Georgia Bulldogs: John Jenkins
Today, we'll look at No. 2: The 2011 class initially dubbed as “The Dream Team,” which immediately helped the Bulldogs rebound from the only losing season in Mark Richt's tenure, a 6-7 mark in 2010, and could further cement a winning legacy in the next two seasons.
The stars: Tailback Isaiah Crowell was initially the crown jewel in this class, and he won SEC Freshman of the Year honors in 2011 before getting dismissed from the team the following summer after an arrest. Several players in this class have flashed star potential including receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley, linebackers Ramik Wilson (who led the SEC in tackles in 2013) and Amarlo Herrera (who was third) and defensive lineman John Jenkins, who earned All-SEC honors and became an NFL draft pick by the New Orleans Saints.
The letdowns: This class' legacy could have been ridiculous, but it will always be remembered for the numerous departures within its first year. Crowell's exit drew the most attention, but an arrest-related dismissal cost Georgia possible starting defensive backs Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders. Marshall, of course, developed into a star quarterback at Auburn last fall after spending the 2012 season at a Kansas junior college. In all, six players from this class -- most recently, quarterback Christian LeMay -- have transferred or been kicked off the team.
The results: Let's see what happens this fall. Mitchell, Herrera, Jenkins and Crowell were all important players as the 2011 Bulldogs won 10 straight games and claimed the program's first SEC East title since 2005. That group (minus Crowell) and several other Dream Teamers helped Georgia take another step forward in 2012. And it wouldn't be a surprise to see a number of them earn All-SEC honors this fall if Georgia bounces back from a disappointing 2013. Despite the numerous early exits, the Dream Team's legacy is already positive on the whole, but the group can still further solidify its spot in UGA history if it wins big in 2014.
That bond between players will face an unusual test on Saturday when former Dream Teamer Nick Marshall – now Auburn's starting quarterback after Bulldogs coach Mark Richt dismissed him, Sanford Seay and Chris Sanders following the 2011 season after getting caught stealing from teammates – will stand on the opposite sideline from his former classmates.
Georgia was coming off a disappointing 6-7 season when the Dream Team signed with the Bulldogs, and the group was never shy in expressing its intention of helping the program get back on track. They had the nation's top tailback and No. 4 overall prospect in Isaiah Crowell, another five-star talent in Drew, the No. 1 tight end in Rome and a large group including Mitchell, John Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera, Chris Conley and Damian Swann who would contribute soon after becoming Bulldogs.
There was a level of self-assurance within the group that was somewhat unusual for a group of freshmen.
“Coming in I do believe the guys did have some confidence about themselves – that this was going to be the class that did some big things,” Drew recalled. “And there's still that possibility. We still can. That swagger you're talking about, I can see that being there. It was. You can't deny it.”
Truth be told, they've already been part of some big things. Crowell was named the SEC's Freshman of the Year in his lone season on campus – he was dismissed in the summer of 2012 after a weapons possession arrest and is now starring at Alabama State – and the Bulldogs won their first SEC East championship since 2005.
They played in a second straight SEC championship game at the end of last season and fell only a few yards short of playing for a BCS title – with multiple Dream Team members playing key roles on a team that would finish fifth nationally.
“I think we've actually got a good resume being here,” said Swann, now in his second season as a starting cornerback. “We beat Auburn twice, we beat Florida three times, we've been to the SEC championship two times since I've been here. We're 1-1 in a bowl game. I think with the resume that my class has put together, I think it's actually one to look at, and I think we're continuing to improve it and make it better.”
That they are. Linebacker Ramik Wilson leads the SEC with 92 tackles, with Herrera's 79 stops ranking fourth. Drew is sixth in the league with six sack. Wideouts Mitchell, Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley have all flashed star potential, although injuries have struck all three players this season. Center David Andrews, also a second-year starter, is one of the leaders of the Bulldogs' offensive line.
And junior college transfer Jenkins is already in the NFL – the New Orleans Saints picked him in the third round of this year's draft – after solidifying the middle of the Bulldogs' defensive line in 2011 and 2012.
“We've done some pretty good things,” said defensive end Bailey, who has started eight times this season in his first significant dose of playing time. “You had some players from the Dream Team come in and make an impact and then you had some players behind some great players who are playing in the NFL right now and got experience and now being in the third year, we're putting all that experience to work.”
