Though all the attention has been focused on Todd Grantham's new 3-4 front, the secondary has been the biggest symbol of the Georgia defense's precipitous decline over the last few years, going from second in the SEC and fifth nationally in pass defense in 2006 to ninth and 51st, respectively, in '09. Statistically, last year was a big improvement for the Dawgs' secondary under new DBs coach Scott Lakatos -- they finished 17th in the nation, allowing only 181 yards per game -- but a lot of that had to do with a generally lackluster class of quarterbacks in the SEC. A series of coverage breakdowns on third down means that this unit still has some work to do.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
1. Bacarri Rambo (6'0", 210), RJr.
2. Jakar Hamilton (6'2", 203), Sr.
3. Corey Moore (6'1", 195), Fr.
1. Alec Ogletree (6'3", 224), Soph.
2. Shawn Williams (6'1", 213), Jr.
3. Chris Sanders (6'1", 176), Fr.
CORNERBACK (STRONG SIDE)
1. Brandon Boykin (5'10", 180), Sr.
2. Branden Smith (5'11", 175), Jr.
3. Damian Swann (6'0", 175), Fr.
CORNERBACK (WEAK SIDE)
1. Sanders Commings (6'2", 210), RJr.
2. Jordan Love (6'0", 185), RSoph.
3. Derek Owens (5'9", 166), Soph.
Who's coming back. Time for some good news: All four starters in the secondary -- safeties Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree and corners Brandon Boykin and Sanders Commings -- are back for 2010. Not only that, but their backups (Jakar Hamilton, Shawn Williams, Branden Smith and Jordan Love, respectively) are returning as well. This is as experienced a two-deep as the Dawgs have had in quite a while.
Who's not. Of the DBs on Georgia's 2010 roster who saw regular playing time on defense (as opposed to being a special-teams role player), only cornerback Vance Cuff will be moving on. Rising senior safety Nick Williams is expected to transfer due to the crowd at his position.
Who's new. Georgia's blockbuster 2011 recruiting class included no fewer than seven DBs, and while one of them (blue-chipper Malcolm Mitchell) is being talked about as a potential WR sleeper, several of the others have a shot at working their way into backup roles over the summer. The ones most frequently mentioned are Corey Moore and Chris Sanders, both of whom could help shore up a so-so depth situation at safety; Nick Marshall, a converted quarterback, could figure into that mix as well. Cornerback Damian Swann will need some time to bulk up a bit when he arrives in Athens, but he was rated the No. 5 prospect in the state by Rivals and was pursued by big-name programs from Florida to Oklahoma to USC, so don't be surprised if you start hearing his name over the summer, too.
Outlook. The Dawgs' pass defense made a big statistical improvement in 2010, and every single player on the two-deep returns. That's about as good a situation as Scott Lakatos could ask for, and yet there are still some big questions that need to be answered. Among them: Can the Dawgs lock down against a good quarterback (and if so, can they do it without incurring a hailstorm of pass-interference penalties)? It's all well and good to handle QBs such as Matt Simms and Larry Smith, but if the Ryan Malletts, Mike Hartlines and Cam Newtons of the world are still carpet-bombing you -- just for comparison's sake, those three combined for 881 yards and a 9-2 TD-INT ratio on 60-for-91 passing against the Dawgs last year -- it's clear there's work left to be done.
Complicating matters is the fact that the player who should be the leader of this unit, junior safety Bacarri Rambo, took a puzzling step back last year after a breakout performance in 2009. It's looking like he may be moved over to strong safety while Alec Ogletree, a blue-chip true freshman who quickly worked his way into a starting role last year, takes the free spot. Rambo probably doesn't have to worry about surrendering his starting status at this point -- his backup, Jakar Hamilton, lived up to his "Hitman" nickname in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette and effectively disappeared after that -- but it does mean that new recruit Corey Moore, whose speed and athleticism may put him in the "too valuable to redshirt" category, will be afforded plenty of opportunities to state his case for playing time.
Things look a little more settled at the cornerback spot, where Sanders Commings was impressive in his first year as a starter. Backups Jordan Love and Derek Owens saw enough playing time last year that Dawg fans should feel fairly confident about this position's continued progress, but depending on how his summer goes, Damian Swann could be another one of those freshmen who's just too good to leave on the bench. As for the rest of the 2011 recruiting class, Devin Bowman and Quintavious Harrow are likely redshirt candidates at the moment; an intriguing question mark is Nick Marshall, a two-way player who may be tapped for a special-teams role early on but with more opportunities coming available as he beings to prove himself on the field.