ATHENS -- Don’t ask Jordan Jenkins about what Georgia’s defense lost this offseason.
The dismissals of defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews have been well documented. The same goes for cornerback Shaq Wiggins’ decision to reconnect with Todd Grantham at Louisville.
Jenkins has heard plenty about it all, and quite frankly, he is ready for those rumblings to end.
“We’re tired of hearing that crap,” he said. “After all the stuff we’ve been through this summer, all the changes we’ve done, all the mental stuff, we’ve worked our tails off this summer to prove everybody wrong.”
Considering the depth and experience that return at the linebacker position, his point is well taken. All four of Georgia’s starting linebackers from last season -- Jenkins, a junior, seniors Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson and sophomore Leonard Floyd -- come back as the centerpiece of the Bulldogs’ defense.
In head coach Mark Richt’s Friday news conference, he quickly named Wilson and Herrera as the two players who have stepped up as leaders on the defensive side of the ball, which is to be expected from the SEC’s top-two tacklers from a year ago.
“We’re working hard at leading the defense,” Herrera said. “A lot of guys look up to that, and they’re working hard, too, so that means a lot.”
Their hard work has been recognized nationally as Floyd, Wilson and Jenkins were all named to both the Lombardi and Butkus award watch lists. The obvious omission is Herrera, who has started 30 games in his first three seasons at Georgia.
Herrera simply shrugged off the snub, but his teammates think he was cheated despite the relative irrelevance of the preseason watch lists.
“I don’t know why people are slacking off on Amarlo. For him, it’s only going to make him so much better because I feel like he’s going to play with a chip on his shoulder,” Jenkins said. “I felt like he got wronged on some of those watch lists.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Bulldogs’ watch list mentions was Floyd, but for a small sample size, not a lack of talent. On several occasions last year, it was Floyd-charged highlights that put the rare jolt into an otherwise stagnant defense, and his team-high 6.5 sacks helped earn him SEC freshman team honors last season.
Even so, he’s looking for more in 2014.
“My expectation is to do better than what I did last year,” the Dodge County product said. “I’ll try and double up everything.”
Floyd embraces the challenge that comes along with his role as a Bulldogs linebacker. After name-dropping recent Georgia greats Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Justin Houston, Floyd seemed to subtly admit the production of everyone on the Georgia defense didn’t cut it last season.
Getting back to that strong defensive mindset will be pivotal.
“Success is expected of us because Georgia’s always known for having a good defense,” Floyd said. “We’re really just trying to get back to the Georgia way.”
Jenkins clearly wishes to find that Georgia tradition, too. He even went so far as to dip into some recent statistical performances to help him come to the realization that it is isn’t always what he does on the field, but how he does it that is the focus.
“I looked up some of the stats of other great players and some of those guys didn’t have the numbers. They just played with a level of dominance on the field that people respected,” he said. “I just want to be able to play this season with that same type of presence, just have my presence demand respect.”
An apparent stimulant to that demanded respect is the addition of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who Floyd says, “gets everybody’s blood pumping.” But Pruitt isn’t the only addition that has bolstered the linebackers’ confidence. Incoming freshman Keyon Brown earned multiple mentions this week, but it was another freshman who received the highest of praises.
When asked which of the new players caught his eye, the often short-spoken Herrera quickly blurted out his one-word response.
“Lorenzo (Carter),” he said, before offering a little bit more. “He’s huge. He’s even bigger than I thought he was going to be.”