ATHENS, Ga. — Jeff Owens has a friend who insists on playing as Georgia every time the two face off in a game of NCAA football on Xbox 360. What’s worse for Owens is, at some point during the rivalry, his friend invented a new defensive scheme that proved to be particularly effective.
Rather than employ the Bulldogs’ typical 4-3 defensive front, Owens’ friend goes to battle with a three-man line consisting of the computer versions of Kade Weston, Geno Atkins and Owens, himself. He calls it the J-K-G defense, and Owens — the real one — said it’s unstoppable.
“I can’t run on him when he has us three in the game,” Owens said.
As the team’s de facto salesman for all gadget plays, Owens said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of trying to convince defensive coordinator Willie Martinez to give the J-K-G front a shot in a real game, but he’s not exactly holding his breath for it to happen either.
Regardless, the video game supremacy is enough to prove a point Owens has hoped to make for four years now. When all three of Georgia’s senior defensive tackles are healthy at the same time, things will be awfully unpleasant for opposing offenses.
That just goes to show what a dominant force we are in the game,” Owens said. “We’re just going to kill.”
Owens, Atkins and Weston have played a lot of football during their careers at Georgia, but they haven’t played much of it together.
Weston and Owens arrived together in 2005, but Weston settled for a redshirt his first season in Athens.
A year later, Atkins made his debut with the Bulldogs, but saw minimal playing time. By 2007, however, the three were all key cogs on a defensive line that helped the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl victory. It would be the only season in which all three — the three amigos, as Owens calls them — would earn significant playing time together.
Last year, Weston battled through a knee injury that never fully healed, while a torn ACL sidelined Owens after the first game of the year. What appeared to be a bad break, however, now seems like fate. Owens accepted a medical redshirt, allowing him to return for a fifth season. Atkins, who was widely considered a potential first-round selection had he foregone his senior year for the NFL draft, came back, too. Now all three are seniors, and they plan to go out on top.
“It feels like we’ve been here all together through all this stuff, but it’s been hard trying to stay on the field together,” Weston said. “So I think it’s important to go out with a bang.”
For all the success the trio enjoyed two seasons ago, it was just the tip of the iceberg, Weston said. Since then, they have each gotten better, just not healthier.
With Weston playing hurt and Owens on the sideline, the task of dominating the line of scrimmage fell to Atkins. Without Owens or Weston by his side, opponents sent double and triple teams his way. His sack numbers fell from 7.5 to zero, despite starting six more games.
“I think last year when (Owens) got hurt, people were able to more focus on Geno,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “Even though he didn’t get the production, he caused a lot of things out there last year.”
When the Bulldogs kick off the 2009 season, Owens’ knee will be back to full strength and Weston will have had the time off he needed to return to health.
It will be a welcome sight for Atkins, but he’s not taking his success for granted.
“I feel like having Jeff or Kade by my side will up my numbers,” Atkins said, “but basically I’ve got to get after it harder and faster.”
That’s exactly what he has done so far this spring. Head coach Mark Richt said no player on the team has been more dominant than Atkins.
Even the best of Georgia’s offensive linemen have trouble blocking him.
, and during a practice last week, he even returned an interception for a touchdown. Of course, it was only a six-yard run back, and Weston joked he had to help Atkins off the field afterward.
“It’s really not that fair because, yeah, he’s been dominant, but he’s not really challenged,” Garner said of Atkins’ play this spring. “The sad thing about it is there’s nobody to challenge him on that side of the ball, there’s nobody to challenge him on the other side of the ball.”
That will change when Owens returns to action.
While Atkins suffered through a season without a sack a year ago, Owens has little sympathy. In 2007, while Atkins was racking up that impressive sack total, Owens did the dirty work and his stat line paid the price.
This year, Owens promised, the tables will turn.
Owens had a conversation with another friend last week in which he predicted a high sack total in 2009. When his friend asked for his reasoning, Owens’ answer was simple.
“Because Geno is going to take the load off me,” Owens said. “He’s going to dominate, and they aren’t going to be able to block both of us.”
No mater who collects the sacks, Atkins said it will be up to the three senior tackles to set the tone for the rest of the defense.
“We talked about how we want to set the tempo,” Atkins said. “It starts up front. We determine where the ball’s going to be.”
Where Owens expects the ball to be most often this season is buried in the turf under a pile of Georgia tacklers who have just introduced the opposing quarterback to the Bulldogs’ three amigos.
It has been a long time coming, but the chance to finish his career with his two close friends was well worth the wait, Owens said. And when it finally comes to an end, he expects it to have been a performance Bulldogs fans won’t soon forget.
“It’s going to be big,” Owens said. “We have three seniors that have played a lot of football here, and we have the opportunity to do something big — just dominate every game.”