Jones thinking bigger with loaded defense returning

To the consensus All-American, go the spoils.

Linebacker Jarvis Jones jetted this winter to award banquets in Connecticut and Ohio and was feted close to home as well for his sack-filled redshirt sophomore season at Georgia.

“Man, we ate good,” Jones said Saturday, mentioning steak and mashed potatoes he dined on at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. “Up in Connecticut, we ate good. I was with all the boys — Andrew Luck, (Justin) Blackmon.”

That would be the quarterback from Stanford expected to be the No. 1 overall NFL draft choice and the two-time Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver from Oklahoma State, who is projected as a top-10 pick.

Both entered the draft after their junior seasons, but Jones returned to Athens, where the Butkus Award finalist for the nation’s top linebacker is the headliner for a unit that ranked fifth in the nation in total defense.

Jones was draft-eligible, but announced in late October that he wouldn’t even consider turning pro.

His decision heavily influenced a defense that didn’t lose a single underclassmen to the draft.

“Truth be told, he could have went higher than any of us,” rising senior nose guard John Jenkins said.

Nine players from Georgia’s defense submitted paperwork to the NFL draft underclassman advisory committee, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has said, but all returned.

They ended up following the lead set by Jones, who said in November that Georgia’s whole defense was coming back before it actually turned out that way.

Jenkins said Jones’ decision had a “good impact” on the rest of the draft-eligible defensive players.

Jenkins, Jones’ rooomate, said players began talking to one another about what direction each was thinking regarding staying or going. Jones said he spoke to safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams before they made their decisions.

‚ÄúI never tried to persuade them either way,‚Äù Jones said. ‚ÄúThey knew what we had coming back. … They came back. We‚Äôre going to try to take this thing up another level and try to be the best defense in the nation.‚Äù

Jones says the defense is having fun during spring practices that he said are less stressful with 10 starters back from the Outback Bowl and with seasoned players knowing what to do.

“He turned down a lot of money just to come back,” Rambo said. “It’s kind of one of the reasons why I came back. All of these guys coming back, things are only going to get better, man. Jarvis is one of the best pass-rushers and (Georgia has) Cornelius (Washington) and all those guys. I’ll probably get 20 picks next year, hopefully. They’re going to get to the quarterback and force them to throw bad balls. Coach Grantham’s scheme is going to allow everybody to make plays.”

Jones made plenty of plays in his first season at Georgia after the Columbus native transferred from Southern California when he wasn’t cleared medically to play there due to a neck injury.

He topped the Southeastern Conference with 13 ¬Ω sacks and 19 ¬Ω tackles for loss and was second on the team with 70 tackles.

“There’s a high ceiling of where he can go,” Grantham said during bowl practices. “He is a lot of fun to coach because he is very coachable and he wants to be a good player. He sees where he can become even that much better.”

Jones, named to seven different first-team All-American squads, isn’t shying away from his leadership role on the team.

“I’ve got a role to play,” Jones said. “Everybody does. I think I’m one of the leaders on the team and I’m definitely one of the players that the team listens to, but we’ve got a lot of leaders out there. Alec (Ogletree), Shawn Williams, Bacarri, Cornelius Washington, Abry Jones. We all push each other.”

Jones certainly isn’t resting on his breakout 2011 season, but looking for bigger things this fall.

“I know one thing — I can do better than I did last year,” Jones said. “I’ve definitely got to improve myself and do better than I did last year. Anything less than what I did last year is a fail.”

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