- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Jordan Jenkins didn't expect much from himself last week when he lined up for the first time in a preseason pass-rush drill.
In his first college practice, Jenkins was about to go up against the Georgia Bulldogs' first-team left tackle, Kenarious Gates, and -- like most freshmen would be in such a situation -- he was not feeling particularly confident.
"I was expecting to get my butt whooped," Jenkins said.
Instead of getting abused by one of the Bulldogs' most experienced linemen, Jenkins employed a rush technique that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham suggested, and he beat Gates on the play -- surprising everyone, including himself.
"I was just shocked going against a guy like K.G. because he's a great guy, pretty good pass set, and he's huge," Jenkins said. "I was shocked that I won that time."
Gates has earned his share of victories against the freshman since then, but Jenkins had made his point. The explosive pass-rush ability he displayed right away against Gates is why Grantham put so much effort into securing Jenkins' services while on the recruiting trail, stealing him away from Nick Saban and Alabama about a month before national signing day.
He's only a week into his college career and Jenkins still has plenty to work on -- coach Mark Richt pointed out Thursday that Jenkins has to become a more physical defender against the run, for instance -- but nobody doubts that Jenkins can give Georgia's pass rush an immediate shot in the arm.
"We all know Jordan Jenkins is good," Richt said. "He's as advertised."
The advertisements concerning Jenkins' abilities seem to always liken his skills to those of another Georgia outside linebacker: All-American Jarvis Jones, who last season led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
Like Jones, Jenkins is known for his pass-rush skills and his relentless pursuit of opposing ball carriers. They are similar in stature and even attended high school in the same region -- Jones at Carver High School in Columbus, Ga., and Jenkins about a 25-minute drive up U.S. Highway 27 away at Harris County High School in Hamilton.
Jones certainly sees a resemblance between himself and his young understudy.
"He's got a high motor," Jones said. "He loves the game. You can tell he's passionate about the game and he's relentless. Like I'll be trying to teach him now and try to walk through drills and he's going full speed. So I can see that in myself."
As much as playing alongside Jones and for Grantham helped convince Jenkins to join the Bulldogs, the opportunity to practice against another talented freshman also influenced his decision.
He struck up a friendly rivalry with offensive tackle John Theus while competing against him at Georgia's Dawg Night prospect camp three years ago and says they now have a close relationship. That rivalry -- and its potential to sharpen both players' abilities -- was a centerpiece of Georgia's successful recruiting pitches to both Theus and Jenkins.
"One fun thing for me is watching Theus and Jordan Jenkins go against each other because it was two or three Dawg Nights ago when they first started hooking up," Richt said. "We talked about it, it was part of our recruiting pitch ... 'Just think if you guys could work against each other every day of your whole career. You're going to get better.' That's what they're doing, so it's kind of fun to see that."
And the team is better because of their presence. Theus has already moved into the lineup as Georgia's first-team right tackle, and Jenkins figures to contribute on both special teams and scrimmage downs because of his ability to hound opposing quarterbacks.
"He has all the tools you look for in an edge rusher as far as burst, hips, ability to get a guy on the edge," Grantham said, "but because of his size, he has the ability to convert to power when needed. That's what separates really good pass-rushers, and he's got a feel for how to do it."
Jenkins said he has been watching Jones closely in practice, adapting small nuances from his game into his own arsenal. He still has three weeks to learn more tricks of the trade from Jones and his other big brothers at outside linebacker before the Bulldogs play their season-opening game against Buffalo.
That's three more weeks of conditioning -- "my first four plays here, I was gasping for breath and I said, 'Dang, this is really SEC football,' " Jenkins recalled with a laugh -- and instruction under Grantham's watchful eye.
"I've been working on that with Coach Grantham a lot," Jenkins said of the stab and swat moves he used to beat Gates in his first college pass-rush rep. "And I was just shocked that I did it, because in high school sometimes I'd forget what some of the college coaches had been telling me to do. Then just seeing it on film, how I'm using my techniques -- and everything is just great."
Jenkins made those comments exactly a week after his first practice as a college football player.
Now imagine what another week or month or year of working with Grantham and Georgia's defensive personnel will do for him, once Grantham molds his raw tools into something truly special.
13hEric D. Williams