John Jenkins arrived at Georgia last summer as a junior college transfer unaware of the rich tradition of Georgia‚Äôs defenses.
The nose guard found out about it when he began to hear favorable comparisons from fans that
the Bulldogs were starting to resemble dominant defenses from days gone by.
‚ÄúLast year I never heard of the ‚ÄòJunkyard Dawgs,‚Äô‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúWe won a few games, stopped a few teams and all of a sudden they said we‚Äôre the ‚ÄòJunkyard Dawgs.‚Äô‚Äù
Georgia made big strides in the second season under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
The Bulldogs were fifth in the nation in total defense (227.2 yards per game), surrendered its fewest rushing yards per game
(101.2) since 1985 and held LSU without a first down in the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship.
‚ÄúThe thing I tell them is all the positive things written about you from the high expectations is really a product of what you did last year and that‚Äôs why the expectations are what they are,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúIn reality, it‚Äôs a new season,
you‚Äôre 0-0, so you‚Äôve got to start back at ground zero and work to improve and don‚Äôt let things slip through the cracks. That‚Äôs a critical thing to me is making sure that we continue to stay focused, which I think we have.‚Äù
The ceiling appears even higher now for a unit that returns 12 of its top 13 tacklers and 10 starters from the Outback Bowl.
‚ÄúI think they came back with a goal in mind to try to be something special, to try to leave a certain legacy,‚Äù defensive line coach Rodney Garner said.
Among those returning: outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo.
Their pictures adorn a wall of Bulldogs All-Americans on the first floor in the Butts-Mehre Building, right underneath Eric Zeier and Matt Stinchcomb. It‚Äôs the first time Georgia‚Äôs had two All-Americans back on defense the next season.
‚ÄúI think this defense can be great,‚Äù defensive end Abry Jones said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got a lot of playmakers. Coming into this year, we have a little bit more rotation, so I think that‚Äôs also a plus that we can add more playmakers to an already good defense. We‚Äôve got a great group of vets that aren‚Äôt really selfish and trying to do their own thing. ‚Ä¶We‚Äôre all communicating well and we‚Äôre trying to make sure everybody‚Äôs on the right page. We‚Äôre all working towards a common goal right now.‚Äù
Said safety Shawn Williams: ‚ÄúWe want to be the best in the country. Hands down we want to be the best in the country. Nobody‚Äôs coming close. We don‚Äôt want to give anybody anything.‚Äù
To become as stout as they want to be, Georgia will have to finish games better and survive expected player suspensions (cornerback Sanders Commings, safety Bacarri Rambo, linebacker Alec Ogletree) early in the season.
‚ÄúI think the thing that we have to focus on not only as a defense, but as a football team is what are we going to do at crunch time, what are we going to do at the moment of truth?‚Äù Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ‚ÄúWhat are we going to do when we need one more stop to win the game. Can we get a stop? ‚Ä¶ You can have great statistics but if you don‚Äôt do it when it when it counts the most, you probably won‚Äôt become champions. That‚Äôs what we want to be.‚Äù
The NFL talent is obvious to those breaking down game film.
Todd McShay, an ESPN‚Äôs draft analyst, tweeted this offseason: ‚ÄúWhen Georgia gets guys back from suspension, hard to imagine a DEF with more talent in 2012. Ogletree, Williams, Jenkins, Rambo, etc, etc.‚Äù
Jarvis Jones is a projected top-10 pick and Jenkins could be a first-round selection, as well. Rambo is the No. 2-rated senior safety and Ogletree the No. 2-rated junior inside linebacker by ESPN‚Äôs Mel Kiper.
‚ÄúMost of the seniors, if not all of them, will have a chance to get drafted, get into camp and probably make the team,‚Äù Richt said, noting that some draft-eligible underclassmen also have that potential.
‚ÄúA lot of guys could have left and made money,‚Äù Jarvis Jones said. ‚ÄúBut they sacrificed their careers to come back and get better and become legends of the university. Once football is over here, you‚Äôll never step between the hedges again and play. You‚Äôve got to take it all in stride and leave everything here that you can, and I think that‚Äôs what we want to do.‚Äù
Only the 2003 fourth-ranked defense under Brian VanGorder rated higher in yards allowed per game than last year‚Äôs team, and the 20.6 points per game given up may have rated 23rd nationally, but it was the best for the Bulldogs since 2007.
‚ÄúThey looked dominant, man,‚Äù said linebacker Rennie Curran, a freshman on that 2007 team that won the Sugar Bowl.
Curran, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, watched the Bulldogs defense up close at the Florida and Boise State games last season and saw other games on television.
‚ÄúI really like what Todd Grantham‚Äôs been able to do in a short amount of time,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôre at the game, you see him have the ability to work with the guys and you can really tell he has good control of the guys, he has them well-disciplined. He‚Äôs a no-nonsense kind of guy from what I see and hear. I really like where they‚Äôre headed. The ability they have and the talent they have, they have a lot of impressive players. So as long as they can stay focused, guys can stay out of trouble, stay injury-free, of course, we‚Äôll have a great Georgia defense for a lot of years.‚Äù
Grantham isn‚Äôt concerning himself with whether this defense has the potential to be the best under Richt or how it may stack up eventually with those that Erk Russell had under Vince Dooley.
‚ÄúI think the only statistic that truly matters is wins and getting the win,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI think we have guys that can make plays. We have guys that can affect the game. Obviously Jarvis can affect the game, Rambo has affected the game. We have those guys. I think it‚Äôs a matter of continuing to do what you‚Äôve done and all that stuff takes care of itself.‚Äù
Jenkins said he certainly thinks the Bulldogs‚Äô defense has what it takes to be something special.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre going to be good as we want to be,‚Äù Jenkins said. ‚ÄúThe sky‚Äôs the limit. We have all the pieces. It‚Äôs up to us to determine how good we‚Äôre going to be this year.‚Äù