published Friday, March 28th, 2014

Georgia's J.J. Green adjusting quickly to defense

  • photo
    Georgia’s J.J. Green rushed for 129 yards last year at Tennessee and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher, but he is working this spring at cornerback.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

There are countless athlete prospects in football recruiting who never find their true positions on college rosters.

Then there is Georgia's J.J. Green, who seems to contribute at everything he tries. The 5-foot-9, 183-pound sophomore averaged 5.6 yards a carry last season at tailback and had the team's longest kickoff return of the season, and now he's working as a first-team cornerback in five-defensive-back situations.

"Anybody who plays both ways in high school pretty much gets labeled an athlete," Green said by phone after Thursday's practice. "The ones who produce both ways in college are the true athletes."

Thursday's two-hour practice was Georgia's fifth of the spring and the second in full pads. The Bulldogs will work out again today and scrimmage for the first time Saturday.

Green was a running back and defensive back at Camden County High in Kingsland, Ga., and he was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect and the nation's No. 50 athlete in the 2013 signing class. He enrolled early last year and was quickly needed at tailback due to depth concerns behind the star tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

When Gurley was sidelined by an ankle sprain and Marshall tore his ACL in early October, Green stepped in and rushed 29 times for 216 yards in games against Tennessee and Missouri. That comprised most of his 384 rushing yards as a freshman, which ranked second on the team, but those days are in the past.

"I don't want to go back to offense," he said.

Green carried the ball in 12 of 13 games last season, caught 12 passes for 104 yards and capped his debut year with a 48-yard kickoff return in the Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs strengthened their tailback contingent last month by signing the touted duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and coaches came to Green asking if he would move to cornerback.

Leading that charge was new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was familiar with Green during his recruitment.

"The biggest thing was our lack of numbers," Pruitt told reporters earlier this month. "You can never have too many corners. It's pretty crowded right now at the running back spot, and he wanted the opportunity to play. This gives him a chance."

Said head coach Mark Richt: "Considering that he's not going to be carrying the ball, he'll be playing at a lighter weight, so I think he's already feeling a little quicker and all that type of thing."

The arrival of Pruitt and three other defensive assistants has resulted in a clean slate on that side of the ball, with Green obviously holding his own by racking up first-team reps against the slot receiver in three-receiver sets.

"It hasn't been a situation of starting over at all," Green said. "There have been a few times when I've been a little rusty, but I'm getting a feel for it, and I'm going at a fast pace.

"Everybody's learning a new system. Some guys can do it, and some guys can't. It's just who wants it the most."

Unionization talk

Georgia players had mixed opinions on Wednesday's unionization ruling in Chicago regarding Northwestern football's team.

"I am all for it," senior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson told reporters. "We saw a study that the average American works 40 hours a week. With practice, tutoring and school, they say we are doing like 39.2 hours a week. We are risking our bodies out here. We are going hard, practicing in the hot sun every day, and I think we should get some type of reward for it and get paid for it."

Senior receiver Chris Conley told reporters that a lot of people are misinformed about the issue and that it's not all about money. Conley does not consider himself an employee of the school and suggested there could be numerous downsides to Wednesday's ruling.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

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 ...

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