Bowman enters UGA's defensive fray

ATHENS, Ga. -- Devin Bowman sees the opportunity before him at cornerback, but the redshirt freshman knows he has plenty to learn before he can seize some of the playing time available in Georgia’s secondary.

With senior starter Sanders Commings out for the first two games on suspension and fellow senior Branden Smith possibly joining him for at least the opener against Buffalo, youngsters like Damian Swann, Malcolm Mitchell and Bowman will have a chance to play.

Swann earned more playing time with his performance in limited work last fall, while the raw athleticism that made Mitchell an SEC All-Freshman receiver last year has helped him pick up his defensive responsibilities.

Bowman, meanwhile, is still working to learn the technical details involved in playing his position after spending last season on Georgia’s scout team.

“My biggest [area of emphasis] right now is just getting the plays down,” Bowman said. “That’s the only thing I can say that’s really gotten better with me. Just knowing different coverages, hand signals, that’s the only thing I can say is my biggest area of progress.”

Bowman was already behind by the time he arrived on campus last season.

Georgia freshmen typically enroll during the summer so they can work out with their teammates before preseason practices begin in August. However, Bowman did not learn that he earned a qualifying graduation test score until the day before the Bulldogs reported for preseason practices -- and while the delay kept him from having to attend a junior college, it delayed his progress at Georgia.

He spent the season on the defensive scout team -- and he earned praise last fall for his work on the special teams scout team -- pushing back the time when he could begin working regularly within the Bulldogs’ actual defensive scheme to this spring.

“Once you’re in segment meetings and stuff like that, you pick up on it, but once you get on the field and more repetition of it, you start learning,” Bowman said.

Bowman said he would like to become a kick returner for more than just the scout team, as well, although learning his role at boundary cornerback is his top priority now. Instead, Tavarres King, Smith, Mitchell and Swann are working as punt returners and Justin Scott-Wesley and Keith Marshall as kickoff returners, he said.

“I really want to do that bad,” Bowman said, “but right now is just probably not my time, so I’m just being patient.”

Georgia’s coaches are also showing patience with Bowman as he absorbs more and more of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s scheme.

Grantham said last week that he liked what he saw from Bowman, despite the delay that kept him from joining the team until the last minute.

“Devin Bowman has done a nice job coming along,” Grantham said. “He kind of came in late last year, so he was kind of behind. So I’ve been pleased with his progress.”

Head coach Mark Richt agreed, saying, “Bowman is still making great progress, but I’m not sure we’re ready to throw him out there yet.”

That might come in time. Then again, the Bulldogs might have to throw Bowman out there before they are completely ready simply because of the thin numbers at his position.

The good news for the Bulldogs is that Bowman, Mitchell and Swann understand the situation they will face early in the season and are working to be ready for their opportunity when the Sept. 1 game against Buffalo arrives.

“I’ll be telling Devin and Damian and Malcolm and all those other young guys, ‘Y’all have got to step in because those guys might not be here the first two games, so y’all have got to step in and try to help us out as much as y’all can by just putting in the extra work and staying after practice and working on your technique and asking questions and learning coverages and all this type of stuff,’ ” All-American safety Bacarri Rambo said early in spring practice, before learning that he might also lose time early in the season to a disciplinary suspension.

“Those guys are buying in, so I feel like we’re going to miss Branden and Sanders, but I feel like those guys can step in and do a good job.”