Big John Jenkins’ Georgia career ends early

semerson@macon.comDecember 26, 2012 

ORLANDO -- First, the Georgia football team lost its defensive line coach. Now it won’t have its best defensive linemen either.

Senior nose tackle John Jenkins’ college career is over, as he will miss the Capital One Bowl because of academics.

“It’s just academic-related. He will not be at the bowl,” head coach Mark Richt said Wednesday evening as the players and coaches reported to Orlando for bowl practice.

Richt said Jenkins is the only player missing the bowl because of academics.

Jenkins’ absence leaves a big void, literally and figuratively, for the Bulldogs. The 355-pound nose tackle has been a mainstay on the line the past two years, and Jenkins is projected by some NFL draft analysts as a first-round pick in April.

“I think John Jenkins has been awesome for Georgia,” Richt said. “I’ve been really proud of what he’s accomplished for us and just really want to wish him the very best. Because he’s been a blessing to our program.”

The news comes on the heels of the departure of Rodney Garner, the team’s defensive line coach for the past 15 seasons. Garner left on Dec. 20 to take over the same job at Auburn, his alma mater.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will coach the line through Tuesday’s game, and then after that finding a replacement will be “priority one,” according to Richt.

“We’ll be excited about who’s next,” Richt said. “I’m getting bombarded by a lot of people who are very interested in the opportunity. So we won’t have any trouble hiring a very quality person where Rodney was.”

Georgia had struggled against the run late in the season, and now junior Kwame Geathers will become the primary nose guard. Geathers and Jenkins had shared the job this season, with Jenkins also playing defensive end.

Nebraska, the opponent on Tuesday, is a run-oriented team. So the matchup with Georgia’s front seven just became even more intriguing.

“It’s not gonna be a matter of who’s in there,” Georgia senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “We’ve got the athletes to get it done. It’s gonna be about executing. That’s what we didn’t do well in the last game.”

The one hope for the Bulldogs is that senior end and former Northside standout Abry Jones, who has been out since October after ankle surgery, will be able to return. Richt remains optimistic about that.

“When we left town we were expecting him to be able to be in position to play,” Richt said. “What type of condition he’ll be in and how many plays he’ll be able to play in will be a another story.”

Richt added that it could create an opportunity for defensive linemen such as Mike Thornton, Ray Drew and even Sterling Bailey.

As for Jenkins, his Georgia career ends prematurely but can still be marked down as a successful one. After transferring from a junior college before the 2011 season, Jenkins started 20 games for the Bulldogs, finishing with 78 tackles, four sacks and 25 quarterback pressures.

He was a big reason -- again, literally and figuratively -- for Georgia’s defensive turnaround.

“He’s a part of this senior class; he meant a lot to us,” Robinson said. “I remember when he came in, when he was still being recruited, I told him, ‘We need you here; we’re gonna do great things if you’re here.’ It’s not going how he wanted to, but he’s still part of this class, and I think he’s proud of everything we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished up to this point, and we’re gonna miss him.”

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