August 30, 2008

Owens injury will be felt

Perhaps nobody involved with the Georgia football team felt the loss of defensive tackle Jeff Owens more than his position coach Rodney Garner.

A senior many were touting for postseason SEC honors, Owens went down with an injured right knee midway through the first quarter Saturday against Georgia Southern. Although the results of a subsequent MRI were not immediately known, it's feared that Owens will have to miss the rest of the year.

If so, what next for Georgia's defensive line?

"Obviously with Jeff going down, Corvey's (Irvin) going to have to step up and he's got to relish that role, because Kade's (Weston) out, too. That's two guys out, one who should be back at some point, and Jeff is gone for the year, probably," Garner said. "Other people are going to have to step up. That's what happens."

Garner has his fingers crossed. Weston (sprained MCL) is expected to miss next Saturday's game against Central Michigan, although head coach Mark Richt hopes he'll be back the following week against South Carolina.

Saturday, Irvin responded with an excellent game, tying linebacker Darryl Gamble for the team-lead in tackles in with six. Redshirt sophomores Brandon Wood and Ricardo Crawford also saw their first significant action, with Crawford getting credit for half a sack and chipping in with four tackles.

"To lose a guy like that for his senior year, a guy who means so much to his team is definitely going to make an impact," Garner said. "Jeff's a great young man. We've never redshirted him, so I've told him to look at the positive. God's definitely got a bigger plan for him. He'll rehab, come back bigger, stronger and faster and have a big year next year."

True freshman DeAngelo Tyson will also have to play key role. Tyson was told before Saturday's game that he would definitely see action against Georgia Southern, and made two tackles, including one for a 1-yard loss.

"Tyson did all right," junior tackle Geno Atkins said. "He's still young. He was a nervous today with this being his first game and all, but he'll get better."

Garner said Tyson has no choice. The Bulldogs now need him.

"Those young guys have to embrace it. It's easy to talk about wanting to play, but then when you're actually put in the fire, you've got to perform," Garners aid. "It's an adjustment. He's got to go from being a recruit to going there, embracing it and get his motor going where he can help it because he's now in a position of having to help us. He's got a lot of talent and he's going to have to step up."

Fellow freshman A.J. Harmon dressed out but did not play.

"We've all just got to go out and work hard," Tyson said. "We need to make Jeff proud."

Garner said that Owens will definitely be missed. After all, the Florida native has played significantly for the Bulldogs his first three years with the team and came in with the reputation of being one of the finest defensive tackles in the league.

"Jeff played for me as a true freshman. I still remember him in the SEC championship game (2005), he sacked JaMarcus Russell and put him out of the game as true freshman," Garner said. "He's played a lot of snaps for us and when you lose a guy like that you lose a lot of experience and a lot of leadership."

Garner said Owens still has a role to play.
"A lot of our kids, they look to Jeff Owens as a leader. We're still going to need him to be that leader even though he's going to be leading from the sideline," Garner said. "We're going to need him to step up and still be that guy for us."

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