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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.

13 comments:

opsomath said...

I always added a "Sir" to Thomas Davis' name when the announcer would say his name. As in, "Pass broken up by Sir Thomas Davis for the Bulldogs."

HattiesburgJay said...

No Bryan Evans?????

dawgjammin said...

this is so easy. sean jones and thomas davis...easy. sean jones was so good he always gets overlooked because he wasn't the biggest hitter of all them, but he's still in the league. he was a one man show that year at auburn, defense and returning kicks.

Muckbeast said...

One of the clearest signs of Thomas Davis' dominance was the fact that in the few games he missed to injury, we got owned.

Anonymous said...

Dammnit Hattiesburg...you stole my line. lol.

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 - overrun here - missed play opportunity over there - 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.

~~~

ChicagoDawg said...

Wow, there were some great players in this lot....it is hard decision to rank them, but for me it would be....

1.) Thomas Davis
2.) Jermaine Phillips
3.) Sean Jones

p.s. IveyLeaguer, it is my opinion, which is not worth much to be sure, that your comments on Reshad Jones are not only wrong but unnecessarily personal.

atlstew said...

1. Sean Jones
2. Thomas Davis
3. Jermaine Phillips

Anonymous said...

Reshad might play LB like Davis in the pro's. It's to bad but he has been burnt deep and been out of position to much to be one of our best safeties. He will be another dawg who gets better in the NFL , hopefully this is a thing of the past.

TCJ said...

I loved watching Davis hit opposing players, but felt like his aggression caused him to be out of position on play action passes. For me, Sean Jones was the best in the last decade.

IveyLeaguer said...

TCJ, I think you hit the nail on the head. Davis might be my favorite player of the decade. But he did have a tendency to be too aggressive playing the run, and would get caught cheating now and again. Plus, Sean had superior cover skills.

Chicago, you might be right about my comment having a personal flair, and that's not right. In 51 seasons, only one player has driven me to absolutely despise his play on the field, and that is Reshad Jones. It's never happened before and it's not likely to ever happen again.

Nevertheless, I believe I'm right about the football part. We'll see soon enough. The NFL will tell us and be the final judge of that.

~~~

Anonymous said...

Sean Jones. The guy was a 1 man wrecking crew. Forgotten is the game he had against Vandy in 2003. He had a 31 yard interception return, forced a fumble, had a 41 yard kickoff return to the Vandy 2 yard line, blocked and recovered a field goal attempt and finished the day with 14 total tackles, 9 solo. He also had a couple of repeat performances similar in nature to this one. Wish the dawgs could have had him on the 2004 team, was even rumored that they were going to let him play offense as well that year.

IveyLeaguer said...

Yeah, had Jones stayed that 2004 team would have been better.

How about the game Sean had against Auburn in 2002? Without his heroics in the first half, we would certainly have lost that game and the 2002 SEC Title with it.

~~~