ORLANDO, Fla. – How much Abry Jones can play against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday will come down to whether his body can pull off what his heart wants him to do.
Jones, a senior and starting defensive end for Georgia, has been out for the last nine weeks following ankle surgery. He returned to practice in a mostly-unlimited capacity this week and has been cleared to play in the game.
But there is definitely reservation in Jones’ voice when he talks about returning to the field for the first time since the seventh game of the season.
“I’m trying to,” Jones said of playing in the game. “I’ve been moving around a little bit. . . . It’s my senior year and I missed so much and I just want to play one more game with the fellas. If I feel confident enough and they let me play, I’m going to play. That’s what I want to do. But it’s just how I feel pretty much.”
Jones estimated he is about “75 to 85” percent recovered from the left ankle injury suffered against Kentucky on Oct. 20. He started practicing in a limited capacity back in Athens and is attempting to go full speed this week.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said before Friday’s practice at Celebration High School. “I can run at least, and I can cut a little bit, too.”
Jones said while he has been cleared to play by trainers, he will ultimately have final say. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham indicated he would play Jones “in spots” and see how it goes.
That Jones is even considering playing is somewhat surprising. He is a senior who projects as an NFL prospect, so most in his situation would skip a bowl to get ready for the next level and avoid the risk of further injury.
“Ever since he got hurt his attitude was, ‘I want to get back and I want to play,’ and he’s been working toward that the entire time,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I really don’t know how much he’ll be able to play or what kind of stamina he’ll have. But he wants to play and the plan is to play him. As practices go on we’ll have a little better gauge what that might look like. For now, just the thought of him fighting like mad to get back on the field is a sign of his integrity and his love of the game and his love of Georgia.”
The Bulldogs could definitely use Jones’ help. They already will be playing without starting noseguard John Jenkins, who was ruled academically ineligible to play in the bowl. Jenkins had been doing double-duty at Jones’ end position since Week 7. Those snaps will now have to go to Cornelius Washington, Ray Drew and Mike Thornton, all of whom lack Jones’ size (6-3, 309).
“I was feeling compelled to play from the get-go just because these are my teammates and I’ve been missing them for about nine weeks now,” said Jones, who has started 26 games and played in 46 for the Bulldogs. “I’ve been out here and it feels like normal. I’m loving all the love the guys are giving me for being out here, so it just makes me feel stronger.”
For the first time in a while, junior linebacker Alec Ogletree addressed the impending decision he has to make with regard to the NFL draft. The Bulldogs’ “Mo” linebacker projects as a potential first-rounder and it’s generally thought he’ll make the jump. But surprisingly, Ogletree said he didn’t asked the NFL’s advisory board for an evaluation. And, as expected, he said he hasn’t come anywhere close to making a decision.
“Right now I’m still focusing on this season,” said Ogletree, who averaged nearly 11 tackles per game the second half of the season. “I’ve got the rest of this week to go, then I’ll talk to my parents about whatever I’m going to do after the bowl game, then make a decision . . . I’m here right now and that’s all I’m worried about.”
Junior noseguard Kwame Geathers said he has asked for an evaluation from the NFL. He also said who Georgia might hire as defensive line coach will factor into his decision.
Junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who some project as the No. 1 overall pick, says he’ll make a decision after the bowl. Underclassmen have until Jan. 15th to declare for the 2013 NFL draft.
The Bulldogs practiced for two hours Friday in shoulder pads and helmets in a fairly physical practice at Celebration High. It was the second straight day Georgia went through such a workout as Thursday they went in full pads. Richt indicated the Bulldogs would taper off with non-contact practices the next two days, followed by a walk-through practice on Monday. The No. 7 Bulldogs kickoff against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday at 1:07 p.m.
“We had good energy, everybody was locked in and ready to work today,” Richt said. “I feel good about preparations so far. I really like how we prepared in Athens, then got a little break and so far so good here in Orlando. It’s still a game of emotion and momentum, and hopefully we’ll start out with the right type of emotion, but we have to play for 60 minutes.”
Nebraska’s Martinez underwhelmed
Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez wasn’t going out of his way to diss Georgia’s defense, but neither was he tripping over himself to pay it any compliments.
Asked by reporters Friday what stands out about the Bulldogs’ defense, the Cornhuskers’ fleet-footed quarterback shrugged and said, “Nothing really. Just another typical Big Ten defense.”
Pressed on the subject, Martinez compared Georgia’s unit to the ones he faced from Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
“Everyone thinks the SEC is the strongest in the nation because they go to the national championship every year,” Martinez said. “I think this year the Big Ten conference was really strong. So we’ll see how all our teams play out this year.”
Etc. . . .
The Bulldogs had the choice of going to SeaWorld or attending the Russell Athletic Bowl game between Virginia Tech and Rutgers. Or they could choose as Hunter Long did and do neither. The sophomore offensive guard’s birthday is Saturday and he was going to the mall and out to eat with his parents and brother Austin Long. . . . Saturday the Bulldogs will embark on their biggest outing. After another morning practice, they’ll hit Disney’ World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom.