NCF Nation: Abry Jones

National signing day might have come and gone, but that didn't stop Georgia from adding to its already stout 2013 recruiting class.

Almost two weeks after the most important recruiting day of the year, the Bulldogs signed Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College defensive tackle Toby Johnson, who is the nation's No. 4 prospect in the ESPN Junior College 100. He gives Georgia 33 signees in its 2013 class.

The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Johnson picked Georgia over Auburn and Mississippi State.

"I called Mark Richt last night and told him I was coming," Johnson said. "He was fired up. They want me to play defensive end, but I will move inside in the nickel package."

The addition of Johnson, who finished the year with 37 tackles, three sacks and four pass breakups in nine games, is big for the Bulldogs, who lost starting nose guard John Jenkins, along with Kwame Geathers, Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington up front. Georgia was in desperate need of some depth up front, and Johnson gives the Dawgs someone who can immediately help out.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham wanted to play more defensive linemen last season, and he might get his way in 2013 after Georgia signed seven defensive line prospects in this year's recruiting class. But Johnson might be the best of the bunch with his versatility. It also doesn't hurt that he has some post-high school playing experience.

With all the struggles Georgia's defense had against the run last season, the addition of Johnson will give Grantham a chance to rotate more players up front, keeping guys much fresher this fall.

Johnson is rehabbing a torn ACL in his right knee, suffered in November, but he said that his injury shouldn't limit him when he reports this summer.

“I plan to enroll June 6, and I do not plan to redshirt,” Johnson said. “It feels great to be a Dawg.”
LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. knows exactly what Georgia is going through.

Last season, he watched an extremely talented Tigers team deal with a myriad of distractions during their national title run. Even though LSU made it to the big game, Beckham said the path taken was extremely tiresome at times.

“It sucks that you have to wait all that time for the season to actually get started, but you have to do things to keep yourself out of trouble,” Beckham said. “If it’s an extra workout or staying with teammates, you have to do it.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comDespite a tumultuous couple of months, the Bulldogs had "a very productive and great offseason," Aaron Murray said.
Georgia needed that advice long ago, as the Bulldogs ran into a rash of off-field trouble this spring that leaked over into the summer. What made matters worse was the fact that key starters were involved:

  • Cornerback Sanders Commings was charged with domestic violence/simple battery on Jan. 21. Corner Branden Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession during spring break.
  • All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were suspended for reportedly failing drug tests.
  • This summer running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after he was arrested and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension following his DUI arrest in May .

Senior defensive end Abry Jones was extremely bothered by the off-field garbage. As things piled up, his patience began to dissolve as he watched a team with so much talent risk throwing everything away with humiliating off-field transgressions.

“It’s real frustrating,” Jones said, “but at the end of the day, when you see people who can’t really control themselves off the field [you realize] it was people who weren’t really in it for the whole team the whole time.”

The Bulldogs are now hoping to take a chapter from LSU’s playbook and make an SEC title run while ignoring the noise surrounding them.

“The off-field distractions are very unfortunate and the things that happened to those guys are very unfortunate,” senior receiver Tavarres King said. “But we’re keeping the main thing the main thing, and that’s winning ballgames, progressing as a team and getting better.

“It’s pretty frustrating, but you get a hold of those guys and you bring them back.”

Getting better and focusing began when the spring nonsense brought things to a boiling point inside Georgia’s locker room. The coaches were flustered and players felt betrayed. That’s when quarterback Aaron Murray and some of the other veterans stepped in to rally the team together.

Murray said the players held multiple meetings in which they discussed how they were wasting the riches in front of them. The silliness not only embarrassed the program but it would eventually keep the Bulldogs from another SEC run if it didn’t stop.

The more meetings they had, Murray said, the more focused and cautious players became away from the field. A real sense of urgency fell over the team, Murray said.

Even after Crowell’s arrest and subsequent dismissal, Murray said players kept moving and had an extremely productive offseason.

“We just want to go out there and play,” he said. “It’s been a long offseason, but it’s been a very productive and great offseason. Guys have worked hard and they just want to go out there and play football.

“It’s definitely been the most successful summer that I’ve been a part of because of the amount of work everyone put in and the amount of time [people put in]. Everyone was extremely focused and understood the goals that we had and were ready to do what was needed to accomplish those.”

Now, it’s time to see how this team reacts when the meat of the season arrives and players get antsy. Games start taking a toll and players need release. How will this team respond?

Maybe the Dawgs should take some advice from a former teammate and someone who witnessed a similar situation in 2011.

“They’ve been through a lot this offseason,” said LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia in April of 2010. “It’s a lot of guys that I know [who got in trouble] and I played with them. They just have to keep focused and stay tough. People are going to say things that they want to say about them -- just like what I went through. You just have to stand by your beliefs and know that you’re capable of doing it.”

