Oliver started 15 games and would have entered 2007 an All-SEC candidate. The Bulldogs’ remaining defensive backs have started a combined 27 and all those belong to three players.
While Georgia’s last line of defense isn’t as seasoned as its coaches would like, it does have plenty of options as it tries to replace Oliver and starting safety Tra Battle.
“We’re experienced in a way,” sophomore Asher Allen said. “We’re not just out here running around. We do have an idea of what’s going on, but we obviously have a whole lot to learn.”
Neither of the players who were starting at cornerback at the end of spring practice were in the lineup for Tuesday’s practice. Oliver is gone for good and sophomore Bryan Evans is out temporarily with a hamstring injury.
In their place were Allen and sophomore Prince Miller. Allen has been one of the most impressive players in the first week of fall, Richt said, and he’s expected to remain in the starting lineup regardless of Evans’ status.
“The good thing about it is Prince and Asher played last year (as backups and on special teams),” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “They’ve been in the battle.”
Thomas Flowers’ return from a foot injury that cost him all but one game of 2006 will provide much-needed experience as well, Martinez said.
“It’s huge,” Martinez said. “He’s knows both corner spots; he knows nickel back. He’s gives us depth, experience, leadership.”
True freshman Vance Cuff joined Flowers on the second team Tuesday. Ramarcus Brown, a junior who started nine games last year, has slipped to third team.
Coach Mark Richt likes the attitude of all his cornerbacks, he said.
“They’re competitors, and they’re very talented,” he said. “They’re going to get beat from time to time. All corners get beat from time to time, but I don’t think any one of them will go in the tank.”
Redshirt freshmen Reshad Jones and Quintin Banks are the two safeties fans have been waiting to see, but the Bulldogs probably will go with experience on the first team in senior Kelin Johnson and junior CJ Byrd.
Jones and Banks are working with the second team and are being groomed to be the Bulldogs’ next great safety duo in the Thomas Davis-Greg Blue line.
“Those guys are out here pushing me every day,” Byrd said. “Everybody wants to start, but you have to work for it. I think that’s a good thing, though, it keeps you on your feet, makes you work harder.”
Jones was considered one of the nation’s top 25 players at any position by ESPN.com two years ago.
“Reshad could play quarterback if he wanted to,” linebacker Brandon Miller said. “He’s an athlete, a true athlete. If he puts his mind to it, he can do anything he wants.”
Sophomore Donavon Baldwin has been lost in the safety shuffle because he spent most of the summer working at cornerback because Georgia feared it would lose Cuff for academic reasons. With Cuff safely in the fold, Baldwin is back at safety.
The wildcard among the safeties is Antavious Coates, who missed the previous two seasons due to knee injuries and has yet to play college football.
“It’ll be so good to see Coates play,” Richt said. “Gosh, he is a pretty thing. He’s really a beautiful-bodied guy.”
When Richt coached at Florida State, defensive lineman Corey Simon also missed his first two seasons but eventually was named a first-team All-American.
“I’m not saying that’s going to happen with Coates, but it just happens that way sometimes,” Richt said. “All of a sudden you’re healthy and you start playing good.”