The Georgia journey ended early for several members of the class. Marshall, Seay and Sanders were all dismissed together and Crowell followed them out the door a few months later. Safety Quintavious Harrow left shortly after his former Carver-Columbus teammate and close friend Crowell.
In all, seven members of the 26-man signing class are either gone or never enrolled at Georgia at all (linebacker Kent Turene). But the remaining Dream Teamers still maintain a close bond, Drew said.
“There's a tightness between us,” he said. “I think even though we're tight as a team, I think there's just one more stitch or two between us that pulls us close. Whenever you see one person, you're always going to see someone else from the same class right there with them just tagging along.”
The bulk of the class should remain intact for at least one more season, with several more Dream Teamers who redshirted still carrying two seasons of eligibility after 2013. That time, they said, is what will determine whether they meet the high expectations that accompanied their arrival.
“We're still in the process,” Wilson said. “A lot of us are just now starting to play, so it's in the process of something becoming great.
“We all had high expectations of playing early and turning this program around. As soon as we stepped on this campus, we went to the SEC championship from that 6-7 year. So all we had was nothing but success here, 10-win seasons, since I've been here. So we're just trying to keep that going.”
The problem across the board was that there weren't enough of those moments, and the line knows it must turn in a more consistent performance with South Carolina's physical rushing attack on tap Saturday.
“We didn't tackle that good in the last game, so we're just trying to come out and just get ready for South Carolina,” Georgia defensive end Toby Johnson said. “Them boys, they like to run the ball a lot, so obviously we've got to tackle.”
Led by tailback Mike Davis, who might have wound up at Georgia had Todd Gurley not committed to the Bulldogs first, South Carolina pounded North Carolina for 228 rushing yards and 6 yards per carry in last week's opener. Included in Davis' 115 rushing yards was a 75-yard touchdown run that cemented the Gamecocks' 27-10 victory.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s tough,” Georgia nose guard Mike Thornton said of Davis, his former teammate at Atlanta's Stephenson High School. “He’s a tough runner.”
To contend with Davis' power running and South Carolina's NFL-sized offensive line, Georgia's defensive front also must be tougher following its uneven results in Week 1.
“We swarmed to the ball as a defense, especially our linebackers, but for the most part we missed a lot of big tackles,” Johnson said. “That goes with me, I missed a big sack. So we've just got to wrap up and keep our head up and keep your feet.”
Considering that it was the first college game for a couple of Georgia linemen and the first heavy dose of playing time for a couple more, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he actually came away feeling encouraged after watching film of the group's debut effort.
“I thought there was some good things. At times they were stout and did the things we had to do. We’re so young, we’ve got to continue to work on our techniques and our fundamentals to be consistent in our play,” Grantham said. “I walked away thinking that if we can build on this, we’ll be fine. And really I walked away as that for the whole unit from that standpoint after watching the tape.”
The Bulldogs practiced in full pads Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to work more on shedding blocks and tackling. They also shuffled their depth chart, placing Garrison Smith as the starting nose guard and Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson as the starting ends, although Grantham insisted that making a fuss over players' positional labels is “so overrated” in his scheme that shifts between a traditional 3-4 base defense and a nickel look that deploys four players along the line.
Nonetheless, Smith played in the interior of the line for much of the Clemson game and felt he performed well, even if his 299-pound frame is considerably smaller than Georgia's 2012 nose men, John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.
“I ain’t the size of a double-wide trailer like John Jenkins and Kwame. I’m like a dually [truck] and they’re like an 18-wheeler ... a big Mack truck, Freightliners,” Smith said. “It’s a big difference between our sizes, but I just do it the best I can.”
It should help that new line coach Chris Wilson seems prepared to follow through on his plan to use more players up front. Thornton said the Clemson game was “was the most we’ve ever rotated since I’ve been here.”
And it made a difference in the players' energy levels, as Clemson's offensive play count built and the game reached its latter stages.
“It’s a noticeable difference when you know you’ve got somebody that can come in and play a couple snaps for you, and you don’t have to worry about getting so winded and getting so tired,” Smith said. “You can get a couple plays off and be able to go back in and be able to keep playing hard.”
Whoever is in the game along Georgia's line will have one main challenge come Saturday. South Carolina arrives each week planning to dominate the line of scrimmage, and the Bulldogs must play a tougher, more consistent brand of defense if they are to end a three-game losing streak against the Gamecocks.
