Georgia has the muscle to stuff the middle

semerson@macon.comAugust 8, 2012 

ATHENS -- Once, the phrase “run defense” was an oxymoron around the Georgia football program. Now the Bulldogs have 713 pounds of reasons for why they might have the best in college football.

First, there is the ample frame of John Jenkins, and the skill that comes with it. Officially he measures in at 358 pounds.

Then there is Kwame Geathers, who weighs in at 355 pounds.

Both have a year of experience under their considerably long belts. Both are in much better shape than last year, when they helped Georgia have the nation’s 10th best defense against the run.

Jenkins, who will be a senior, is an all-SEC candidate and possible NFL first-round draft pick. Geathers, a junior, might be just as good.

“Kwame is a guy who there is no drop-off when he goes in there,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.

In the 3-4 defense, having a big, physical nose tackle is key. The Bulldogs lacked that in 2010, Grantham’s first season in Athens, and the result was a defense that wasn’t that much better against the run than before.

That’s why Grantham pushed so hard to get Jenkins, a junior college standout. But even before Jenkins arrived on campus the Bulldogs realized they already had a capable run-stopper in Geathers, who had played sparingly since his arrival.

Geathers won the starting job last preseason, as Jenkins struggled with his conditioning. But eventually Jenkins caught up, finishing the season with three sacks and 10 quarterback pressures.

The gregarious Jenkins -- commonly known as Big John around the team -- hasn’t forgotten how far he has come.

“I fell out my first practice. Now I’m nominated for all these awards,” Jenkins said. “But it’s just preseason. You can be preseason Heisman and all that and not win the Heisman. The only thing with that I’m just gonna say is I’m gonna work hard -- and I want those awards. I want them. That’s the only thing I can say, I want those awards, and I’m gonna work hard.”

Off the field, Geathers is almost the opposite of Jenkins. Geathers grew up in a football family in rural South Carolina, while Jenkins hails from Connecticut. Jenkins likes to talk. Geathers prefers solitude.

“I don’t say much,” Geathers said. “But he’s Big John. He talks a good bit. It’s his personality.”

“Kwame and I, we balance each other out,” Jenkins said. “We’re the boys. I’m the outgoing one, the one willing to talk. Kwame, he just keeps to himself. He’s a good guy, but he keeps to himself.”

In any case, the presence of the pair of nose tackles is a big reason Georgia’s defense is expecting to take the step from good to great this year. Grantham said there are plans to play them at the same time, if for no reason other than they are two of the team’s best linemen.

Senior Christian Robinson has played inside linebacker for Georgia the past four years. He remembers when the team had undersized players at nose tackle. He has seen the difference it has made to have Jenkins and Geathers stuffing the middle.

“Kwame’s been here for a while. He’s been that big for a while,” Robinson said. “But I think it was him finally seeing his role and how best to do it. He studied hard, worked hard. Coach G really pushed those lineman harder than I’ve ever seen before, to where they were demanding a double-team.

“You can’t single-block Kwame Geathers or John Jenkins, it’s just not gonna happen. ... That makes it easier on the back end. There’s 11 guys on the field. If two of the guys on the field are getting double-teamed. That just makes the numbers so much easier for everyone else, where we can blitz, we can man up and double-team somebody that might be dangerous. It’s just a numbers game.”

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