Replacing 'Tree

ATHENS, Ga. – With an open spot now available for him, Georgia safety Shawn Williams’ stated goal for this spring is to gain “confidence."

Junior Shawn Williams started three games last season in UGA's secondary.

His unflinching response to Alec Ogletree’s move to linebacker is a good start.

“If the change wouldn’t have happened, I still would have been competing the same that I am now,” Williams said. “I’m still going to compete whether he’s there or not. They could move him back, and I’m still going to compete the same way.”

A starting position once considered a lock is now wide open, thanks to a curve ball tossed by second-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham before the start of Georgia’s spring practice.

Grantham moved promising youngster Alec Ogletree from safety to inside linebacker. While bolstering the depth at Ogletree’s new home, the move created a question mark at safety, the position where Ogletree held a starting job alongside Bacarri Rambo.

Instead, the race to be Georgia’s other safety will be contested by senior JUCO transfer Jakar Hamilton and true junior Williams, two safeties who were each good enough to start games in 2010 but too inconsistent to hold onto first-string roles.

“They’ve got to prove they can do it,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “But they played a good bit. They had some great learning experiences last year that I think will help them. If they were just coming in totally cold turkey without any playing time in the system, I’d be a little more concerned.”

Hamilton, who Richt has not permitted to give media interviews this spring, arrived at UGA with the nickname “Hitman” for punishing licks he delivered at Georgia Military College. He earned a starting role immediately for the Bulldogs last season, but after the team’s 1-4 start, Hamilton was benched in favor of Williams, who started three games before the full-time role went to true freshman Ogletree.

Last October, Hamilton said he struggled grasping the mental aspects of the position and that he didn’t wish to be called “Hitman” until he’d earned it.

“The free safety position of a 3-4 defense, it has to be the toughest position to play because you have to make all the calls,” Hamilton said. “You have some players that pick up on it fast, and you’ve got some that don’t. Unfortunately, I guess I wasn’t one of the ones. I knew what I was doing, but some of the calls, they just weren’t comprehended right.”

Williams recorded 34 tackles last season, including a career-high seven against Florida. However, the most notable moment of his sophomore season was a forgettable one. Williams missed a tackle that allowed Arkansas’ Greg Childs to race 40 yards down the sideline and score the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in a 31-24 Razorbacks victory at Sanford Stadium.

Having long sense accepted responsibility for the mistake, Williams says he is taking a different approach in spring 2011.

“I just learned that I’ve got to be more confident and trust what I’m seeing,” Williams said, “knowing that I know what to do and not second-guessing myself.”

So how is it going at safety?

After only three spring practices, Richt is realistic in his assessment of Hamilton and Williams, saying “They’ve still got a ways to go.”

Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin hinted that Hamilton and Williams still don’t have a complete grasp of the defense, and he figures the first one to prove that will be the out there on Saturdays this fall.

“Maybe not knowing 100 percent what to do,” Boykin said, “they both still ran to the ball and did the things they were supposed to do to be effective in the defense. … They both have experience, so it’s not like when one of them comes out, nobody knows what to do. The quicker both of them pick it up, the quicker you’ll see whoever is able to pick it up and play over the other.”

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