ATHENS – We know that Georgia will be missing a lot of pieces from its defense in the early going this coming season. But the Bulldogs won’t be missing some primary parts in the middle and that’s a big thing.
Big John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers are back to man the middle from the noseguard position this fall. Not only are they present and accounted for this spring — by all accounts, they’ve managed to avoid the suspension bug that has been going around – but they’ve been playing at a high level.
“John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers are really, really coming on,” Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “I’ve got to stay onto them about fundamentals and about steps, pad level, hand placement and just little things. . . . We may not be quite there, but I’ve been very, very, pleased with both kids.”
It can’t be overstated how important it is to have a large, athletic presence in the heart of Georgia’s 3-4 defense. Not only is it needed to create some penetration in the middle of the line, it’s critical to tie up blockers, which in turn frees up stunting and blitzing linebackers. Jenkins and Geathers were able to fill that bill nicely this past season.
Geathers (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) started the first four games, Jenkins (6-3, 343) started seven and the two players rotated liberally on the way to 42 combined tackles. By the end of the year Jenkins was dominant and finished with six tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks.
Georgia also returns senior starter Abry Jones at defensive end/tackle. But depth is an issue outside and a battle is on for the spot opposite Jones. Junior Garrison Smith is the heir apparent but the Bulldogs moved Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew down from outside linebacker in search of quality depth.
“It’s a transition,” said Washington, who said he now weighs more than 280 pounds. “I’m not going to say it’s the easiest thing in the world because it’s not. But I’m just trying to get used to it, trying to develop my skills at the different spots.”
Said Garner: “Obviously, the closer you get to the ball the more physical it is and the faster things happen. . . . I think the biggest thing is the physicality part of it, you know, they’re making that adjustment. But I definitely think there’s some guys there that can make it happen.”
Meanwhile, sophomore Mike Thornton (6-1, 287) has moved inside to back up Jenkins and Geathers as “a changeup” at nose.
“He just has an unfortunate deal in that he’s playing behind probably two of the biggest athletic men in college football,” Garner said of Thornton, a former AJC Super 11 selection out of Stone Mountain. “But I think Mike is getting better; I think he’s improving, I think he definitely has a role here on this team and will be a solid guy for us.”
As for the attrition the defense has had to endure — seven defensive players have been suspended, dismissed or transferred this year — Jenkins said nobody’s losing sleep over it.
“Man, to be honest with you, that stuff that’s going on, I try to be positive about it,” he said. “What happened, happened. Those suspensions are there. It’s not like we can just walk around with our heads down and be angry. The younger guys have got to get ready and look at it as an opportunity to step up. You can’t be annoyed or aggravated. It’s a team thing. At the end of the daywe’ve got to play.
NOTES: The Bulldogs practice was shortened Tuesday due to heavy thunderstorms that swept through about two-thirds of the way through their workout. They were able to finish inside the multi-purpose facility. . . . Offensive lineman Dallas Lee (concussion), tailback Keith Marshall (pulled hamstring) and Drew (illness), were absent from practice. Tailback Richard Samuel also was not in attendance during the open periods but no one could say why. . . . Wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (leg) and linebacker Amarlo Herrera (shoulder) practiced in non-contact jerseys. . . . Former Bulldogs Akeem Dent (Atlanta Falcons) and Darryl Gamble (San Diego Chargers) attended Tuesday’s practice. . . . Also in attendance was former UGA line coach and UAB head coach Neil Callaway.