“Something that’s going to pop up on the film whenever you look at it and just see how big and physical they are,” Dawson said. “You’ve just got to match them.”
“The junior college league that I played in [the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges], they called it the SEC of junior college,” said Johnson, one of five juco players who joined Georgia’s roster this season. “You’ve got a lot of those guys who go to the SEC and are SEC players in football, they just can’t make it out of high school [academically]. So I’m seeing it. … It’s just maybe one level higher than what I saw.”
As with most of their predecessors, that’s how Georgia’s newest juco transfers see it.
“I get frustrated all the time,” admitted Toby Johnson, who as the No. 4 prospect in ESPN’s Junior College 100 was the highest-rated of Georgia’s five juco signees. “I’m just going to get better every day in meetings and stuff. I’m the type of player, I’ve got to walk through it.”
The most productive junior college transfer of Mark Richt’s Georgia tenure, nose guard John Jenkins, encountered the same issues during the previous two seasons in Athens. He struggled after arriving in 2011 before eventually picking up the scheme and enjoying a strong second half of the season. He was good enough last fall to become a third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
But those first few weeks and months on campus can be a shock to the system following a less demanding experience in junior college.
“In juco, we didn’t do much,” said Shaquille Fluker, a big-hitting safety from East Mississippi Community College. “Because here it’s like we’re starting in the morning and work out through all the day. … Here, they’ve got our whole day [scheduled].”
Receiver Jonathon Rumph was the first member of the group to face that culture shock, having arrived on campus in January and participated in the Bulldogs’ spring practice.
Although the 6-foot-5 Rumph was one of the stars of Georgia’s spring game, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was critical of Rumph’s overall spring performance. After a few months on campus and a bit more time to refine his technique, however, Rumph has Bobo singing a different tune today.
“His improvement from the spring is a big jump,” Bobo said Sunday. “He’s smoothing out. He’s still overall a little bit learning the offense, learning how to run routes, and then at the same time using his size. But I know going into the spring game, he really didn’t make any plays for us in practice and made a couple of those in the spring game. But now he’s made some plays in fall practice, which is good to see.”
It’s on the defensive side where Georgia will be especially reliant on the former juco players, though. Along with the two Johnsons and Fluker, nose guard Chris Mayes could also play an important role on a defense that has a number of holes to fill after losing 12 key players from last season.
Their physical maturity was one factor in Georgia’s pursuing them as recruits, as an older player might be better prepared than a true freshman to contribute immediately. In addition, signing five juco players -- the most for a single signing class in Richt’s UGA tenure -- was part of a numbers game.
Georgia’s 33-man class was also the largest overall in Richt’s career, so signing a group composed solely of high schoolers would have created a glut of freshmen on the roster. The coaching staff wanted a bit more balance than that.
“If you take all freshmen, then four years from now you’re going to be in a similar situation,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “So by taking a couple of junior college guys, I think it balances out your class with some older guys and new guys. Sometimes older guys have a little more experience, maturity and things like that. They’ve all had to catch up with the system.”
Georgia dealt with a severe shortage of scholarship players over the last couple of seasons thanks to various forms of roster attrition, so the huge signing class helped the Bulldogs finally get back around the NCAA’s 85-man roster limit.
The juco transfers and many of their signing class mates are sure to play right away -- and even if they don’t start, simply having them on the roster is a pleasant change for Richt’s staff because of the competition they bring to their respective positions.
“We always look and say, ‘All right, of all the players that are available to recruit, what combination of players gives us the best chance to win?’ ” Grantham said. “There’s nothing that says when you sign that guy, it always has to be that he’s going to be the lockdown starter. It could be to provide depth. It’s based upon how they play and how they produce, but at least you have numbers at the position. That’s the big thing.”
SLOW STARTS FOR JUCO ADDITIONS
Georgia signed five junior college players this year -- the most of any season since Mark Richt became the Bulldogs’ coach in 2001. Here’s a look at how Georgia’s previous juco transfers under Richt performed in their first seasons on campus.
OL Mark Beard: Started two games at left tackle and ranked among top reserves on offensive line.
NG John Jenkins: Started seven games and finished with 28 tackles, six tackles for a loss and three sacks.
