Sixteen days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.
16. Branden Smith
5-foot-11, 182 pounds
Fall forecast: Georgia gave Smith a reprieve when it chose not to suspend him after his spring break arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Smith now appears to be in position to play key roles at cornerback and as a kick returner during his senior season. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt recently complimented Smith for his performances in camp, so it looks like Smith will be one of the team’s leaders in the secondary this fall.
Career highlight: Smith ran around left end on a reverse against South Carolina as a freshman and showed off blazing speed in tearing through the Gamecocks’ secondary for a 60-yard touchdown in the Bulldogs’ shootout win in 2009.
Experience thus far: Smith started seven games and appeared in all 14 last season, making 24 tackles and intercepting two passes. He also contributed on offense and special teams, rushing 13 times for 100 yards, catching three passes for 39 yards and returning a handful of kickoffs and punts. Smith has appeared in 36 games and started 17 times in his career.
Possible career impact: One of the nation’s most sought-after prospects when he signed with Georgia in 2009, Smith has not been a superstar, but he has been a productive player for much of his career. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hands, which helps him contribute in specialty roles on offense, and is one of the Bulldogs’ best cover cornerbacks. He returned for his senior season partially to improve his NFL draft status, and he should be able to do that this fall if he manages to remain healthy.