Jenkins replaces Jones ahead of plan

ATHENS, Ga. -- Jordan Jenkins has known for months that Georgia’s coaching staff expected him to become the heir apparent to All-American Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker.

But the freshman didn’t anticipate filling Jones’ shoes in just the third game of his college career, taking over as a starting outside linebacker in Saturday’s 56-20 win against Florida Atlantic while Jones sat out with a groin injury.

“It was sort of hinted on since Wednesday,” Jenkins said after being asked when he learned he might have to take Jones’ place. “A couple of the guys like Ramik [Wilson] and all them, they kept coming over and saying, ‘You’d better get ready to play Saturday.’ Thursday I pretty much knew it, but I wasn’t going to get that into my mindset. I was just going to wait and see what happens.”

Jenkins gave himself a so-so grade for his first college start -- he finished with three tackles -- saying he didn’t fight through cut blocks quickly enough, but that he improved as the game progressed.

“I didn’t do too well at first, but came out a lot better towards the end,” Jenkins said. “I’ve definitely got to work on playing the cut better.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was more generous in his assessment of the young linebacker’s play. Grantham said that it made no sense to risk further injury with Jones, whose injured groin would not allow him to play to his usual high standard, so he gave Jenkins valuable playing time against FAU.

“I think that with where we are, I think the best thing to do for us was to keep him fresh and we’ll just have to see how he can go,” Grantham said. “He couldn’t have went tonight and been productive and you definitely don’t want something to linger.

“We just felt like the best thing to do was to play the new guys, play the freshmen -- I thought Jordan did a great job -- and I think that as we move forward, that will give us a chance to maybe give Jarvis a breather every now and then.”

Jenkins has already played more than any other true freshman on defense, with the highlight coming in Week 2 against Missouri when he recovered a James Franklin fumble at the Missouri 5-yard line after Jones knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.

He is tied for 10th on the team with nine tackles and is tied for third with four quarterback hurries, helping Georgia’s depth-depleted defense make do until veterans such as Jones and suspended starters Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo return to the lineup.

The absences have created obvious continuity issues for Grantham’s defense, however.

“It’s kind of a revolving door personnel-wise,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s not like we’ve had our top 11 guys and there’s never been any issues with injuries or suspensions or anything like that. I think it’s still hard to gauge what we’ve got.”

The Bulldogs are well acquainted with such issues, though, after injuries and suspensions forced Grantham to experiment with several different starting lineups a year ago -- a trend that continued with three different lineups in three games this season.

So when key veterans Jones and Cornelius Washington -- who played only a handful of downs against FAU because of a hamstring injury suffered against Missouri -- went down with injuries, the Bulldogs didn’t go into panic mode when freshmen Jenkins and Josh Dawson took their spots on the field.

“It’s the same thing as with everybody else,” said sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who started in Ogletree’s place when he was injured last season and while he is suspended this fall. “The young guys, Jordan and Josh, they got to step up and they know what they have on their plate.”

The Bulldogs’ defense obviously was not as effective when Jenkins replaced Jones in the lineup -- an understandable result when a green true freshman replaces an All-American who lately has been receiving Heisman Trophy buzz -- but Jenkins left Saturday’s game happy that defense improved enough to hold the Owls’ offense scoreless in the second half after they enjoyed some early success.

More than anything, he seemed to feel a sense of relief that he avoided any major catastrophes during his starting debut -- an event that made him so nervous that he didn’t even tell his family ahead of time that it was a possibility.

“It definitely felt good,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “I was thanking God before the game and I was just happy that I could make my parents proud. I know they’re happy because I didn’t tell them anything at all Thursday or Friday.”