With its personnel, Georgia is totally capable of making another run to Atlanta, if not further. But this team has to overcome the distractions that turned their offseason into a circus away from the field.

Coach Mark Richt knows it will be a challenge, but he also believes that he has the right guys to get the job done.

“We got a bunch of awesome guys that are working their tail off for a tremendous season and a tremendous outcome and those are the guys I’m focusing the most on right now,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to let what happened slow them down.”
We all know that defense wins championships and the SEC is very much a testament to that. Alabama possessed the nation's No. 1 defense last season and now possesses another national championship. Runner-up LSU ranked second nationally.

Alabama ran away with the crown as the nation's and the SEC's best defense, but that title is for the taking in 2012. Alabama is down key players from last year's squad, like linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive tackle Josh Chapman, and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, and DeQuan Menzie.

Alabama's defense isn't as green as the 2010 group, but it's still drawing some comparisons to it. That's exactly what the Tide wants to hear. Nico Johnson seems primed to be a true leader at linebacker, while Adrian Hubbard could be a budding star at Upshaw's old position. Defensive backs Robert Lester and Dee Milliner are back and will be joined by a couple of JUCO standouts and talented sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Jesse Williams could be a real force at defensive tackle along with end Damion Square.

Then you have LSU. The Tigers lost All-World cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and two starting linebackers. Michael Brockers is gone at defensive tackle as well. But LSU is still loaded. The Tigers return Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, who should be fine with an expanded role at cornerback. Junior Kevin Minter really stepped up at linebacker last year and should pick up right where he left off. Even without Brockers, the line is solid with future first-rounder Sam Montgomery at one end position and the underrated Barkevious Mingo at the other. The two combined for 17 sacks last season.

Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson should provide some meat nastiness in the interior, while the very talented Eric Reid is back at free safety.

Georgia and South Carolina both finished the 2011 season ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. South Carolina was third, while Georgia was fifth, respectively. The Gamecocks lost first-round defensive end Melvin Ingram, but return freshman standout Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who many thought would be better than Ingram last season. Kelcy Quarles is back at defensive tackle and the coaches think he'll be even better in his second year.

Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last year, will grab time at linebacker again, while the very athletic DeVonte Holloman returns to the Spur for his senior year. There are questions in the secondary, but seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) return.

Georgia returns nine defensive starters. Brandon Boykin is gone at corner, and the Bulldogs will enter the fall with a lot questions in the secondary, especially with starters Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo suspended to start the season. Star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner this spring and fits right in, but there are depth issues at the position.

Other than that, the Bulldogs are still pretty stacked. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will serve a suspension to start the year, but Georgia will fill his spot by committee. Mike Gilliard, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson provide Georgia with a very solid linebacking unit alongside star Jarvis Jones, who racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Georgia's defensive line should also be pretty stout with the massive John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers battling in the middle. Abry Jones really progressed at end as well this spring.

Or maybe someone else will step up and take the crown ...
Today we look at the big uglies that cause all the mayhem in the trenches. The SEC consistently spits out nasty defensive linemen and this year has more of an athletic feel.

Here's how the teams stacked up:

1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a defensive line that would make any offensive line shutter. Plus, incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney comes in as the top high school player in the country and could be one of the best ends in the league this fall. Devin Taylor leads the group at end and was second on the team with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. Helping on the outside is Melvin Ingram, who plays inside on passing downs, and led South Carolina with nine sacks a year ago. Senior Travian Robertson, who came off injury to get four sacks last year, is solid in the middle as well.

[+] EnlargeDevin Taylor
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDevin Taylor made a habit of harassing quarterbacks last season.
2. Arkansas: The Razorbacks might have the best pass-rushing group Arkansas has seen in a while. Things revolve around defensive end Jake Bequette, who was one of the more unheralded players in the league last year, despite having seven sacks. On the other side of the line is Tenarius Wright, who will make up the second part of a formidable outside duo in Fayetteville with his speed and athleticism. In the middle, there are plenty of options. Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones missed spring due to injury, but will be back this fall and there’s a wealth of depth behind them. Junior college transfer Robert Thomas might be the best and most athletic option in the middle is primed to break out.

3. LSU: There are some questions about the experience the Tigers bring back, but no one will question the talent and athleticism in Baton Rouge. Sam Montgomery is back at defensive end, after suffering a serious knee injury. He hasn’t played much, but the coaches believe he’s got what it takes to be a top end in this league. Kendrick Adams started 11 games last year at end, while Lavar Edwards filled in for Montgomery. Ego Ferguson redshirted last year, but should get a ton of playing time in the middle this fall. He is already one of the most athletic tackles in the SEC. Don’t forget about five-star early enrollee Anthony Johnson, who made very strong impressions on his coaches this spring and will be in the rotation inside.

