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Friday, November 28, 2008

Catching Up With... Kelin Johnson

Georgia has won seven straight games over in-state rival Georgia Tech. Former Bulldogs safety Kelin Johnson was a part of four of those wins, and he's now breaking down the game and talking with other UGA athletes on his two Web series -- Kelin's Keys and Kelin's Korner.

I caught up with Kelin earlier this week to talk about the upcoming game against Tech, proper press box decorum and the fashion sense among Georgia's secondary.

David Hale: When you were playing, you were always a go-to guy for good quotes. I'm not too surprised you're doing some media work now talking about the games. Talk about the projects you're working on and how did you get involved with them?

Kelin Johnson: When I got cut from Seattle, I went home for about two weeks, and I wasn't getting any calls, so I started thinking it was time to at least start on another chapter of my life that I really wanted to focus on when I got done playing football. My major is speech communications, and I only had a couple of classes left, so I'm back in school and doing those things. I told Coach Richt I wanted to get back in school, and that was no problem. I came back and met with Damon Evans and Coach Richt and said I wanted to get started with some speaking engagements and they sent me over to (sports information director) Claude Felton, and Claude made some calls to all the news channels in the area, and a lot of them said, "If you ever wanted to get in the business, give me a call."

Claude introduced me to the people at CSS, and we started doing Kelin's Corner, where I go and interview students around campus that are student athletes that have their own accomplishments. I go around and interview them and challenge them to their sport. The other thing I do a show with the football team where I break the game down and after that give the keys to the game for next week, and that's how we came up with Kelin's Keys. Both shows are doing really well right now. It's a good look, I'm a former player from Coach Richt's era, and so I can connect with the guys who are still there now.

DH: Now when we were up in Lexington covering the game, you had a little run in with the sports information staff up there for cheering in the press box. How difficult has it been for you to keep your emotions in check now that you're covering the team rather than playing for them?

KJ: It's been real tough. It's just been one of those situations where I have to respect the rules and the regulations. I might not always have to agree on some of them, but that's just some things in life you have to deal with. Being a motivator and being a defensive captain last year, I just feel like my heart is still there. I feel Coach Martinez's pain when things don't go right, I feel Coach Richt's pain when things don't go right because I'm still connected to the program. I want to represent that 'G.' But I actually have gotten better. When I first started, I couldn't sit down in the press box. I was always up looking at the TVs, watching the play-by-play, making comments and stuff. They were like, "No cheering, you can't cheer." And I was like, "What? What are you talking about? That's ridiculous. How are you going to tell me not to cheer?" But I've learned to deal with that, learned to respect that, and I think it will help me. I'm always so expressive, I was taught to always go be aggressive, and now I have to take it back and take things in in a calm way. You can't always be aggressive, you have to handle some things in a calm way. So I think it's been a difficult part for me.

DH: Georgia Tech's offense presents a number of problems for the Bulldogs' D. What do you think the keys to stopping the triple option are?

KJ: It's going to be a very hard project. In 2004, I played against Georgia Southern (which ran the triple option), and that was probably the most difficult offense to prepare for, and we had a long time to prepare for it. You had Thomas Davis and Greg Blue back there, but being a young safety against that offense, an option quarterback, it's hard to stop.

If you're going to stay sound in the game, it comes down to your defensive ends. If your defensive end does not have the best game of his life on Saturday, it's going to be a long day. Your cornerbacks and your safeties, believe it or not -- I'm not talking about the passing game, I'm talking about the running game. You don't see a lot of corners having a lot of tackles in the running game, but our corners are going to have to play real aggressive and get off blocks. Our safeties spinning down into blocks, they're going to have to be key. The corners are going to be one-on-one with a receiver, but they're also going to have the option pass they have to worry about.

I think if our D-ends are not strong and our corners and safeties are not aggressive, it's going to be real hard to win that football game.

DH: You talked about the defensive ends, and that hasn't been a big strength for Georgia. The older guys like Jeremy Lomax and Rod Battle have suffered through injuries and the younger guys haven't come along quite as quickly as you'd like. Do you think they'll be ready for the challenge this week?

KJ: They're going to be as ready as they'll ever be. It's not a question of experience. It's the last game of the season. They don't have any choice but to be ready. They have to be ready. They have so many assignments, but that's why you have two weeks to prepare. I know Coach Martinez has pushed the scout team offense a whole lot. If the scout team doesn't give a great look to our defense, we're selling our team short. We're selling our defense short, and it will be exposed Saturday.

DH: There have been some times this season where the D hasn't really dealt with adversity that well. With the way Tech's offense works, there's bound to be some adversity this week. Do you think the Dawgs can react and regroup this time around?

KJ: It all depends on what type of mood the guys are going to be in. They have to create an atmosphere that we're going to bend, but we're not going to break. That's what it comes down to with that defense for Saturday's game. Georgia Tech's offense is made, its build to break the big play at any given moment. That is how the offense is designed, because if one guy (on defense) messes up, it could be a touchdown or a big play. So the defense has to be relentless, they have to hit hard, play assignment football -- that's key when you're coming up against a system like that.

Georgia Tech's quarterback, if you can take away his spot, you can take away their offense. He reads every snap. Every play of the football game, every snap he takes, he's going to be reading the defensive ends, he's going to be reading the tackles, he's going to be reading the safeties. If you get to him, hit him hard, force him to make bad decisions, hopefully Georgia Tech will not progress in their offense.

DH: It seems like over the past few years, the rivalry with Tech hasn't been at the top of people's list of biggest games around here. What would continuing the streak of seven straight wins over Tech mean for the Bulldogs?

KJ: It says a lot. You want to keep the streak going, but it's not only about the rivalry. It's the Georgia season on the line. It's a matter of pride, your identity, and you're also fighting for recruiting. Georgia's up against it, going to a good bowl game. If you lose this game, you might not go to the bowl game you'd like. It's a lot on the line. I could care less about the rivalry. I care about my former team winning and having the confidence going into the bowl game.

DH: Any predictions for a final score?

KJ: I don't have a prediction. Just as long as we score more points than them, that's all that matters.

DH: OK, well then clear this one up once and for all -- who is the better dresser, you or Asher Allen?

KJ: Asher knows he can't touch this. It's like MC Hammer, man. He can't touch this. Come on now. I will give my hat off to him though. He's a very good dresser. He's got a bright future ahead of him.

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