ATHENS -- Josh Harvey-Clemons insists that he doesnt look at Jordan Jenkins and think that could have been him. Harvey-Clemons doesnt look at Jenkins, the emerging freshman star of Georgias defense, and wonder why thats not him.
But the contrast is clear.
Earlier this year they were the top two high school prospects in Georgia, and the Bulldogs won heated battles for each. Both listed as outside linebackers, the coaching staff talked excitedly about finding ways to get them on the field.
Jenkins has done more than just play. He has been a force as an edge rusher, racking up more sacks and quarterback pressures than anybody on the team whose name is not Jarvis Jones. On a defense dominated by experienced upperclassmen, Jenkins has cracked the starting lineup.
Harvey-Clemons, on the other hand, cant get on the field on defense. After being switched to safety, the vast majority of his playing time has been on special teams.
But ask Harvey-Clemons about his fellow freshman and whether he gets envious, and he just smiles and praises Jenkins.
The last game, he almost had two sacks, he said. Its just basically (that) God has me this way for a reason. Its just me waiting on my turn. Right now for him to come in and play like that, its his blessing. I just have to wait on mine.
The play of Jenkins has been a blessing to Georgias defense, which underperformed until Saturdays game against Florida. Jenkins was a big part of that victory, although the stat sheet might not have shown it. On a number of plays he was close to a sack or big tackle, only to have it slip through his grasp.
He didnt finish maybe on a couple things, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. He actually had a chance to get a sack there, and he missed it, and Jarvis came around and knocked it out. He had a couple other plays that he was really close on.
But I think hes doing a really good job. And for a true freshman to come in and do the things that hes done, thats really impressive.
Jenkins, who is as outgoing off the field as he is skilled on it, even pointed to a play when he goofed up. Near the end of the first half, Jenkins saw Bacarri Rambo pick off a pass in the end zone, so Jenkins looked for someone to block. He went after a Florida lineman and proceeded to get knocked off his feet.
They played it on SportCenter, but nobody paid attention to me. They only saw Rambo get the pick, Jenkins said, smiling. So I slid down in my seat in the bus, put my headphones on and acted like nothing happened.
But all in all Jenkins has been outstanding. He might have trouble finishing plays, but he has been adept at starting them, showing good contain on run plays.
Jenkins said he figured out almost from the start that he could play well at this level. After a couple of snaps of the season opener against Buffalo, Jenkins said he noticed that he felt up to speed. He wasnt getting pushed around the way he had anticipated, and it was an instant confidence boost.
I didnt expect to play as much as I did, Jenkins said. I definitely didnt think Id have some of the caused fumbles and fumble recoveries that I have. I never thought Id get some of the plays Ive had so early this year and in my career. Its just amazing.
But Harvey-Clemons has had to wait, caught sort of in between positions. He joined the program too light (about 200 pounds) for linebacker, so he was moved to safety, a new position for him. He serves mostly as the backup at Granthams star position, a hybrid linebacker-nickel back spot.
Hes there. Its just a matter of who are you gonna put him in instead of, Grantham said. You never know when thats gonna happen. And we work him in every day, and he does do some good things. Its just a matter of timing in the right spot and being able to match it up with his skill set.
Georgia secondary coach Scott Lakatos was blunt when asked what Harvey-Clemons needed to do to get on the field more.
Learn. Take care of business in the meeting room and all that type of stuff, Lakatos said. And hes getting better.
Its not unusual for a freshman, even a highly touted one, to not play much right away. Its just that Georgia has so many freshmen in key spots this year, including tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, right tackle John Theus, place-kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber.
But many freshman stories resemble Damian Swann, a cornerback who was used little last year but is now seeing plenty of action and is set to be the No. 1 cornerback in 2013.
Coming in at this level, a lot of stars dont get the playing time they desire, Swann said. Me last year, I played a little. I didnt play too much. And I think (Harvey-Clemons) has come in and taken over the same role. We have a couple plays where he might get in, but it depends on the package or the situation.
Harvey-Clemons said he has to show coaches that he does know the material. Still, he takes the long view.
In high school, all you had to do was run and make plays, he said. See here, its a lot different, because youve gotta know the material and know exactly where you have to be at the right place at the right time. Because a lot of guys on the field are as good as you. Its really more mental when you get to this level.