Jenkins, Geathers key to defense

ATHENS, Ga. -- Abry Jones has no shortage of confidence in his own abilities, but when asked about the key factor in the Georgia defense's improvement a year ago, the senior defensive end pointed toward a pair of teammates.

It was nose guard tandem John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers whose presence at the center of the defensive line completely altered the way opposing offenses tried to attack the Bulldogs' 3-4 front.

"I think most of the attention goes to Kwame and John, and rightfully so because I think they're really the key aspect of the 3-4 defense," Jones said. "But you bring in their athletic ability with their ability to kind of eat up two blocks and you bring me and Cornelius [Washington, Georgia's other starting defensive end] in -- Cornelius being a freak of an athlete, really, and bring in myself -- and I think it's going to open up big plays for us."

Boil it all down and that is exactly what the monstrous Jenkins (6-foot-3, 358 pounds) and Geathers (6-6, 355) are expected to do rather than make loads of big plays themselves. The pair combined to make only 42 tackles -- 28 by Jenkins and 14 by Geathers -- but they brought the traditional nose guard presence that the Bulldogs lacked in their first season operating Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme and it made all the difference.

DeAngelo Tyson played out of position at nose in 2010, with freshman Geathers contributing in a backup role, before junior college transfer Jenkins joined the Bulldogs last year -- a move that many recruiting analysts hailed at the time as transformational for Georgia's defense.

And it was.

Opposing offensive lines directed far more attention toward Jenkins and Geathers, freeing up the ends and linebackers to wreak havoc.

"I think from my first year when we went [to the 3-4], I had a lot more double teams," Jones said, "and then last year once John and Kwame really got rolling throughout the year, it was mostly single blocks and I was able to get off and run around and make plays."

The scary thing for opposing offenses on Georgia's upcoming schedule is that Jenkins -- a second-team preseason All-SEC pick -- said he didn't even know what he was doing until midseason a year ago and initially felt overwhelmed by the increased level of competition.

"Last year I didn't know what to expect and I had anxiety and it was just overwhelming. The whole thing was just overwhelming," he said.

Jenkins didn't start a game until Week 6 against Tennessee and totaled only six tackles in the first six games. But he began to emerge as an effective -- and sometimes dominant -- player in the second half of the season.

"It played out the same way for me in juco," Jenkins said. "I didn't know the playbook. The playbook determines everything. If you don't know what you're doing, like if you're taking a test (and don't know) the stuff on the test, you're not going to do good. So I couldn't play to my potential or close to my potential because I didn't know anything about the playbook."

Knowledge of the scheme is no longer a problem, nor are the heat-induced issues the Connecticut native contended with when he first arrived at Georgia. Instead of feeling hesitance as preseason practice started this week, he said it felt like "just another day."

Now Grantham and defensive line coach Rodney Garner have seen him perform and believe he can be more than just a hole-plugger on run downs.

"He's more than what I would call a two-down player in the sense that he can play all three downs and he can give you some pocket collapse in there and I think he's really worked hard to improve upon that," Grantham said. "I think he's worked to improve his conditioning so he can do those things. There's a lot of mass there to carry and to move around with, so conditioning is a critical factor."

Obviously a player carrying that kind of mass fatigues over the course of a game, which is why it is so important that Georgia has both Jenkins and Geathers -- both of whom are capable of playing at a similar high level.

"Kwame is a guy that there is no drop-off when he goes in there," Grantham said. "He's a big, physical guy that has some range to him to go affect plays that are not just at the nose position, but outside."

Their capabilities are no longer a question mark as their season as a tandem approaches. Jenkins and Geathers both made key plays last fall and now carry increased expectations -- including the preseason All-SEC designation and talk of All-America potential for Jenkins.

While he said the attention is flattering, Jenkins said he was unsure whether he deserves it yet.

"It just goes to show that what I did last year was something a lot of people noticed. And it just goes to show that it's not over with," Jenkins said. "Being preseason this and preseason that doesn't mean anything. You've got to become that at the end of the season. So I'll just say I don't know what that means to me now, but after the season and if they nominate me as a postseason whatever, I'm going to embrace it."

If he turns in the same quality of effort that he did in the second half of last season and Georgia remains among the nation's top defenses this fall, Jenkins could easily have something to embrace.