4. Florida: This unit was criticized for lacking toughness last season, but will be full of that and even more athleticism in 2011. Jaye Howard is returning from spring ankle surgery and is already considered a top defensive tackle prospect in next year’s NFL draft. Alongside him are youngsters Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley. Floyd was the most consistent of the much-ballyhooed freshman class last fall, while Easley struggled with attitude problems. Easley has rebounded and both excelled this spring. Omar Hunter is finally healthy and will share time with Floyd at noseguard and senior William Green will occupy an end spot. This group is even better when Ronald Powell lines up at end in the 4-3.

5. Alabama: On paper, there are a few questions with this group, but it’s hard to drop Alabama very far on this list. The 3-4 scheme will have senior Josh Chapman at noseguard. Chapman started 12 games in the middle last fall, totaling 31 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Damion Square will compete for time on the outside, and since returning from his ACL injury, he’s gained a lot more playing confidence and could be a budding star in the league. Junior college transfers Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams will compete for time on the line as well, while sophomore Ed Stinson will stay at end after starting last season at Jack linebacker.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have arguably the top returning tackle tandem in the SEC. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are the behemoths in the middle who combined for 53 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks last year. Finding any sort of inside running game against Mississippi State will be extremely tough. Developing a pass-rusher is the next step for the Bulldogs’ staff. Sean Ferguson occupies one side, but the other is still up for grabs. Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell battled for the spot this spring, but neither has really pushed ahead.

7. Georgia: There is a lot of talent in Athens, but there could be a lot of movement on the line. JUCO transfer John Jenkins is the big -- and we mean big -- name up front and he’s yet to play a down in the SEC. He arrives with a ton of hype, but is perfect at noseguard in Todd Grantham’s 3-4. DeAngelo Tyson moves to his natural position outside after playing noseguard last year. Kwame Geathers played in the middle this spring, but could be usurped for Jenkins this fall and move outside. Abry Jones is still maturing after moving to end and recording 34 tackles including 3.5 for loss last season and had a 16-tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

8. Auburn: The Tigers must replace three starters this season. Inside, Auburn is talented but inexperienced with Kenneth Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker having 13 combined tackles from a year ago. There’s less concern on the outside with lone returning starter Nosa Eguae on one side and sophomore Corey Lemonier on the other. Eguae might have more experience with 11 starts, but Lemonier appears to be more athletic and should be near the top of the defensive end pool this year. After that, the Tigers are young across the board.

9. Tennessee: The Volunteers’ line will grow with senior Malik Jackson running things in the middle. He had 48 tackles and five sacks a year ago and some think he’ll be even better this fall. A lot will also be expected from incoming JUCO transfer Maurice Couch. He’s pretty athletic at 6-foot-4, 327 pounds and he’ll be greatly needed, considering the dismissal of Montori Hughes. Jacques Smith has All-SEC potential and will hold one of the end spots. After that, Tennessee has some young, but encouragingly talented bodies at each position.

10. Ole Miss: Some of the best news of the spring coming out of Oxford was the return of Kentrell Lockett at defensive end. Lockett was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and will not only be the Rebels’ top lineman but possibly their best defensive player. After that, the questions roll in with four tackles gone and youth coming in. Tackle Justin Smith has yet to really emerge as the All-SEC talent he was expected to be and Ole Miss is smaller up front. JUCO transfer Gilbert Pena could add some size in the middle. Gerald Rivers returns to get time at end, but has played in just 15 career games in two years.

11. Vanderbilt: This was supposed to be a strength for the Commodores last year until injuries hit. Still, Vanderbilt returns three starters. Experience is there, but this unit has to continue to improve, especially in the pass-rushing department where the Commodores had just 20 sacks in 2010. Rob Lohr led Vanderbilt with four sacks a year ago and had 35 tackles. T.J. Greenstone is coming off of injury and will line up inside. Tim Fugger was one of the Commodores' most consistent players at end, playing in every game and registering three sacks and four forced fumbles.

12. Kentucky: End Collins Ukwu and tackle Luke McDermott return with the most experience on Kentucky’s line. Ukwu improved not only on the field but in the weight room this spring and is expected to be a more consistent pass-rusher. McDermott is a walk-on currently ahead of Donte Rumph, who has the talent to be one of Kentucky’s top defenders, but has yet to fully buy in to the program. The coaches are also waiting for tackle Mister Cobble to finally break out of his funk and be a regular contributor. The rest of Kentucky’s linemen have some developing to do and are inexperienced.

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