Boss takes big leap into senior season

Boss Bailey fact box Full name: Rodney Antonio Bailey Class: Senior Hometown: Folkston, Ga. Position: Outside linebacker Size: 6-4, 220

Talk about meeting high expectations.

A preseason first-team All-America pick by The Sporting News and the only Georgia player picked to the preseason Southeastern Conference's first-team defense by SEC media last week, Boss Bailey is expected to soar above his previous accomplishments and lead the Bulldogs this season.

So soar he did.

In the team's annual strength and conditioning tests two weeks ago, Bailey astounded observers by setting a team record with a vertical leap of 46 inches. Flat-footed, with no running start, Bailey came within two inches of jumping four feet straight up in the air.

The second-highest jump of the day was then performed by Georgia strength coach Dave Van Halanger, who bounded into the coaches office to pass on the news. For Van Halanger, the former long-time strength coach at Florida State, it was the highest vertical leap he had witnessed in his 20 years in the business.

"Coach Van Halanger barged in to tell us, and you could see how excited he
was,'' said Coach Mark Richt.

Said Bailey: "(Van Halanger) couldn't believe it. He told me the next day he couldn't get any sleep that night.''

Even Bailey admitted he doesn't have a real grasp on how high he jumped.

"I haven't really measured anything to see really how high it is,'' he said. "I just know everybody is talking about it as a pretty outstanding number.''

Added Richt: "All those Baileys can jump.''

Before the July 22 testing, Boss Bailey and Champ Bailey, one of his two older brothers to precede him as starters on the Georgia defense, shared the team vertical leap record at 42 inches.

During morning testing on July 22, receiver Reggie Brown claimed the record with a leap of 43 1/2 inches. That afternoon, Bailey obliterated Brown's short-lived mark.

"He had to defend the family honor,'' said Richt of Bailey.

For Bailey, the leap was another confirmation that he has fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he suffered on  his first play of the 2000 season. Bailey posted solid, but not necessarily star-caliber, numbers last season. He began to add more explosiveness to his game during the spring and says he is coming off the best summer workouts of his career.
"This is the best I've ever felt,'' Bailey said.

"I felt a lot more confidence (in the spring). At the end of the spring I was feeling a lot more explosive. That was one of the keys in the summer workouts, to get some size on me and get a little more explosive and work on the lower part of my body.''

Bailey hopes the vertical leap will help put an end to any lingering questions  about the condition of his knee.

"That's one of the first things I really thought about,'' he said. "I kind of hope it eliminated some of the questions about my knee because to me it happened almost two years ago now and it's kind of old to me now. It's time to move on from that because I'm just a completely new person now.''

Bailey and inside linebacker Tony Gilbert are expected to be the leaders of a defense that must recover from heavy losses in the secondary and at defensive end.

Linebacker has been a team strength through Bailey's five years, and as a result at times he has just blended in with such teammates as Kendrell Bell, Will Witherspoon, Orantes Grant and Adrian Hollingshed.

This year's projected starting linebackers are Bailey at the strongside spot, Gilbert in the middle and Chris Clemons at the weakside position.  A true freshman to watch is Marquis Elmore — like Bailey a product of Charlton County High School. Elmore has been widely projected as a defensive end, but Richt says Elmore will play middle linebacker even though Elmore now carries 260 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. Elmore may play some at end in pass-rush situations.

"(Elmore) is about 260, but he can still run and hit,'' Richt said. Elmore, Oconee ounty's Tony Taylor, Derrick White and others may be the future at linebacker, but if Georgia is to realize its hopes of moving up in the SEC East this year, Bailey needs to have a big year. Richt believes Bailey is ready to deliver.

"It's hard to play full speed (the first year) after an ACL injury,'' Richt said. "You're healthy, the strength is there, you're OK by the doctors to play and everything is fine, but for whatever reason the player is tentative and not ready to cut loose. The second year the player is better, plus Boss is a senior. I really see big things for Boss.''

Added Richt: "Boss is a sure tackler but there are times I would like to see Boss run through a guy more than he did a year ago. By the end of spring ball he was just running through a tailback to get through on blitzes. You could see by what he was doing that he was feeling better about that knee.'' Said Bailey: "I'm just happy I'm back at full strength.''

Charles Odum can be reached here:

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