The rain let up Saturday just in time for the annual Countdown to Kickoff event.
Even with clouds in the sky, Georgia‚Äôs J.J. Green signed autographs and posed for pictures for a couple of hours under cover on the concourse of Sanford Stadium while wearing shades.
His eyes may have been shielded, but his jersey number was more than enough for fans to recognize him.
‚ÄúJ.J. Green is 15, isn‚Äôt he?‚Äù one man told another as they approached a line that led to the players.
Green has gone from a backup tailback to an important member of the secondary.
On Saturday, he was asked by fans to put his name on everything from pennants to a black Georgia helmet as he joined current and former Bulldog football players ‚Äî including Chris Conley, Amarlo Herrera, Garrison Hearst and Sean Jones ‚Äî at the event that benefits Children‚Äôs Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia Transplant Foundation.
Even when nature called and he left to find a bathroom, Green was approached on the way by kids to sign a football
and by a man to ink a helmet.
‚ÄúFans like to see their best players play,‚Äù Green said. ‚ÄúIf you‚Äôre a fan favorite, they want to see you play. You make a household name for yourself. I take that into consideration because I try to go hard every play I was in, but now I‚Äôm on defense so I‚Äôve got to go even harder.‚Äù
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore already played his way into the No. 1 star nickel back spot this spring on new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt‚Äôs defense. He may be even more valuable now to the secondary after safety Tray Matthews was kicked off the team and transferred to Auburn and cornerback Shaq Wiggins transferred to Louisville.
‚ÄúThey were really close homeboys to me,‚Äù Green said. ‚ÄúSome guys got to do some things to feed their family. They mess up and they get another second chance.‚Äù
Former Georgia safety Greg Blue, an All-American in 2005, isn‚Äôt overly concerned about the attrition in the Bulldogs‚Äô secondary.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the SEC,‚Äù Blue said Saturday. ‚ÄúGeorgia is a big-time school. The guys that will replace them, they‚Äôre big-time guys. I trust them and what coach (Mark) Richt is going to bring the table. I believe in them.‚Äù
For what it‚Äôs worth, Georgia is listing Green as a starting strong safety on the preseason depth chart with Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger at free safety, but he plays at nickel when five defensive backs are on the field.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm just going to go out there and try to make plays for the secondary,‚Äù Green said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs all we want to do is go out there and win. We win as a team. It‚Äôs not about just one person at a certain position. Everybody‚Äôs got a job to do, they expect to do their job. If you mess up, forget about it. Next play. That‚Äôs all about playing DB.‚Äù
Brothers Matt and Jon Stinchcomb, the former NFL and Georgia offensive linemen, put on the Countdown event each year with former Bulldogs quarterback David Greene.
This season Matt Stinchcomb will be an analyst on games for the SEC Network. His take on a defense that returns eight starters?
‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs going to be an improvement over a year ago. It seems like a change is probably a good start for that side of the ball. Challenges of course, especially the first two games (against Clemson and South Carolina), but you get a bye week after the opener, a non-conference game, and that may be very beneficial. And it doesn‚Äôt hurt that Clemson‚Äôs going to be breaking in a new starting quarterback.‚Äù
That Georgia defense last year ‚Äî even with players like Wiggins, Matthews and the also now-dismissed Josh Harvey-Clemons ‚Äî had its share of glaring breakdowns.
‚ÄúYou take a look at the defense and how it performed a year ago,‚Äù Stinchcomb said, ‚Äúand it was certainly not something that I think Georgia would like to replicate. So sometimes that warrants personnel changes, sometimes that warrants a philosophy change. In some instances, you get a little bit of both. There have been some departures, there have been some reasons for changes other than maybe performance on the field but that doesn‚Äôt necessarily mean that it can‚Äôt be a quality product on that side of the ball.‚Äù