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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dawgs of the Decade: The Safeties

Through a decade of success, there have been plenty of players who have made their mark in a Georgia uniform, and for the next two weeks, The Telegraph will be giving you the chance to vote on your picks for the Bulldogs’ All-Decade team for the 2000s. We’ll go position-by-position, and you’ll pick the winners by going to www.macon.com/decade to vote.

Our 11th ballot is for Georgia’s top safeties of the decade, and the nominees are:

(Note: Years as one of Georgia’s starters in parentheses. The top two vote-getters will make the team.)

Jermaine Phillips (2000-2001). Phillips started his career as a little-used wide receiver at Georgia, but was converted to safety in 2000 and blossomed. He finished with 85 tackles and two interceptions in his first year at strong safety in 2000, then earned All-SEC honors as a senior in 2001 after making 80 tackles, three interceptions and forcing four fumbles. Phillips was an exceptional athlete who, although he wasn’t afraid to hit, was also one of the fastest safeties to play at Georgia this decade. He finished his career with 165 tackles and five picks and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he went on to win a Super Bowl.

Sean Jones (2002-2003). Jones had a solid career at Georgia, but it was against Auburn in 2002 that he truly blossomed. In that game, Jones picked off Tigers quarterback Jason Campbell twice, helping the Bulldogs to a 24-21 win that sent them to their first SEC championship game. In Jones’ senior season in 2003, he exploded. Jones was among the top playmakers in the league that year, making 111 tackles, corralling five interceptions and recovering two fumbles, including one that he returned 92 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee. Jones even blocked three kicks that season, earning All-American honors to boot. He finished his career with 250 tackles and seven interceptions and was drafted in the second round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.

Thomas Davis (2003-2004). Davis didn’t arrive at Georgia with a lot of buzz but once he got onto the field, he made his presence known quickly – and with authority. One of Georgia’s all-time hardest hitters, Davis finished his career with 272 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three interceptions and earned All-SEC honors in both 2003 and 2004. His 272 tackles ranks 17th all-time in Georgia history and his 138 takedowns in 2003 were the most by a Bulldogs defender since Greg Bright in 1996 and marked the 12th-best during any season in school history. As a junior in 2004, Davis earned All-America honors and was drafted in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Greg Blue (2004-2005). Georgia’s third All-American safety of the 2000s was perhaps its most feared. Blue’s coverage skills may not have been NFL caliber, but he hit with the best of them, and receivers thought twice about catching a pass anywhere near Blue. As a freshman, Blue made 42 tackles and starred on special teams for a team that won an SEC title. By 2004, however, he had earned a starting job and made 80 tackles while forcing three fumbles that season. In his senior year in 2005, Blue was dominant. He finished with a career-best 96 tackles – the most on the team – and intercepted two passes en route to All-SEC and All-America honors and yet another SEC title. He finished his career with 260 tackles and was taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL draft.

Tra Battle (2005-2006). At just 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Battle didn’t look the part of the intimidating hitter, but he took his cues from players like Davis and Blue and lived up to their standard by unleashing furious hits on defenders who rarely saw it coming. A reserve for much of his first two seasons, Battle was a key contributor on Georgia’s 2005 SEC title team, finishing the year with 71 tackles. As a senior in 2006, Battle was the vocal leader of the secondary, finishing with 57 tackles and six interceptions. In the Bulldogs’ shocking 37-15 win at Auburn that season, Battle made three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown to help unranked Georgia topple the fifth-ranked Tigers. For his career, Battle had 128 tackles, eight interceptions and earned All-SEC honors his senior season. He went on to play three seasons in the NFL.

Kelin Johnson (2006-2007). Johnson wasn’t a star right off the bat, but he managed to carry on the tradition of hard-hitting safeties in his junior and senior seasons when he started 23 games and was a vocal leader of the Bulldogs’ defense. In 2006, Johnson started every game and finished with 60 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. In his senior season, he helped Georgia to a Sugar Bowl victory and a No. 2 ranking by making 49 tackles and picking off four passes, including two in a 45-20 win over Auburn. Johnson ended his career with 123 tackles and seven interceptions.

Reshad Jones (2008-present). A five-star recruit, Jones was redshirted his first season in Athens, but became an instant playmaker when he finally took the field in 2007. He started just two games that season but made 57 tackles – including six against Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl – and had two interceptions. He became a full-time starter a year later and earned second-team All-SEC honors after recording 76 tackles and a team-high five interceptions. Although Jones flirted with the NFL, he returned for his junior year in 2009 and added to his resume by making 68 tackles – second on the team – and three more interceptions, including one in a win over Georgia Tech to cap the regular season. For his career, Jones has 201 tackles and 10 interceptions and could easily crack Georgia’s record books with a solid senior season.

So, who gets your vote? Go to www.macon.com/decade to cast your ballot or vote in our previous categories, and be sure to pick up a copy of the December 27th issue of The Telegraph to find out the winners.

And don't forget to leave your comments here on the blog. Tell us about why you made your selection and your favorite memories of those players, and your comments could appear in our final results issue of The Telegraph.

6 comments:

IveyLeaguer said...

David, you've got to be kidding me. To even mention Reshad Jones with these other fine safeties is a travesty.

Reshad Jones is a pitiful player, and a horrible safety. He has been one of the primary problems of our defense for the last 3 years. Missed assignment here - late there - loaf here - wrong angle there - missed play opportunity over here - all mixed together with an undisciplined mind and a horrible, self-centered attitude.

It took a Willie Martinez just to get him on the field. He could never have played for VanGorder or an Erk Russell.

Your usual sharp discernment failed you this time. You must be going with the flow, and the flow is wrong on this one.

I hope Jones forgoes his eligibility, but he will not play in the NFL for long, if at all. I would not be surprised a bit if he's not even drafted. If he is drafted, it'll be by somebody who has not done their homework.

The NFL will close the book on Reshad Jones once and for all, and this fantasy about his playing ability will be over, at long last. It's amazing what a 5-star high school rating can do to alter reality.

~~~

Hobnail_Boot said...

What an embarrassment of riches at Safety! Davis gets my vote slightly over Jones.

IveyLeaguer - you are a disgrace.

Newt said...

Hobnail, I voted the exact opposite from you. I give Jones just a slight nod over Davis because Jones was so much better in coverage.

IveyLeaguer, just shut up. Jones busted his butt this year and was a much better player this year than last. We probably don't beat tech w/o his effort that night. I, for one, hope he comes back and makes just as many strides as he did this year.

Anonymous said...

Got to go with Sean Jones on this one. That guy was just a great, great football player. David Greene on the defensive side of the ball. I believe that he was, in fact, a pretty highly rated QB coming out of high school.

Also, you cannot forget that in that AU game Jones was also returning punts because of Damien Gary's leg injury and had a helluva game returning punts. Really singlehandedly kept us in the game when Ronnie Brown was threatening to blow us out.

He was not the biggest hitter, but always got the guy down and was ALWAYS in the right place.

The biggest indictment of Martinez as a DC is that the players never developed as DB's once CWM took over as DC, as when he was solely responsible for DB's...peter principle at its finest.

Anonymous said...

Ivey-

You are an idiot and surely never played a down of football in your life nor have any idea what you are talking about

JasonC said...

Wow, I can't believe Greg Blue is leading the voting. He was a hard hitter, but IMO Davis and Jones were more complete players as the reasonable guys above have mentioned.