ATHENS, Ga. — By holding Florida and Ole Miss to an average of 250 yards a game the past two weeks, collecting nine turnovers in the process, Georgia's defense is finally playing up to its talent.
And there is no shortage of that.
"I think that they will have more kids drafted off that defense than any we've faced," said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, whose Rebels lost at No. 1 Alabama earlier this season. "I think their size and speed is pretty special."
Though the Bulldogs have been mediocre overall defensively this season, ranking seventh in the 14-team SEC in yards (341.3 a game) and points (20.9) allowed, their pro potential has not waned. Longtime NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper lists junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones as the No. 1 prospect for the 2013 draft, with senior nose tackle John Jenkins No. 13 and junior inside linebacker Alec Ogletree No. 19.
Georgia has yet to produce three first-round picks in the same draft, but one NFL scouting director believes that stat will be short-lived.
"Ogletree may be the best linebacker in the conference from an athletic standpoint and everything he can do on the field," the scout said, "and Jones is probably the best pass-rusher from a linebacker position in the conference. Jenkins doesn't make a lot of plays, but he's 360 pounds.
"Jenkins is a first-rounder on size alone, and you look at the way the league is going with 3-4 defenses. Those guys get drafted, because there aren't a bunch of them."
Senior safety Shawn Williams has appeared on some first-round mock drafts and is "the toughest of that bunch" according to the scout but may land in the second round. There will be more. Many more.
"They've got a defensive line there that's NFL caliber with Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, Abry Jones and Corneluis Washington," the scout said, "and then you go to the back end where you're looking at two safeties who are going to play in the league with Williams and Bacarri Rambo. There is talent all over that place."
At least eight Georgia defenders could go in the draft, and eight is the most total selections the program has provided in any previous draft. That was in 2002.
Georgia's defense somehow managed to hold Florida and Ole Miss to 165 fewer combined yards than the Bulldogs yielded against Buffalo and Florida Atlantic. The Bulldogs were not at full strength earlier in the year, when Ogletree and Rambo were suspended for the season's first four games, but they are certainly dominating at the right time.
"We never wanted to make excuses, and we still don't want to make any excuses for what happened in the past," coach Mark Richt said, "but if you have everybody from the very foundation of the spring and the offseason and the fall, and the communication, obviously the more they play together, the better they are going to play and the better they'll communicate and the fewer mistakes they'll make. It has been a little bit of a juggling act.
"I'm just glad that now it looks like everybody is really gaining confidence and everybody is playing with a lot of intensity. There are guys flying to the ball, and we're getting more turnovers because of it, in my opinion. We're just having more fun."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...