ATHENS -- Jarvis Jones was the All-American, and Jordan Jenkins was his heir apparent. So when the two outside linebackers roomed together on the road last year, they had all those late-night, deep conversations about football, right?
No, not exactly.
The two mostly argued about the room temperature, and Jones playfully hazed the rookie.
“Making me get up to answer the door, to get the food. Tell them he’s here for the roll-check,” Jenkins said, shaking his head. “Now I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore.”
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But Jenkins does know that with Jones gone to the NFL, there are bigger responsibilities now. The Georgia defense needs playmakers, and Jenkins is the prime candidate.
Jenkins’ performance as a true freshman (five sacks and 23 quarterback pressures, both second on the team behind Jones) and his new role on the team sets up for a big year. Jenkins will now be featured at the Will linebacker spot, where Jones racked up 28 sacks the past two seasons for Georgia and Justin Houston had 10 in 2010.
Jenkins is candid about being the next man up.
“(There’s) definitely a lot more pressure on my shoulders this year,” Jenkins said. “People are expecting a lot of things out of me this year. Try not to let it get to me. I try to stay easy about things, try to do what’s better for the team. Last year, I was behind Jarvis. Now that they’re all gone, it’s my time to shine, it’s my team’s time to shine.”
There isn’t much pretense to the outgoing Jenkins, who has set his goal for this year at “a minimum of 10 sacks.”
“Personally, I just wanna be able to keep the fans happy, keep myself happy, and just have that breakaway year this year that I want and that my family wants,” he said. “I feel like I definitely have to do what (Jones and Houston) did, because they did some great things, and now is my turn to step up to the plate. Because without those sacks, without those forced fumbles, we can’t win.
Looking at his predecessors in the position, Jenkins might have more of Jones’ affable personality, but he may also have Houston’s build.
“He’s kind of built more like Justin Houston than he is Jarvis,” Georgia senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “He’s got those really long arms and that big lower body that kind of allows him -- you can’t be tossed around that easily. He’s got that initial kind of first step to be a sack guy.”
Setting personal goals still fits the team concept because Georgia needs him to be a focus for opposing teams. When offenses had to worry about Jones the past two years, it opened things up for Jenkins, Cornelius Washington and other edge rushers.
This year, there are so many unproven players on Georgia’s defense, but plenty have the potential to be a factor. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said this team has more depth on the edge than in his previous three seasons. Josh Harvey-Clemons, when he returns from a one-game suspension, could be a candidate for sacks. So could James DeLoach, the other outside linebacker, and newcomer Leonard Floyd, who has starred in preseason practice so far.
But first other teams have to decide Jenkins is someone to worry about. Georgia head coach Mark Richt thinks Jenkins will have to prove it first.
“I don’t think teams are gonna say, ‘Hey, we gotta get a plan for Jordan Jenkins’ yet. If he starts to do some special things, maybe they will,” Richt said. “So I think he’ll probably get some of the same type opportunities he got a year ago. But that remains to be seen. If they watch film and say, ‘He’s the guy that we’ve gotta do something different with,’ then he may have to learn how to deal with more double-teams than he’s had to deal with.”
Jenkins has faced double-teams before. Last year at Kentucky, when Jones was held out with a minor injury, Jenkins didn’t have a big game, just registering a couple of tackles. This year, Jones said he understands he’ll need some extra film study and work on the extra things in order to be ready.
Another thing he could do is call Jones. He hasn’t sought out his former teammates’ advice yet, figuring Jones has enough going on as an NFL rookie. But the line is almost certainly open.
“I definitely will when I have a bad game or something,” Jenkins said. “At the start of the season, I might even ask him how to deal with it and how he’s dealt with it in the past. And even (Justin) Houston, maybe.”