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Georgia cornerback Malkom Parrish intercepts a pass during last November's win at Auburn. The Bulldogs led the nation in pass defense a year ago and want to prove that was no fluke.

ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs led the nation in pass defense last season, but it's a fact that can be interpreted in different ways.

Sure, Georgia's secondary came a long way in two seasons under former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt after a calamitous fourth year under Todd Grantham in 2013. Yet the 2015 Bulldogs had a favorable schedule in racking up an average of just 156.5 passing yards allowed per game.

Five Georgia foes — Auburn, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern — ranked 110th or worse last season in passing offense.

"Stats are stats, and there are teams out there that have their own opinions on their own DBs," strong safety Dominick Sanders said. "Our DBs are pretty good, and the main thing for us is just worrying about each day's practice. At the end of the day, it will speak for itself."

The Bulldogs are out to prove last year was no fluke with the returning quartet of Sanders, free safety Quincy Mauger and cornerbacks Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish. There also is no shortage of challengers for playing time, with that contingent headed by Rico McGraw, Reggie Wilkerson and Juwuan Briscoe and including Rashad Roundtree, Jarvis Wilson, DeAndre Baker and Shattle Fenteng.

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Mecole Hardman, the nation's No. 1 athlete prospect in the 2016 signing class according to 247Sports.com, could make his mark in the secondary as well.

On a program with a quarterback competition, health issues at tailback and quality depth concerns at receiver and on the defensive line, Georgia's secondary would appear to be the brightest of all the position groups in Kirby Smart's first season as head coach. Smart, a Georgia safety in the late 1990s, insists this area has no guaranteed starters and can accomplish much more.

"I'm looking for a limited number of big plays," Smart said. "That's the number one thing for our secondary. We want to limit explosive and big plays, because that is the number one criteria for giving up points. We want to limit that, and you do that by communication and by tackling well.

"You want to be on the same page, and those are some things we had some issues with in the spring, so it's really important that we address those issues."

Freshmen earn respect

Three of Georgia's freshman defensive linemen — Michail Carter, Tyler Clark and David Marshall — earned praise from Smart following Tuesday night's second practice of the preseason.

"They are playing a lot harder than the other guys, which tells me they are hungrier than the older guys," Smart said in a news conference. "They are playing with good motors and playing hard, which is probably the biggest pleasant surprise because of our depth issue there that I've seen so far.

"Now they've got to sustain it, and they've got to do it with the big boy pads on."

Odds and ends

The Bulldogs worked out for two hours but had to delay their second practice due to thunderstorms. Monday's practice had the last 25 percent cut short due to bad weather, according to Smart. Sophomore running back Shaquery Wilson, who moved from receiver during the spring, rode a stationary bike Tuesday because of a bone bruise in his knee.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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