ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia has the comfort of returning nine defensive starters from last season’s Sugar Bowl champions.
The Bulldogs have additional comfort in knowing one of the two new starters is safety Reshad Jones. A 6-foot-2, 203-pounder from Atlanta, Jones backed up Kelin Johnson most of last season but started alongside CJ Byrd against Western Carolina and Troy when Johnson was hurt.
“I got some nice experience this past year playing behind Kelin,” Jones said. “I think I’m ready to step in and fill his shoes like nobody was ever missing.”
In the 11 games he didn’t start as a redshirt freshman, Jones still averaged 25-30 plays a game. He made 57 tackles, including three for lost yardage, and two interceptions.
Much like the Bulldogs overall, Jones came on strong late, collecting two tackles and an interception in the 31-17 win at Georgia Tech and six tackles and a tackle for loss in the 41-10 humbling of Hawaii in New Orleans.
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez admits the transition from Johnson to Jones could be among the easiest of his eight seasons overseeing the secondary.
“Reshad has earned it to this point as far as being the starter,” Martinez said, “but he’s got a long way to get to where we want him to be from a mental standpoint and knowing our scheme inside and out, and he knows that. And then playing at a high level every play. We have to do that with a lot of our young guys, getting them to play 100 percent and with mentality of playing faster and harder than your opponent.”
While Johnson came to Georgia unheralded as the only Rivals.com two-star signee in the 2004 class, Jones arrived with great fanfare. He was the No. 1 safety in the 2006 class and the No. 14 overall prospect, ranking with some established Southeastern Conference talents such as Florida receiver Percy Harvin, Alabama lineman Andre Smith, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Jones redshirted in 2006 and was quiet in the early going last year, but his improved play and closing flourish has him eager for his sophomore season.
“Kelin was known as a hitter and was a good safety, but I think I’m more of a ball-hog safety,” he said. “I like going to get the ball, but I can make a nice tackle, too. It was a nice experience I got last year, but I know I can do more and that we all can do more.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be one of the best secondaries in the country.”
Wilson out with injury
Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said flanker Tony Wilson underwent successful surgery Monday to repair a fracture to his left ankle and damaged ligaments suffered in Saturday’s scrimmage. Wilson will have a second surgery in eight weeks to remove screws placed to stabilize the joint and should be cleared to play this season.
The 5-11, 198-pounder from Daytona Beach had 14 catches for 124 yards last season as a redshirt freshman.
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 ...