ATHENS, Ga. -- As Georgia prepares to open spring practice on Saturday, the Bulldogs should have considerable competition for available playing time -- particularly on defense.
Here are five players worth watching between now and the G-Day game on April 6:
1. Josh Harvey-Clemons: The rising sophomore will essentially be a rookie when he jumps into the competition at both outside linebacker and safety this spring. He’ll play both positions this fall based on matchups according to coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Harvey-Clemons -- ESPN’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2012 signing class -- played almost exclusively in a nickelback role last season, so he has a lot to learn. His athleticism will give him the opportunity to become one of the Bulldogs’ most dynamic playmakers at his new spots.
2. Jonathon Rumph: Although Georgia has established players atop the receiver depth chart in Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, the 6-foot-5 Rumph brings something different to the table with an impressive combination of size and athleticism. The junior college transfer could conceivably emerge as one of the Bulldogs’ top deep threats by the time the season arrives, particularly with previous home run specialist Tavarres King now pursuing an NFL career.
3. Tray Matthews: Georgia’s top three options at safety -- Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings -- were all seniors in 2012, so somebody has to take over at the position. Freshman free safety Matthews, who enrolled in January along with fellow safety Quincy Mauger, thinks he will win some of the available playing time if not secure a starting job. His combination of ball skills and hitting ability make him an intriguing candidate.
4. Mark Beard: The 2012 junior college transfer came on toward the end of last season, working into a regular spot in Georgia’s offensive line rotation at left tackle. He should have an even greater opportunity this spring with starters Chris Burnette and John Theus still recovering from offseason surgeries. It will be interesting to see whether Beard and perhaps other linemen perform well enough this spring to prompt coach Will Friend to expand his offensive line rotation in the fall.
5. Sheldon Dawson: Commings and Branden Smith are both out of the picture, leaving only Damian Swann among the top cornerback regulars from last season. Devin Bowman played some early last season, so he’s a candidate to jump into the rotation. So is early enrollee Reggie Wilkerson. But we’re particularly intrigued by the athletic Dawson, who mostly contributed on special teams last season as a true freshman.