S Jakar Hamilton: Started five games and made 27 tackles. Intercepted a pass in opener against Louisiana-Lafayette and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
K Brandon Bogotay: Kicked off twice while serving as Blair Walsh’s backup.
LB Akeem Hebron: Returned to team after one-year hiatus at Georgia Military College. Recorded one tackle in six games as a reserve linebacker.
OG Scott Haverkamp: Started the first three games and appeared in seven games before leaving the team.
DT Corvey Irvin: Recorded 13 tackles and two tackles for a loss in 13 games as a reserve defensive lineman.
OT Vince Vance: Appeared in 11 games as a reserve offensive lineman.
DE Jarius Wynn: Recorded nine tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack in 13 games as a reserve defensive end.
DE Nic Clemons: Recorded three tackles in five games as a reserve defensive lineman.
OT Kareem Marshall: Started five games at offensive tackle.
CB Brandon Williams: Made 13 tackles and broke up three tackles in 10 games as a reserve defensive back.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The recruitment for offensive lineman Dallas Warmack (Atlanta/Mays) might be over before it really begins. Last month he picked up an offer from the Bulldogs after working out with offensive line coach Will Friend. Alabama offered the following week, and Tennessee offered on Tuesday. Warmack may not give anyone else a chance.
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Those are names of the present. What first caught Moton’s mind upon getting the offer was a Bulldog of the past -- a player some consider the greatest to put on a Georgia uniform.
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2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, SEC East)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2
Top returners: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OL Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, ILB Amarlo Herrera
Key losses: OLB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, S Shawn Williams, S Bacarri Rambo, NG John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, WR Tavarres King
2012 statistical leaders (* - returner)
Rushing: Gurley * (1,385 yards)
Passing: Murray * (3,893 yards)
Receiving: King (950 yards)
Tackles: Alec Ogletree (111)
Sacks: Jones (14.5)
Interceptions: Swann * (4)
1. Safety starters: With 2011 All-Americans Rambo and Williams completing their college careers, the Bulldogs entered the spring with two big holes at safety. It appears sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and January enrollee Tray Matthews have all but claimed the starting positions, however. Harvey-Clemons was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of spring practice, and Matthews generated the most buzz of anyone this spring with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Georgia’s inexperience along the back end of the defense is not ideal, but the two youngsters could become a pleasant surprise.
Last year the Bulldogs nearly tied the previous program record, eight in 2002, by having seven players selected. They reached the record this year when safety Bacarri Rambo went to the Washington Redskins in the sixth round -- although several players who hoped to hear their names called Saturday went undrafted, including nose guard Kwame Geathers, who opted to skip his senior season in college to enter the draft.
Georgia players halted a conspicuous trend Thursday when outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (17th overall to Pittsburgh) and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (30th to St. Louis) were both picked in the first round. It had been eight years since Georgia had a defensive player picked in the first round, dating to when David Pollack and Thomas Davis were both first-rounders in 2005.
Defensive players dominated this draft class for Georgia, with seven of the eight picks having played under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham last season. Along with Jones, Ogletree and Rambo, nose guard John Jenkins (third round, New Orleans), safety Shawn Williams (third round, Cincinnati), cornerback Sanders Commings (fifth round, Arizona) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (sixth round, Chicago) were picked this year.
Receiver Tavarres King (fifth round, Denver) was Georgia's only offensive draft pick.
Shortly after the draft concluded, defensive end Abry Jones tweeted that he had signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Meanwhile, several other former Georgia players became available to sign with teams as undrafted free agents. In the next few days, Geathers, receiver Marlon Brown, cornerback Branden Smith and linebackers Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard could sign with teams via free agency.
Returning players/stats: Garrison Smith, Sr. (Eight starts in 2012. 57 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack); Ray Drew, Jr. (23 tackles, 1 TFL); Michael Thornton, Jr. (No tackles); Sterling Bailey, So. (One tackle); Jonathan Taylor, RFr. (Redshirted in 2012)
Newcomers: Toby Johnson, Jr. (ESPN’s No. 4 overall prospect in the 2013 junior college 100, No. 3 DT. Expected to enroll this summer); John Atkins, Fr. (Hargrave Military transfer. Enrolled in January); Chris Mayes, Jr. (No. 87 in 2013 junior college 100, No. 14 DT. Enrolled in January); DeAndre Johnson, Fr. (No. 84 DT. Expected to enroll this summer)
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Jonathan Taylor -- who shifted to defensive end during the spring -- Chris Mayes and John Atkins typically came up ahead of Thornton when such discussions started. And yet after a strong spring, Thornton has apparently pushed himself to the front of the line in new defensive line coach Chris Wilson’s estimation.
