Jones, seniors ready to take D reins

ATHENS, Ga. -- Abry Jones does not intend to fly under the radar again this fall.

The Georgia rising senior defensive end believes he was one of the SEC's best defensive linemen last fall and was disappointed when he didn't receive any all-conference attention. After recently deciding to return for his senior season, Jones has set lofty goals for 2012.

"I was kind of hurt this year I really didn't make any All-SEC teams. I felt like I should have, so I really wanted to come back and make one of those and kind of etch myself in stone in Georgia history in some way," Jones said. "I thought, 'This is my last year, this is my last shot,' so I thought I'd come back and give it my all."

As one of the few experienced veterans on the Bulldogs' defensive line, Jones should have plenty of opportunity to make his mark.

The defensive front played a leading role in Georgia's resurgence last fall, as the Bulldogs' personnel blossomed in their second season operating coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme.

Jones and fellow rising senior, nose guard John Jenkins -- along with 2011 senior defensive end DeAngelo Tyson -- played leading roles in that transformation, helping Georgia rank fifth in the nation in total defense at season's end.

Jones led Georgia's defensive linemen with 48 tackles and ranked third on the team in both sacks (four) and quarterback hurries (19). He also tied for fourth with seven tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Jenkins combined with Kwame Geathers to fill the most evident hole in the Bulldogs' 2010 defense, often occupying multiple blockers with stout performances at nose guard.

Like Jones, Jenkins could have opted to leave early but instead chose to return and help his fellow seniors pursue a championship.

"I don't know if there's anything we have to do pretty much different," Jenkins said. "We've got a lot of older guys playing positions that we need to be played. I think we just need to stay healthy for the most part. Last year we had a good camp, a good offseason. We came in together and all believed in one another. So now we pretty much just need to stay healthy."

Injuries could create an issue for the line, as the presumptive starters might be veterans, but the backups are unproven.

With Tyson now pursuing a pro career, the Bulldogs have a starting spot to fill at defensive end and limited experience among the reserves along the line.

Garrison Smith, who took Tyson's spot in the starting lineup in the final two games after Tyson suffered a season-ending injury early in the Georgia Tech game, would seem the odds-on favorite to take that starting spot in 2012. But the Bulldogs' relative inexperience among backup ends including Derrick Lott and Dexter Morant -- plus the uncertainty of what some newcomers can accomplish as freshmen -- makes the depth chart at the position a bit of a mystery.

The Bulldogs already have verbal commitments from two ESPNU 150 interior linemen, Jonathan Taylor (Millen, Ga./Jenkins County) and John Atkins (Thomson, Ga./Thomson), and two four-star defensive ends, James Deloach (Millen, Ga./Jenkins County) and Leonard Floyd (Eastman, Ga./Dodge County).

"I heard we're supposed to have three or four good defensive linemen coming in," Jones said. "I'm pretty sure with the way we recruit -- we always recruit pretty good guys -- so they should come in and help with the depth issue."

Jenkins and Jones realize that, as the line's only seniors and the most experienced members of the group, they share the responsibility of guiding the young players in their position group.

In addition to his individual goals of earning all-conference recognition and increasing his sack total, Jones said he also wants to become the leader that a senior with his experience and on-field productivity should be.

"We know what we can do, but what are we going to do?" Jones asked. "Are we going to just go along with things or are we really going to step up and reach our potential? I think a lot of guys realize our potential as a team and what we can do and what we have to do to get guys on the right track and get where we want to go."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.