For Georgia’s defense, it’s not all about rookies

semerson@macon.comOctober 17, 2013 

uga_clemson

Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) blasts through the Clemson line to pressure quarterback Tajh Boyd during first quarter action in the season opener.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com

ATHENS -- Jordan Jenkins let out a laugh as the question was asked: How many times has he come close to a sack this season but not been able to finish the deal?

“I think I’ve lost track at this point,” he said.

It’s easier to keep track of the number of times he has sacked the quarterback -- once. This after Jenkins announced in the preseason he would have a “minimum of 10.”

Youth and inexperience are cited constantly to explain the struggles of the Georgia football team’s defense, which is on track to give up the most points in program history. But two of the team’s proven veterans, expected to be the pillars of the unit, also have struggled.

Junior cornerback Damian Swann was supposed to be the cornerstone of the secondary, doing his best to lock down the other team’s top receiver and giving his freshmen teammates time to mature. Instead, Swann has been part of the problem on statistically one of the worst secondaries in the SEC.

But coaches won’t dismiss the two veterans. They also offer up some reasonable explanations for the drop in performance.

Jenkins has faced more attention from blockers. When he racked up five sacks and 23 quarterback pressures last season, most of it in the latter half, other teams were worried about the other outside linebacker, All-American Jarvis Jones.

Part of it is also bad luck: Jenkins has been credited with 11 quarterback pressures, the same amount as freshman Leonard Floyd, who has four sacks. The outside linebackers both have five tackles for loss, a couple more than team sack leader Ray Drew.

“I wouldn’t get caught up in (Jenkins’) sack total,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He had a couple in the game that he didn’t finish on that he could have gotten a sack. In this game and the Tennessee game. I think the guy’s working hard. … I think as long as he gives effort like he’s been doing, that kind of stuff will come about.”

As for Swann, it’s harder to gloss over some obvious mistakes. He has been beaten on multiple big plays and touchdowns this season, and head coach Mark Richt admitted last week that Swann was “struggling.”

But Swann also has been the victim of his supporting cast. The young safeties have left him alone, failing to help on coverage, on several of the big plays. Grantham doesn’t quite use that as an excuse, although he comes close.

“First of all Damian is a smart enough player to know what to do and all that kind of stuff. So from that standpoint I don’t think (so),” Grantham said. “But any time you’ve got an older guy, like a (Bacarri) Rambo or a Shawn (Williams) who’s on your side (of the field), it’s like anything, ‘If I have one or two seconds longer to understand leverage, or what we’re gonna do,’ sometimes that can let you play the play better.”

Swann, normally very cooperative with members of the press, was not made available to the media this week. Jenkins was permitted to speak and said he wasn’t tired of being asked. After all, he was the one who announced he’d have a “minimum of 10” sacks this year.

“I ain’t got more than one. Might as well ask the question,” Jenkins said, laughing.

How much is bad luck, how much is his own performance? Jenkins says it’s a bit of both. There are times, he says, he goes too hard at the tackle rather than trying to go around. There are times he lines up too far upfield.

“I’ve really got to take it on myself to keep watching film and re-evaluating certain ways I rush certain quarterbacks and the way I rush certain tackles on the offense,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also isn’t backing down from the 10-sack goal, at least not yet. An outside linebacker has led the team in sacks each of the past three years, so Jenkins and Floyd say (only with a bit of humor) that they can’t end the streak.

“We can’t let Ray lead us in sacks,” Jenkins said, smiling.

He hasn’t lost his sense of humor or his confidence.

“He still thinks he’s gonna catch me and Ray in sack totals,” Floyd said, smiling. “He’s never been sad. He’s confident. I’m pretty sure it’s still gonna come to him.”

Teammates say Swann hasn’t lost his confidence either.

“Still the same Swann. He still has that swag about him,” freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins said. “In practice he’s still talking; he’s still being that team leader. He has a strong mindset. This is football. All the criticism and everything he’s going through it’s nothing new. When you’re winning everybody’s gonna cheer for you and when you’re losing everyone’s gonna boo you. Swann’s play, the DBs are still looking up to him, I’m still looking up to him.”

For more discussion of Georgia football and the trip to Vanderbilt, please stop by Seth's online live chat, Friday at noon here on the blog.

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