Harvey-Clemons' return key for defense

ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann can speak to the impact that safety Josh Harvey-Clemons’ return will have on Georgia’s defense better than anyone else on the roster.

Having served as the Bulldogs’ top nickelback a year ago, Swann knows that Harvey-Clemons’ versatility as a blitzing pass rusher, run stopper and cover man will be a major weapon on Saturday against South Carolina now that he’s back from a one-game suspension to open the season.

“It’s going to be great. Now we can have a true DB playing the nickel spot,” Swann said, noting that true freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd played that role in last Saturday’s loss to Clemson. “Leonard played that spot and he actually did pretty well. Now we can have a guy who can actually cover somebody and come in and fit in the run. I think that’s going to be key for us throughout the rest of the season.”

Harvey-Clemons’ return actually creates something of a personnel problem for Georgia.

Against Clemson, Harvey-Clemons and junior safety Corey Moore -- who missed the game with a knee injury -- both watched from the sideline. Now they’re back and the coaches will have to juggle a group of players who they like at outside linebacker and safety in order to get them all on the field as much as possible.

“We still don’t want to lose the progress that we think Leonard Floyd is making,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We want him to continue to get a lot of reps for us, so it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge to get Jordan [Jenkins] in there, Leonard, Corey, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews all on the field at the same time, but we’re planning to get those guys on the field for a majority of the time.”

That’s where defensive coordinator Todd Grantham can put his creativity to good use.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how we’re going to set up our fronts in some of the packages we have this week,” Jenkins said.

Not that Grantham has any intention of revealing detailed personnel decisions ahead of the South Carolina game. As he predicted since offseason conditioning began, Grantham said Harvey-Clemons will play nickel, safety and outside linebacker at points, and that Floyd’s similar versatility will allow the coaches to move him around, as well.

“We can move guys around, so we’ll tweak with it,” Grantham said. “We can play Leonard as an outside 'backer. We can play him at the nickel, we can play Josh at strong safety. We’ll be able to do all of that with it because it think it’s important you play multiple guys and continue to do that.”

Nonetheless, Grantham admits that Harvey-Clemons -- who was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP at the end of spring practice -- brings something to the defense that might have been lacking against Clemson. In particular, his coverage skills will allow Georgia to do even more with the nickel role than it asked Floyd to do in the opener.

“I think it gives you a little more flexibility at the nickel position because he’s really like a DB covering,” Grantham said. “Leonard’s very athletic and can do those things, but he’s more like a linebacker in his coverage skills, which is fine for a guy who’s going to be a 265-pound guy in a couple years. I think the coverage element’s a little different. ”

Georgia has not permitted Harvey-Clemons to speak to the media since he and former teammate Ty Flournoy-Smith were involved in a marijuana-related incident in their dorm room in May, which led to Flournoy-Smith’s departure from the program and Harvey-Clemons’ one-game suspension.

The star sophomore’s play can do the talking for him on Saturday, though, when No. 11 Georgia will likely require a more consistent performance from its defense in order to topple No. 6 South Carolina.

The good news for the Bulldogs is one of its most potent defensive weapons is back, and Harvey-Clemons’ predecessor at nickelback believes that will make a major difference.

“I think that’s going to be one of the key points to our defense, having him in that spot and having him being able to do all the things I did last year,” Swann said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”