Georgia Football: Kendrick, Ringo holding up their end at cornerback for No. 1 Bulldogs
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Kelee Ringo, Derion Kendrick holding up their end

When the season began, cornerback was the one position about which head coach Kirby Smart wasn't quite sure what he had.

He figured getting Derion Kendrick as a transfer from Clemson would help, but with depth an issue and redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo yet to play in his first collegiate game, there were naturally some concerns.

Fortunately, Smart’s expectations seem to have been met. Ringo and Kendrick have not only provided stability at cornerback but have combined to form one of the better duos in the SEC.

“Both have good ball skills that have helped in terms of holding the point of attack. So much of football now is playing on the perimeter,” Smart said. “That’s where I think we’ve been able to hold up nicely in terms of point-of-attack blocks and hands on people, because they’re both 200-pound kids, and they both have good length.”

The numbers, according to Pro Football Focus, speak loudly to how effective each has been.

• Kendrick boasts an 82.5 overall grade, which includes a coverage mark of 82.6. Opponents have completed just 19 of 36 passes against him for 291 yards, with Kendrick intercepting two passes and breaking up five throws. Opposing quarterbacks have only a 55.1 passer rating against him.

• Ringo boasts a 73.9 overall grade, which includes a coverage mark of 72.5. Opponents have completed just 13 of 35 passes against him for 131 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception, and three pass breakups. Opposing quarterbacks only have a 55.8 passer rating against him.

“You give them an assignment and tell them, 'Hey, we've got this guy for you to lock down, or we've got this guy for you to put on clamps,' and they do exactly that,” safety Lewis Cine said. “They play assignment ball. They know what they're supposed to do. They know where their help is. They're just smart guys, and they do what they're supposed to, which makes it easier for me, because I have faith in their skills and their game."

Ringo knows bigger tests are still to come.

Perhaps not so much during Saturday’s regular-season finale at Georgia Tech, but certainly in the SEC Championship against Alabama, along with potential opponents like Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs. The deep ball is a big part of those teams’ respective games.

“Every day in practice, we speak to things we did good in the game, and things we can work on,” Ringo said. “The deep ball is something we definitely know we’re going to get the rest of the season, so for us, it’s going to be consistently working on that.”

Smart acknowledges it’s taken a complete team effort on defense for the Bulldogs to be as effective as they have been.

The Bulldogs lead the SEC in both pass defense (158.7 yards per game) and pass defense efficiency (95.2).

“They both have given up some plays, and they both been protected by a pretty good front at times, in terms of maybe when they got beaten. The quarterback got rushed, and that’s helped them some, but they’ve done everything we’ve asked, and they take all their walkthrough reps very seriously,” Smart said. “We’ve really been impressed with DK’s maturity in terms of leadership in that DB room. He’s played in a lot of big games. He provides a lot of confidence for the other guys.”

Smart took a chance on Kendrick after he was dismissed from Clemson, but the move has paid off grandly.

Not only has the former first-team All-ACC pick been a model teammate, but he’s become the kind of shutdown corner for the Bulldogs that coaches dream of having.

His ability to effectively cover the other team’s best receiver not only allows defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to play more man coverage but has helped Ringo get a jump on perfecting his own game.

“DK is a great leader. He’s played the highest level of ball in the ACC, and now in the SEC,” Ringo said. “I’ve learned so much from him. He’s definitely helped me enhance my game.”

Kendrick has not been made available to the media since he’s been at Georgia, but teammates do not mind speaking for him.

That includes wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who said honing his own skills against the duo every day in practice has certainly been a benefit to his game.

“If you can't get better going against those guys, something is wrong. They're going to give you their all every single day, and we're going to give them our all,” McConkey said. “If one of us isn't going hard, then you're going to be able to see and notice that. Going out there and getting those looks from those guys—knowing the caliber of player they are—if you can do some good things against them, you can do it against anybody.”

Kelee Ringo (5) and Derion Kendrick (11) proving quite the combo at corner for Bulldogs.
Kelee Ringo (5) and Derion Kendrick (11) proving quite the combo at corner for Bulldogs. (Tony Walsh/UGA Sports Communications)