ATHENS – Big John Jenkins got the first start of his brief Georgia career this past Saturday against Tennessee. And while it may not have come as quickly as he wanted, it could not have come in a more ideal situation – SEC road game, night kickoff, national TV, prolific offense, highly-touted quarterback.
“Man, that felt good,” said Jenkins, a 6-foot-4, 340-pound junior noseguard who’s expected to start again this week. “To start in that stadium and under those nights against Tennessee, it felt good. It was big, it was big.”
Jenkins and the Bulldogs played big, too. Including a couple quarterback sacks, they held the Vols to minus-20 yards rushing en route to a 20-12 victory. Entering Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt, Georgia is now third in the SEC and 12th nationally in run defense *85.8 ypg). The Bulldogs are now ranked sixth nationally in total defense (260.5 ypg).
Jenkins and his cohort at noseguard – 6-6, 350-pound Kwame Geathers – are the main reasons for that. As is customary for the position, their impact is not quantifiable statistically. Jenkins and Geathers both have six tackles apiece while Jenkins also has three tackles for loss, a sack and five QB pressures. But a successful play for them is to tie up blockers and hold gaps while linebackers and safeties run loose behind and between them.
Georgia has better-fitting players throughout the lineup in year two of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. But none have meant more than that 700-pound duo in the middle.
“It’s really helped us,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s really solidified what we’re trying to accomplish against the run game. You want the big men in there to help stop the run. But then taking DeAngelo [Tyson] and allowing him to play an end position was big for him. And Abry Jones has had a really good season. So we really got stronger inside and out.”
Georgia is also getting a lot more out of sophomore ends Garrison Smith and Derrick Lott at this point. The dominance of the defensive line has kept the depleted linebacker corps from missing a beat despite several injuries.
But Jenkins is the one who has probably come the farthest in the shortest amount of time. The former JUCO All-American out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College initially struggled with the transition to FBS football and remained behind Geathers in the rotation until recently.
“It’s good competition, that’s the main thing,” Richt said. “Both those guys are playing well and both those guys are going to play. . . . The good news is we have two guys who can play and know they have to compete for that starting job on a weekly basis. That’s when you really have something going on.”
“I would say I’ve some a long way,” Jenkins said. “I’m making some plays in the games now. I predicted I would play more plays, but things are working. And that’s the thing: I just keep working and working and working. Pretty soon my time is going to come where people will know I’m that dominant guy.”
Jenkins actually was a two-way player and a better-than-average fullback in high school and expressed his desire to Georgia coaches during recruiting to tote the rock at least once in college. But from the sound of things that’s not likely to happen any time soon.
“Pretty early on, he said, ‘You know, Coach, I think I just need to work on noseguard right now,’” Richt said. “But when he gets really comfortable, he’ll be back [at running back] I’m sure.”
The good news for Georgia is Jenkins is getting more comfortable every day.
Sterling Bailey now 100 percent
Freshman outside linebacker Sterling Bailey is practicing at 100 percent without limitations and making a very strong impression on Georgia coaches.
“He’s a very athletic guy and we’re eager to see what he can do,” Richt said.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound graduate of Gainesville’s East Hall High was out of action all summer while recovering from shoulder surgery he had last spring.
Etc. . . .
Sophomore Chris Burnette is expected to start for the second straight week at right guard. . . . Nineteen Vanderbilt players are from Georgia, including eight possible starters: tight end Brandon Barden (Lincolnton), receiver Chris Boyd (Roswell), cornerback Casey Hayward (Perry), punter Richard Kent (Marietta), WR Jonathan Krause (Snellville), safety Kenny Ladler (Stone Mountain), tackle Ryan Seymour (Kingsland) and receiver Udom Umoh (Fort Valley). . . .Georgia senior center Ben Jones and Vanderbilt junior tailback Zac Stacy are best friends since their days at Alabama’s Bibb County High School.
|– Chip Towers