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Monday, March 4, 2013
Spring questions: Who provides the sacks?

By David Ching

Editor’s note: Each day this week, we’ll ask a question that Georgia’s football team faces this spring as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: Who will supply the pass rush now that two-time All-American Jarvis Jones has entered the NFL draft?

ATHENS, Ga. -- Replacing the nation’s leading sack artist and most effective pass rusher in the Georgia program’s history is not going to be easy. It might be impossible.

Jordan Jenkins
Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins has his sights focused on netting more sacks in the 2013 season.
But don’t tell that to Jordan Jenkins.

The rising sophomore outside linebacker generated some headlines last season when he joked about how he has already informed former Bulldogs star Jarvis Jones of his intention to break Jones’ new school record of 14.5 sacks in a season.

“I told him, ‘Don’t worry. As soon as you leave, I’m breaking your record. You can beat [David] Pollack’s record, but just know that when you leave, that record’s going to be mine,’ ” laughed Jenkins, who was second on the team with five sacks and 23 quarterback hurries last fall.

Jenkins said he plans to total at least 10 sacks as a sophomore, which would probably help him rank among the SEC’s leading pass rushers -- a statistic where Georgia has always been well represented in three seasons under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

When Justin Houston entered the NFL draft after after a standout 2010 season in which he recorded 10 sacks -- which ranked second in the SEC behind Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s 11.5 -- it was a reasonable question to ask who on Georgia’s roster might replace Houston’s production. All Jones did was come along and lead the league with 13.5 sacks in 2011 and the nation with 14.5 a year later -- a result that Grantham gleefully reminds reporters about when they ask how he will replace 12 regulars from his 2012 defense.

“Three years ago Justin Houston was a guy that was really successful in the SEC as a sack guy and had 10 sacks, and you guys were looking at we don’t have anybody that can rush the passer,” Grantham said, “and then all of a sudden a guy named Jarvis Jones pops up, and in 2011 he had 13.5, and 2012 he had 14.5 and has been one of the most dominant players in the country.

“So that’s why you recruit, that’s why you develop and that’s why you coach this game is to have moments like that. So we’ve got good players and we’re going to develop them and get them moving.”

Jones is out of the picture now, however, having accounted for 28 of Georgia’s 67 sacks in his two seasons as a Bulldog. Further, the remaining players on Georgia’s roster accounted for just nine sacks last season, and Jenkins had five of them.

Without question, Jenkins is the most obvious candidate to step into Jones’ pass-rushing role, thanks to more than just prototypical size and skills to excel at outside linebacker.

“He’s very coachable, teachable,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He wants to do it 100-percent right all the time, so I think he’s probably more advanced than most freshmen because of that attitude and because of the fact that he got a lot of reps. So I just see him, he’s going to be in position to make a bunch of plays for us.”

But Jenkins can’t do it alone, and the Bulldogs must identify most players who can dial up pressure this fall. Cornerback Damian Swann has the second-most sacks among returning Bulldogs with just two last season, so one factor in the competitions at defensive end and outside linebacker will be effectiveness at getting to the passer.

Georgia’s coaches are confident they have players on the roster who can do it -- a list that might include James DeLoach and Josh Harvey-Clemons according to Richt, as well as candidates like Josh Dawson, Chase Vasser and Garrison Smith.

Another name to watch will be Ray Drew, a former five-star prospect who is in line to win playing time at defensive end and outside linebacker as a junior. Drew picked up his production in the second half of last season, and Grantham said his progress continued during offseason conditioning, noting that “he’s a guy that has really I think shown up in our offseason workouts as a man, meaning I see his size, I see his explosiveness.”

That, Richt said, could help Drew become the star pass rusher many recruiting analysts envisioned when he was in high school.

“There’s no reason why Ray Drew can’t get sacks,” Richt said. “Ray’s going to probably get some situations where he’s on a guard one-on-one and maybe they slide their protection away from him and there he is in a one-on-one situation, so he can do it, too.”