UGA's most important players of 2017: A defensive player who is taken for granted? Number 9
Georgia’s football season had just ended one afternoon last December, and Dominick Sanders was standing in walkway at the Liberty Bowl when he was asked if he was coming back for one more year.
“I’m going to stay one more year with my guys,” Sanders said.
It was a surprising response, at least to this reporter, who did not expect a yes or no answer yet. But Sanders said yes … and then it was completely overshadowed 30 seconds later when Isaiah McKenzie, standing a few feet from Sanders, answered the same question with a “no.”
That was fair, as McKenzie ended up being vitally important to Georgia last year – as much as its offense struggled where would it have been without him? But let’s now take a step back and appreciate how important it was for the Bulldogs to also get back their starting safety.
Oh yes, Sanders didn’t have a great year. By his own admission. (A few sentences after announcing his return, Sanders alluded to the “errors” he had his junior season and the need to improve. More later on what those were.)
Georgia also has a plethora of talent in the secondary now, with guys like Richard LeCounte ready to step in if needed. Actually, with all this incoming talent – Deangelo Gibbs, William Poole, Tray Bishop – some fans think that it would have been better long-term for the program had Sanders left.
BEST CASE: Sanders returns to his 2015 form and exceeds it. He breaks the school record for interceptions. (The SEC record of 20 seems too far, but you never know.) More importantly, Sanders cuts down on the missed tackles, poor angles and doesn’t taken unnecessary chances at balls. Georgia’s pass defense, with Sanders leading the way, ranks first in the SEC, as it did two years ago, when it was also first nationally. Sanders’ secondary proves vital in limiting fast-moving offensive opponents Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn.
WORST CASE: Sanders’ down junior season proves not to be an anomaly, and Georgia’s pass defense takes a hit. The loss of Maurice Smith, last year’s starter at nickel back, proves to be a bigger loss than expected in the secondary, and Georgia loses several high-scoring games.