Georgia fans searching for optimism after the gloom of 2010 should look -- as Alabama once did -- to a campus in the small town of Perkinston, Miss.
UGA signee John Jenkins attended the same junior college as former Alabama All-American nose tackle Terrence Cody.
Yes, there is recent precedent to Georgia’s inconsistency in the first season of Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense, both in how it transpired and how it was ultimately addressed through the junior college ranks.
Steve Campbell, head coach at Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College, recalls big John Jenkins, who signed weeks ago with Georgia, and sees traces of another nose tackle he recently sent to the SEC – and later the NFL: Alabama's Terrence Cody, an eventual second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens.
“I’d say John is a real similar football player,” Campbell said. “I think he’ll be the same kind of impact player at Georgia that T.C. was at Alabama.”
Those are strong words, considering the addition of “Mount Cody” was one of the key pieces that led the Crimson Tide to a 12-0 regular season in 2008 and an SEC and BCS championship the following year.
But they makes sense. A generally accepted rule of 3-4 defenses is that it is essential to be strong up the middle. At nose tackle, you want a special player, one formidable enough to hold the point and withstand double and triple teams, thus freeing up teammates to make plays. That player doesn’t have to be massive in size, but it definitely helps, so long as he remains mobile enough.
Cody played near 350-360 pounds while at Alabama. Jenkins is projected to be around 340 pounds or more during his upcoming career at Georgia.
“John is quicker, a little more mobile than Terrence,” Campbell said. “Terrence may be just a tad – just a tad – stronger. I’d say what Terrence had in weight, John makes up for with his added mobility.”
And really, size is just the beginning of the similarities in the two situations.
Alabama was 26-2 during Terrence Cody's two seasons with the team.
Alabama coach Nick Saban still considers Grantham one of his favorite all-time assistants, courtesy of a short time together in the 1990s at Michigan State. After Mark Richt failed to land Saban’s defensive coordinator Kirby Smart after the 2009 season, he turned to Grantham, who brought a 3-4 defense not far removed from what Saban uses.
For the past three seasons, Alabama has finished among the top five in the country in total defense. But it wasn’t always that way.
While Georgia allowed 147.23 rushing yards per game last season. Alabama was at 141.15 in 2007, Saban’s first season back in college. With that new 3-4 defense, Alabama was forced to use Lorenzo Washington (an Atlanta-area native) after converted offensive lineman Brian Motley broke his ankle in practice.
Washington, at less than 300 pounds, was probably better suited to play end, but he gritted it out at nose while his overall defense struggled, especially late in games and late in the season.
Insert the name DeAngelo Tyson for Washington and Justin Anderson for Motley and you could basically say the same for Georgia in 2010.
In its predicament, Alabama went outside the box and signed Cody, who wasn’t getting much attention from major colleges. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too big for football, and Cody was it.
He was labeled as a project because his weight hovered around 400 pounds. But Cody worked to get down to 365 pounds by the time he arrived in Tuscaloosa. Saban did not hesitate to move Washington to end (as the Bulldogs have now done with Tyson) and immediately start Cody, who was named SEC defensive lineman of the week after his first game, a 24-point upset of Clemson.
Cody was good for first and second down work. The same will likely be expected of Jenkins. The Bulldogs' Kwame Geathers and Mike Thornton each said they've been working in nickel packages this spring. It could be anyone in that role. During Cody's first season, Saban sought a quicker, younger player as a third-down nose tackle. His first choice in 2008 was eventual star end Marcell Dareus.
But with Cody primarily anchoring the middle, Alabama finished second in the nation in rushing defense (74.14 ypg in 2008 and 78.14 in 2009) two consecutive years. The Tide didn’t allow an opposing player to reach 100 rushing yards the entire time. Without Cody in 2010, the Tide’s rushing yards allowed per game jumped back to 110.15 yards.
In UGA’s case, it’s easy to assume too much about Jenkins, who isn’t on campus yet. Despite the obvious points from which to compare, Jenkins is also a different player than Cody, of course.
But that’s not necessarily bad for the Dogs. Actually, Jenkins’ upside is considered higher in football circles.
Campbell once had to call around to notify schools about Cody. No such effort needed to be made with Jenkins, who was a good enough athlete to carry the football in high school and actually believed basketball was his best sport at one point.
“I mean, everybody in the country wanted John,” Campbell said. “The kid is a heck of an athlete. He’s got mobility. He can move for a big guy. … TC will shock you because he can dunk a basketball and those kinds of things for a big guy. But John has got some really extended mobility, not just in the box. He can move up and down the line and run around pretty good. In high school, they used him as a running back. Not in jumbo situations. He was a full-time running back. He ran the ball not once or twice a game.
“He was legitimate running back at probably 320 or 330 (pounds).”
Campbell remembers the rock-star buzz in Tuscaloosa around "Mount Cody," who became an All-American and a finalist for national defensive player of the year awards, and expects much the same -- at least on the field -- once Jenkins gets to Athens this fall.
“Guys like that, you know it immediately,” Campbell said. “The first time we saw T.C., we knew it. It’s the same thing with big John.”