Due to unforeseen medical circumstances, starting Safety AJ Gray will miss his last season on the Flats. This comes after amassing 23 career starts, and being the only starter returning from last year’s secondary. This news was announced on May 7th, and there has been speculation ever since as to who will be filling the 2014 Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year’s shoes.
AJ was always a big-play threat, and received rare praise from Coach Paul Johnson early in his Tech career. Whether sporting the #5 or #15, his presence was made known to offenses. He racked up 43 solo tackles in 2017, leading a defense that often relied on him to cover up the other issues they were facing. The soft zone coverage that Ted Roof was known for gave Gray ample opportunity to make tackles, but that sieve mentality where the Safety played the role of Goalkeeper will (fingers crossed) change this year under Defensive Coordinator Nate Woody.
Gray was mentioned by this staff as being one of 2016’s Breakout Players, and 2017’s Impact Players, so his loss is not one to take lightly. But behind him, are a couple of pretty good backups that will all be vying for a chance to step into his role.
Jalen Johnson is expected to fill the gap left behind by Corey Griffin’s graduation (he’s with the 49er’s now). So that’s one spot more or less covered (haha get it). As for the other position, that’s a little more ambigous.
Christian Campbell is the most seasoned of the replacement squad, and will likely serve as the elder statesman of this young Safety group despite not having tremendous amounts of in-game experience. Entering his redshirt junior season, he should be expected to step well into the role. But a change in philosophy via the arrival of Coach Woody, will, in my opinion, level the playing field for some younger talent to show out in 2018.
That leaves us with 4 remaining players, all of which I would love to see on the field. You can read their previous detail articles here:
Kaleb Oliver, Tariq Carpenter, Avery Showell, and Gentry Bonds
Now, what makes this especially fun is the fact that we also have to fill OLB positions. Most of these players have seen looks all over the field through spring ball. But at the end of the day, somebody has got to step up and handle the duties of a player who in all likelihood, would be a draft pick in the 2019 draft.
In my entirely unprofessional opinion, I think Campbell starts the season, but sees his role convert to backup somewhere right after the Louisville game. Oliver will then come in and just absolutely lay the hammer on someone on, and I’ll just sit in the baking hot sun of noon game on Grant Field and just smile.
Let us know who you want to see starting at Safety in the comments below.
Or if you don‘t want to do that, tell me which non-superpower-possessing fictional character you want playing safety for us. Dibs on Jason Bourne.