching pieces in the secondary at a time when it should be developing chemistry with its starters and beginning work specifically for Clemson.
For the Bulldogs to leave Clemson with a W, they're going to have to keep quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins in check and slow a rushing attack led by senior Roderick McDowell. Matthews was being counted on in both departments, Moore is being counted on at least in Game 1 and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham would prefer that injuries don't dictate his starters at corner.
It will be interesting to see how the rash of injuries impacts Georgia's depth chart for Week 1. Despite all of those stars on defense last season, the Bulldogs didn't play up to par. This year's group could surprise some folks, but it has to stay healthy.
The secondary is far from it right now.
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