ATHENS, Ga. — Cornerback Damian Swann, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins figured to be the most likely candidates to win Georgia's defensive MVP honor this spring.
Instead, it was awarded at last Thursday night's team banquet to Josh Harvey-Clemons.
"I was shocked, because I really didn't expect it," a smiling Harvey-Clemons said after Saturday's G-Day game. "I thought they might give me Most Improved or something like that. I couldn't believe they said 'MVP.'"
Harvey-Clemons received the honor as a strong safety in Georgia's base package and as the "star" in the nickel package, when five defensive backs are used to counter three-receiver sets. The star position is a hybrid between a defensive back and an outside linebacker, which Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said was perfect for Harvey-Clemons.
The 6-foot-5, 207-pound sophomore has practiced both at safety and outside linebacker since his arrival from Lowndes High School.
"He's more of a safety type," Richt said. "He's long and lean and runs well, and he can cover people in space. But if you want to blitz him or pressure him, you can use some of his pass-rush skills."
Swann was in the star role last season and had five quarterback pressures, two sacks and four interceptions.
Harvey-Clemons was a five-star prospect in the 2012 signing class according to Rivals.com and Scout.com, with each of those recruiting services projecting him as an outside linebacker. He played in all 14 games last season, with most of those appearances on special teams, and tallied 14 tackles and a tackle for loss.
"Last year, I was the guy who was out there lost and didn't really know anything," Harvey-Clemons said. "Now that I'm on the field and learning, the game is slowing down to me. I was a guy who was used to being close to the ball, and I would run up when I would see a play-action and they would throw it over my head.
"Now I feel more comfortable on the field than I ever have, and I just want to keep building on that."
In the base package, Harvey-Clemons lines up alongside free safety Tray Matthews. The 6-foot, 194-pound Matthews is an early enrollee from Newnan, giving the Bulldogs a youthful last line of defense following the departure of seniors Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams.
Harvey-Clemons is the first to admit this fall could be adventurous.
"We're going to have mistakes, because that comes with it, but Tray is a great player," he said. "He's like another Alec Ogletree, and having him back there gives me confidence, because I know he can play and that we will communicate with each other and depend on each other. I feel like we can be just as good as Rambo and Shawn were here in a couple of years."
Said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: "They're young players, but they are willing and they are coachable. They can affect the run game and the pass game with what they do, not only as cover guys but as blitzers."
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs practiced Tuesday and will hold their final spring workout Thursday. ... Kenarious Gates and John Theus, the starting tackles last season, worked with the second team Tuesday as a result of line coach Will Friend being disappointed with their G-Day performances. Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler practiced with the starters. ... Tight end Jay Rome (hip flexor) and defensive lineman John Atkins (knee sprain) sat out.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...