Head coach Kirby Smart: UGA’s second scrimmage more ‘explosive,’ competitive
Jarvis Jones’ name is etched in Georgia’s record books. He’s an icon among the program’s outside linebackers and began a domino effect of successful defenders to follow. Jones hung up his Bulldog pads nearly seven years ago, but his highlights and namesake are continuously tossed around.
Seemingly nothing more than a memory. A career to reminisce on as followers hoped to root him on for a celebratory wave at Sanford Stadium from time to time.
Then, he walked through the football facility’s doors. He’s back.
Jones essentially appeared out of thin air. None of the players expected his arrival. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart thought Jones was in pursuit of football dreams. But a five-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals came to an end in 2017 after a multitude of injuries halted a potentially long professional career.
Dell McGee, the Bulldogs’ running backs coach, coached Jones at Carver Columbus and received word of a potential return to Athens. Not any extra eligibility to finish out a playing career in the red and black that Jones became oh-so-loved in, but to wear those colors in a different capacity. McGee nudged Smart about bringing on Jones as an undergraduate assistant, and that’s all it took.
“Oh man, that’s an awesome opportunity,” Smart remembers thinking after talking with McGee.
Jones snuck his way into the Bulldogs’ good fortune like he was stripping Florida’s Jordan Reed for an infamous fumble in 2012. He’s back with a ready-to-play determination. Jones runs drills alongside Lanning and serves as an extra voice, leader and a source of experience in a young position room.
Georgia faces a unique, yet potentially-rewarding challenge with its outside linebackers. After the departure of D’Andre Walker, they’re young. Each of them. Jermaine Johnson, a JUCO transfer, is the group’s elder statesman and has yet to play his first Division I game. He’s followed by a horde of potential, otherwise known as the 2018 recruiting class: Adam Anderson, Azeez Ojulari and Robert Beal. Already praised freshman Nolan Smith and versatile Walter Grant round out depthfor Lanning.
An advantage to the youth is having an absorbent brain. They’re all in on a new concept known as “havoc rate,” and enhancing pressure on opposing offenses. Georgia’s young ones also get to learn from Jones, who mastered the position’s intricacies like fine art.
“He knows how it goes, because he’s been through everything,” Ojulari said. “He helps us with new techniques. He knows a lot about that, so it’s great to learn from him because it’s something new everyday.”
Jones epitomizes some of Georgia’s goals for a dominant defense in Smart’s fourth season. Not only did Jones record a season of 84 tackles and 14.5 sacks in 2012, but he can also assist other players based on those defenders he played around. Linebackers Alec Ogletree, Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera — all of whom had NFL careers — flanked Jones and created a model for future teams to follow.
Jones returns to a place where his playing days are remembered in many ways. His name can be seen throughout Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, but his ascent from player to coach began on Friday nights in Columbus. He didn’t start playing football until the 10th grade, his former teammate Jarmon Fortson said, and found himself as a prominent linebacker a season later.
“He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” Fortson said. “He got hit by the injury bug (in the NFL), but he’s got crazy talent. He didn’t get to reach those heights, but he’s a great.”
He showed a willingness to take control of a huddle if needed, scream at a guy who needed a push or show leadership by taking over a game. During the team’s run to the 2007 state title, Carver found itself trailing substantially to Chamblee in the state semifinals. Chamblee ran a triple-option offense, and Jones shut it down in the game’s final quarter under the Georgia Dome’s bright lights.
Years later, those same winning desires return as Jones conducts practice drills with Lanning. Jones stands in the same crouch as the players while running the drill, and produces the same amount of intensity — and sweat — as the position coach. Georgia already has the lively and expecting character of Lanning, but the on-field expertise of Jones allows for the development jackpot.
Smart has had former players carry roles as assistants prior to Jones. Former kicker Kevin Butler and offensive tackle Chris Samuels (at Alabama) are the most nameworthy. Georgia currently receives help from former players Juwan Taylor, Bacarri Rambo (one of Jones’ teammates) and JT Dooley.
But Jones is different than most. Because other than finishing a degree in Human Development and Family Science, the famed edge rusher’s only focus is seeing replicated success.
“Jarvis is all-in. He’s in there to learn,” Smart said. “He helps set the standard and tempo in the outside linebacker room. He demands excellence, because he played the position and knows what it takes to play it.”
A few weeks into the job, Georgia players already share praise of Jones’ teachings. He’s not impeding on Lanning’s role, but he floats pointers at every given opportunity. Maybe it’s teaching Grant how to efficiently get past a block. Mark Webb, a defensive back, might see Jones on the sideline and ask for expertise on blitzing from the STAR position — a hybrid role that can also be played by outside linebackers in some cases.
Intertwined in it all, Jones relays memories of his playing days and messages of “inspiration,” Webb said, about playing for Georgia.
“It’s always good to get tips and have the benefit of a vet,” Grant said. “He’s already been in the game and the league for a couple of years. Whatever he can give back, I’m willing to take it in.”
Each of the younger guys are delighted to have Jarvis Jones walk through that door.
“It’s a blessing to have Jarvis around,” Ojulari said. “He’s a Georgia great.”