The Georgia secondary is bolstered on the backend by experience, explosiveness, and physicality. The stats from last Saturday reflect as much, with three safeties among the top four on the day in the way of tackles.
Malaki Starks led the group with eight total stops, including three solo tackles and a pass breakup on the day, as well. In his second year with the program, the expectations for the former five-star athlete are sky-high, especially coming off of a freshman campaign of 68 tackles, two interceptions, and seven breakups.
Among those stoking the flame? Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who invoked the names of some of college football’s best when speaking about the former Jefferson High standout.
“I’ve been around some thumpers. And I think about all those guys – the Mark Barrons, the Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, and Dom Sanders here, Lewis [Cine], Chris [Smith], and Richard [Lecounte] – he’s really different than all of those guys,” Smart said.
What separates Starks, however, is immense versatility, a trait not often seen in those manning his position.
“He’s probably the one guy that, if he had to, he could go out there and play corner if he had to. He’s got a coverage skill set and a speed skill set that most safeties don’t have,” Smart said. “He’s a good tackler. Maybe he’s not as physical as those guys in terms of knock-back tackles, but he’s a good tackler. He’s got good range, and he’s intelligent.”
Bullard set to play new, key role for Georgia
Starks isn’t alone in having the sharp eye of the head coach, though. Javon Bullard is now his running mate at safety, and it’s not only Smart who’s tuned into his season, with NFL teams watching carefully following his 2022 campaign and Defensive MVP performances in the College Football Playoff and Championship.
In Smart’s eyes, the verdict is still out on Bullard’s transition, at least in a one game sample size.
“It’s hard to get an evaluation because he didn’t get tested. The longer they hold the ball the further the receivers can run, the more the ball goes down the field. I don’t think there were a lot of down-the-field throws. What he did well was tackle. He was in the right place,” Smart said of Bullard. “He really did a nice job in the perimeter, the RPO game, which everybody runs now. It’s millennial Oklahoma out there on the perimeter. He’s really good at that. But he didn’t get tested on hard play action, eye-transfer, shots in the middle of the field. That is the area that we work with him every day on so he can be really good at it because it’s the most different thing about playing safety – the deep part of the field. He didn’t get a lot of chances.”
Look for both Bullard and Starks to be tested further on Saturday against Ball State, a noon contest from Athens set for the SEC Network.