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“I was shocked. I would have never guessed that,” said Harvey-Clemons, wearing a wide grin after his Black team rallied to beat the Red 23-17 in Saturday’s G-Day game.
The rising sophomore strong safety figured that Sheldon Dawson, who intercepted three passes before injuring his hamstring and missing G-Day, or early enrollee Tray Matthews, whom teammates lauded for his hard hits in practice, would win the award.
“But I thank God they did give it to me,” he laughed.
It was an easy choice, said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, because of the varying ways that Harvey-Clemons can impact a game. He is the Bulldogs’ starting strong safety in the base 3-4 defense, but can shift to nickelback and outside linebacker in other packages, forcing opponents to account for his whereabouts.
“There’s certain guys on your team that you look for explosive plays out of and I think he’s going to be one of those guys,” Grantham said.
Jarvis Jones was of course the biggest story at pro day after the two-time All-American skipped the workouts at last month’s NFL combine -- and his day was a bit of a disappointment before a huge crowd of scouts and personnel execs. Nonetheless Jones, ranked fifth on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board, said it was a good day. He also further discussed going through the draft process and teams’ apparent concerns about his health and potential longevity in the pros.
We caught up with several of the 17 Bulldogs who participated in pro day and discussed how their preparations are progressing, including slimmed-down John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, linebacker Alec Ogletree, defensive lineman Abry Jones and receiver Marlon Brown.
As for the current Bulldogs, today is a big day, as they will hold their first spring scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.
We updated the progress of rising sophomore outside linebacker James DeLoach earlier this week and also provided some practice updates from coaches and players after practices on Tuesday and Thursday, as well as a photo gallery from Tuesday’s practice.
“I thought they looked great,” Richt said. “I don’t know what kind of times guys ran and all that kind of thing, but if you just look at their body types, how hard they’ve worked and just watched them do the drillwork and how smooth they looked, you could tell there’s going to be a bunch of Bulldogs out of this class make it in the league, and we’re excited about that for them.”
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia has had three players picked in the first round of the NFL draft in the last four years. None of them were defensive players, extending a strange streak of seven straight years in which the Bulldogs have not had a defender become a first-round pick.
That will almost certainly change on April 25, when the league opens its three-day draft at New York’s Radio City Music Hall -- Bulldogs defenders Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and John Jenkins are all first-rounders in ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft, while Ogletree and Jones are first-round picks in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock -- but Thursday’s pro day workouts at Georgia’s practice facility could greatly impact those projections.
It’s obviously a big day for Jones, who did not work out at the NFL combine in February, but that’s also the case for several of his former teammates who will participate in Georgia’s pro day. The Bulldogs are tied with Alabama and Florida State for the most players -- six -- ranked on ESPN Scouts Inc.’s list of the top 115 prospects in the draft -- Ogletree (No. 12), Jones (No. 16), Jenkins (No. 25), Bacarri Rambo (No. 86), Shawn Williams (No. 92) and Tavarres King (No. 115). Thursday’s pro day will surely be well attended by NFL scouts and personnel execs. It’s a perfect opportunity for ex-Bulldogs who don’t have the draft profile of an Ogletree or Jones to catch somebody’s eye.
Let’s take a look at three players who can each help his own cause at Thursday’s pro day workouts:
But after working his way into the defensive line rotation late last season and acquitting himself well -- including an eight-tackle game against Georgia Tech, a single-game total that tied for second among Georgia’s defensive linemen last season -- Drew entered this spring with a newfound confidence that he can perform at the college level.
“The more you play, the more comfortable you get,” Drew said. “And then after I had my game against Georgia Tech where I think I had about eight or nine tackles there, I guess it kind of just freed me and it was kind of like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”
Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
TBD Temple Vanderbilt TBD Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss
TBD Arkansas Auburn TBD Idaho Florida TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Tennessee-Martin Kentucky TBD South Dakota State Missouri TBD Southern Miss Mississippi State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin