If Alabama's going to beat Georgia, and the top-rated defense in the nation, it's probably going to be in the secondary.
Granted, opponents have scored only 83 points, but the Bulldogs are a little vulnerable, especially when factoring injuries, and they'll be going up against the quarterback who many consider to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
Following the 2020 season, Georgia had four defensive backs selected in the NFL draft: Eric Stokes, first round, Packers; Tyson Campbell, second round, Jaguars; Richard LeCounte, fifth round, Browns; Mark Webb, seventh round, Chargers).
So the coaching staff had a lot of spots to fill, and didn't hesitate to turn to the transfer portal to add cornerback Derion Kendrick from Clemson, and star/nickel back Tykee Smith from West Virginia.
Kendrick, a former All-ACC selection, has anchored one of the corner spots. He's been credited with 32 tackles and two interceptions this season. The other has been mostly manned by redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo.
But the versatile Smith has missed the whole season due to a knee injury. Latavious Brini has been the star/nickel back.
The other Smith in the Georgia secondary, safety Christopher Smith, has missed the last two games with a "weird" knee injury, a bone bruise that had him on crutches. He's reportedly back practicing this week and will a game-time decision.
His backup is walk-on redshirt sophomore Dan Jackson, who got his first start against No. 11 Kentucky while Smith was out with a shoulder injury. He's also been a big factor in Georgia blocking four kicks this season.
The key player for the Bulldogs is Lewis Cine, who wears the unusual jersey number 16. That was the age of his mother when she gave birth to him, in Haiti.
Cine pays homage to his mother and cites her as a main motivator for his passion and energy on the field, in addition to his 4-year-old daughter.
“Those two people are my ‘why’. When things get hard, I push myself, because I know the things my mom has been through, the things she’s done for me and she never complain," he said. "She just keeps pushing through. And my daughter, I’m going to go through a brick wall for her.”
Said Bulldogs head coach, Kirby Smart: “When you design a safety, he’s got all the qualities. And he’s really been a student of the game.”
He also praised Cine’s development and positional versatility since arriving at Georgia.
“He bounced around and, you know, he never really was in a scheme where he learned how to play the position. He’s really grown at that. Now he’s playing three positions for us. He’s playing the free, the strong, the money position.”
In addition, defensive coordinator, Dan Lanning praised his leadership, which has grown over the years.
“We’re trying to make this a player-led team and Lewis is an example of a guy that is owning that.”
Lorenz Leinweber, Jeremiah Bogan and Jordan Pun all profiled the safety for NFL Draft Bible and their evaluations are included here:
Jersey: No. 16
Draft Eligible: 2022
Hometown: Cedar Hill, Texas
High School: Trinity Christian
Lewis Cine spent his first three high school years at Everett High School in Massachusetts where he was named the USA Today 2017 Massachusetts Defensive Player of the Year. For his senior year, Cine transferred to Trinity Christian High School in Texas where he was the recipient of the Jack Davis Honorary Football scholarship and was coached by Troy Williams. Cine helped lead the Tigers to a 14-0 record and the school’s second straight state title while finishing with 85 tackles (46 solo), 13 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. After high school, 247Sports ranked him as a 4-star recruit, the 45th-best recruit nationally, the third-ranked safety in the country and the seventh recruit in the state of Texas. Cine committed to the Georgia Bulldogs and in his freshman year in 2019, he played all 14 games and started the final two. Cine recorded 20 tackles, three pass breakups and one interception while co-winning Special Teams Newcomer of the Year. Cine’s role grew in 2020, where he started all 10 games and was second on the team with 52 tackles, also adding one tackle for loss and three pass breakups. This season he's displayed improved ball production which will be pivotal to his draft stock.
Leinweber: Long safety who plays in cover two, single high and man against tight ends. Cine is an easy mover in space, transitioning smoothly and possessing very good speed. This gives him the range to roam in single high or as a robber if needed. He stays balanced despite his high hips and shows recovery speed in man coverage. His length allows him to play the ball at the catch point. Cine shows willingness to come downhill and does so in a hurry. He is not hesitant, trusting his eyes and pulling the trigger quickly. Length and play strength allow him to take on or slip blocks every once in a while.
Bogan: Impressive athlete who looks the part and moves the part of a high caliber safety prospect. Plays with a sense of urgency when diagnosing the run, allowing him to make more plays around the line of scrimmage. Really good hip fluidity to transition out of his hips with burst to cover ground on the back end. Good long speed to cover ground consistently with hash to sideline range when playing from two-high. Impressive short area quickness breaking on the football out of his break. Explosive burst coming downhill when running the alley, taking excellent angles to the ball carrier and closing ground in a hurry. High efficiency tackler who consistently makes tackles in space while providing you with the physicality to meet ball carriers in closed space. Athletic profile has the potential to translate to a safety who can match up with some of the leagues more athletic tight ends who provide nightmares for defenses.
Pun: Lewis Cine is a borderline elite athlete with the foot speed, quickness, closing burst and change of direction that allows him to fly across the field and be in multiple positions at once. He is an outstanding run defender who has the aggressive nature to fly downhill from the 2-high position that Georgia plays him in most often. He takes aggressive pursuit angles and possesses the near-elite foot speed to track down ball carriers with ease and is a fairly dependable tackler who consistently squares up and wraps up his target. Cine is very effective at shutting down wide receiver screens as his reactionary quickness puts him in position to limit yards-after-the-catch or blow up the play entirely. He also excels in off-man coverage versus tight ends (see vs Kyle Pitts, 2020) because he understands how to use his pre-snap leverage to his advantage and possesses a lightning-quick trigger to break at the stem. Cine flashes as a 2-high zone defender and loves to drive down on intermediate crossing routes, instilling fear in receivers who need to cross the middle-of-the-field and brace for a big hit from Cine.
Leinweber: Cine tends to tackle high and is unable to stop the momentum of ball carriers leading to missed tackles. His aggressive playstyle can cause him to get manipulated by the quarterback’s eyes. When stressed vertically with multiple routes, he has to be more cautious, guarding deep. Despite his aggressiveness, Cine lacks the expected ball production.
Bogan: Eyes in pass coverage are inconsistent, quarterbacks can manipulate him pretty easily. Still learning how to play with depth and leverage routes, often giving up too much depth when playing a deep half. Athleticism has not translated to success in man coverage due to eyes being undisciplined and being antsy in his technique and giving up space. Has little to no ball production, needs to show he can make plays on the football or create takeaways whether it be interceptions or forcing fumbles.
Pun: Cine’s ceiling and role in the NFL is likely limited to the strong safety position because his reactive rather than instinctual nature hurts him in deeper zone coverages (especially single high). He can be fooled by route concepts that look to put him in a conflict of assignment because he is so aggressive and wants to break on the first route he sees. This has caused him to give up some big plays in coverage and also hurt his ball production in previous years. Furthermore, Cine occasionally struggles with misdirection and option plays as he takes an extra split second to process where the ball is going and this hurts his play speed. Finally, Cine’s aggressive pursuit angles to the ball are usually beneficial, but versus shiftier athletes, it hurts his ability to finish tackles.
Leinweber: Long-limbed, skinny safety operating in the Bulldogs interchangeable secondary, Cine is a gifted athlete with very good speed and easy, fluid movement skills in space. He is aggressive, trusting his eyes which can cause him to be wrong. While willing to come downhill, he has to become a more dependable tackler. Cine projects as an eventual starting safety possessing the athleticism to play in deep zones. Improved ball production should come with playing time.
Bogan: Athletic safety with a lot of upside after only one full season of starting. A physical tone setter in the run game who provides elite run support and tackling abilities. Instincts in coverage need to improve as a two-high safety and needs to translate his athleticism into more consistent man coverage. Cine has the size and traits that scouts will love, if he can add ball production to his profile then we will be talking about him next year as an elite safety prospect.
Pun: Cine is one of the top five safeties in the nation and a borderline first-round talent. He can be the on-field cultural leader of a secondary as he plays with a fire that will motivate teammates. His best role will be as a strong safety who is an outstanding run defender and can lock down tight ends in man coverage. To reach his ceiling, it will be interesting to see if Cine can maintain his good ball production so far in 2021 by displaying better instincts. He can be a day one starter for teams who primarily run 2-high shells and can be a potential multi-year Pro-Bowler if played to his strengths and not asked to be a centerfielder.
Current value/potential value
Leinweber: 7.7 / 8.5
Bogan: 8.4 / 9.1
Pun: 8.2 / 9.0
Jersey: No. 11
Draft Eligible: 2022
Hometown: Rock Hill, South Carolina
High School: South Pointe
Disciplined and instinctual zone coverage defender who understands the intent of the scheme. He triggers quickly with his eyes on the quarterback and even baits the passer. Kendrick plays with low hips at all times, maximizing his fluidity. His big catch radius allows him to make plays on the ball in the air. Kendrick shows the strength to shed blocks and is a low, reliable tackler when trying.
Confidence to stay square comes back to bite him as his above-average speed is not enough to catch back up to fast wideouts, causing him to get beat over the top. Kendrick can have his eyes in the backfield for too long when threatened vertically. He is not sticky at the top of the route, possessing merely average twitch and close-quarter quickness as well as suffering from false steps. His effort in run support is poor at times. Kendrick fails to contest the catch point consistently against bigger receivers.
Inexperienced yet instinctual cornerback with very good length. Kendrick has a big catch radius thanks to his long arms. In man, he allows separation at the top of routes, lacking twitch to mirror. He gets beat over the top as he stays square for too long or keeps his eyes in the backfield. Kendrick projects as a good backup with future starting ability in a zone-heavy secondary. He is still new to the position and should have his best football ahead of him.
7.2 current value/8.4 potential value
Jersey: No. 29
Draft eligible: 2022
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
High School: Hapeville Charter
Very good athlete who is a loose mover on the backend. Good eye discipline in man coverage, stays patient reading the hips of receivers to attach at the top of the route from off coverage. Good diagnosis of run/pass when then is able to read his keys to take him to the football consistently. Man coverage skills are superb for the position, has excellent fluidity to open up his hips and beat receivers to the cut-off on vertical routes. Noticeable foot speed closing on ball carriers when running the alley and shows up in his range to cover ground on the back end in pass coverage. Changes directions with ease, comes out of his backpedal with no wasted movement and good quickness to drive downhill.
Thin frame shows up as a negative when watching him play with poor play strength. Struggles to get off blocks in the run game if someone gets their hands on him, does not show the ability to disengage or shed. Ball carriers will often run through him and gain extra yards before he is able to bring them down. Lack of experience can show up in coverage when watching him try to see too much, taking peeks instead of working off the quarterback indicator and just feeling the routes as a one-high safety or robber player.
His best football looks to be ahead of him. Twitchy athlete with excellent movement skills to excel in man coverage and provide a lot of range on the backend. Needs to improve his play strength in order to improve his finishing as a tackler. Inexperience creates hope for his potential because he has all the athletic gifts you want in a free safety.
7.4 current value/8.5 potential value
If this becomes the key matchup of the game, Alabama's chances of winning improve dramatically. The reason why the word "if" is included, the Crimson Tide has serious depth issues at running back and a big question at right tackle against an outstanding front seven. In addition to limiting Alabama's running game, it could hinder the run-pass-option attack. Should quarterback Bryce Young can get the ball out quickly, like he did during the second half against Auburn, Alabama has the ability to stretch and test the secondary, and do something unique to this season: Get the Bulldogs on their heels. If Christopher Smith is limited the Crimson Tide's speed could be extremely problematic for Georgia. Look for a lot of quick slants and Alabama to aim for some crossing routes under the coverage or when Brini is in man. If the Bulldogs have to lay off at the line and play more zone that usual, you'll see more short catch-and-run passes.
All this week, BamaCentral will profile numerous Georgia players as the Crimson Tide prepares for another showdown in the SEC Championship Game . Also check out NFL Draft Bible for more evaluations.
If Alabama's going to beat Georgia, and the top-rated defense in the nation, it's probably going to be in the secondary.
Granted, opponents have scored only 83 points, but the Bulldogs are a little vulnerable, especially when factoring injuries, and they'll be going up against the quarterback who many consider to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. Subscribe for full article
Get Exclusive Access to Bama Central Content
Already a FanNation Member? Log In