ATHENS -- Kwame Geathers was a 340-pound afterthought. He was insurance. He was depth for the Georgia football team, which was getting its defensive savior from elsewhere.
Well, a funny thing has happened on the way to John Jenkins coronation: Geathers has pretty much won the nose tackle job.
It might not finish that way. And Jenkins, the highly touted junior college transfer, is still likely to get a lot of snaps on Sept. 3 against Boise State. But, for the moment, Geathers has used a strong offseason, motivated in part by Jenkins signing, to be the starter.
The day we signed Jenkins, I think most of us coaches probably wouldve said Jenkins would have probably been the guy, head coach Mark Richt said. But then after spring ball I think everyone knew Kwame wasnt gonna just lay down and let someone take his job.
The easy conclusion is Geathers was spurred by the hype around Jenkins to make himself a better player, to show that he could actually be the answer to the teams need for a big, physical nose tackle in the 3-4 defense.
But Geathers and others, while granting that was part of it, say more was involved.
For one, the pressure that comes with being a Geathers. He has former NFL players as uncles and cousins, including former all-Pro defensive end Jumpy Geathers. His older brother Robert, who was a standout at Georgia, plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.
So after Kwame had a standout spring game, making two tackles behind the line and being named defensive MVP, he knew he had to build on it. No one back home in Georgetown, S.C., was going to be impressed by a good spring game.
No, no. That dont count at all, Kwame Geathers said, laughing. Theyre gonna say, We gotta see it on TV. We gotta see it when you go against a live competitor.
Geathers and his coaches also emphasize that he had some natural progression as a player. Hes a third-year sophomore now, and after redshirting one year and backing up for another, the proverbial light has gone on.
Hes definitely become more conscientious, defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. Just because youre big dont mean anything. You can be big and dont use your hands and play high, and theyre gonna roll him all the way out Sanford Stadium, all through the hedges and everywhere else. But I think hes grown to understand you cant just stand up and muscle and throw around guys in this league. Theyre all big, theyre all strong.
If there was a moment where things really started to make sense, Geathers said it was in the nickel package, when Geathers finally felt like he mastered his art. That allowed him to play faster and not spend critical moments making sure he was doing the right thing.
He could do all that without Jenkins looming presence. The junior college transfer didnt arrive until May, when he was still expected to take over.
I mean, of course, Geathers answered, when asked about the Jenkins hype serving as motivation. When competition comes, its gonna motivate anybody. Jenkins coming in, I knew he was gonna come and help us. I knew he was gonna push me, and I was gonna push him, and we were gonna get better together.
But sharing the snaps, which is the plan right now, doesnt mean Geathers cant be a standout.
In my head, Im going to be an impact player, Geathers said.
At this level, and perhaps another. He hasnt started a game in college yet, but being a Geathers has its expectations.
All those guys have been NFL players, Richt said, after listing the family members in the pros. And Kwames gonna get his chance too, Im sure.