March 26, 2012

Jones eyes an encore

Jarvis Jones set a standard of play last fall that ranks among the best ever seen by a Georgia linebacker.

A finalist for the Butkus Award, his 13.5 sacks were just a one-half sack off David Pollack's single-season school record, while his 19.5 tackles for loss ranked among the best in the country.

Seven different organizations rated Jones a first-team All-American, and after he spurned the NFL to return to Georgia for at least another year, many are expecting even greater feats from the former Carver standout this fall.

"I can't do better than I did last year, but I can improve myself," Jones said after Saturday's most recent practice. "Anything less than what I did last year would be a failure; but I can still go out and learn a whole lot. Coach (defensive coordinator Todd Grantham) is putting in different stuff and teaching me and the rest of the defense new things. Even when you get to the pros, there's a lot of room for improvement. It never stops."

That's something that Jones truly believes.

When he speaks, there's not a single trace of cockiness, bravado or attitude.

But when he speaks, teammates listen.

"I've got a role to play, everybody does," Jones explained. "I think I'm one of the leaders on this team; I'm one of the guys that everybody listens to, but we've got several like that. Alec (Ogletree), Shawn (Williams), Bacarri (Rambo), Abry (Jones), we push each other. We don't try to stand out amongst each other, we just try to push each other to get the ball rolling and that's why I think we're (the defense) is so close.

"We all believe in each other. We just enjoy doing what we do."

Of course, with success comes responsibility, including a number of off-season treks to different banquets across the country, including ones to Connecticut, Ohio and Atlanta where Jones was honored for his previous season of work.

"We ate well," laughed Jones, who said getting his weight down was an off-season goal.

"I'm at 240 now," he said. "I was at 250-252; but I want to keep it down. I think it will be a big plus if I do."

Many outside the Bulldog locker room were surprised when Jones decided to come back to Athens for another year.

Despite his steadfast declaration that he would, many wondered if the allure of NFL green would wind up being too much of an enticement, especially since many early draft projections had Jones a sure-fire first-round pick.

Apparently his teammates were paying attention, as every one of Georgia's draft-eligible players on defense decided to return as well.

"I talked to Bacarri, Shawn, all those guys, but I never tried to steer them one way or the other," he said. "They knew what we had coming back, so I told them whatever decision they made, if they decided to go pro I'd be in their corner and I'd wish the best for them. But they all decided to come back, so we're going to try and take this thing to another level and be the best defense in the entire nation."

Last year, Georgia finished the season ranked No. 5 in total defense, and from the early looks of in spring practice, Jones and company are ready to pick right up where they left off.

Thus far this spring in competitive drills, the defense has gotten the better of the offense each time.

"Our defense is pretty much older than our offense right now, especially up front," Jones said. "Our offense is grinding, but we (the defense) are making plays and they're getting a bit frustrated, but that's what we want. We want to put them in situations where they can learn and improve on those situations so on down the road they'll be a much better team; we'll be a much better team."