Safeties finding their own way

ATHENS – They won't say it publicly, or at least they won't say it in so many words, but Kelin Johnson and Tra Battle are tired of hearing about the ghosts of safeties past.

Johnson, a junior, is Georgia's second-leading tackler, and Battle, the senior from Mary Persons High School, is the Bulldogs' third-leading tackler. Despite their 39 and 35 stops, respectively, and two sacks each, Johnson and Battle mostly hear about what they don't do, and that's hit opponents hard enough.

The difference between the Bulldogs' starting duo this year and the likes of Greg Blue or Thomas Davis or Sean Jones is striking, or not striking in this instance. And everyone from the Georgia coaches to fans in the stands have pointed it out.

"I think we're hitting about as hard as we can hit. I just don't know if we have the body behind the hits we had in the past," Coach Mark Richt said. "We're a little undersized, but I don't think we're giving any less effort. We just don't have the ability to make it sting and knock balls out like we've had in the past."

That comparison is starting to wear on Johnson, a first-year starter, and Battle, a former walk-on who's in his second year as a starter.

"Greg Blue was Greg Blue. Thomas Davis was Thomas Davis," Johnson said. "Tra Battle's going to be Tra Battle, and Kelin Johnson's going to be Kelin Johnson."

That's as close as either one will come to saying to the media, or even their own coaches, "Enough already."

Johnson, 194 pounds, and Battle, 176 pounds, have made enough mistakes in coverage this year in Bulldog losses to open themselves up to criticism, but to knock their big-hit ability hardly is fair.

"Blue and Davis right now are playing linebacker in the NFL," Richt said. "That's what they were, they were linebackers, and when they came up to lay the wood on you, it was pretty devastating."

The two most physical safeties on Georgia's team this year are true freshmen Quintin Banks, a graduate of Houston County High School, and Reshad Jones, Richt said. Both those players are redshirting this season because "you've got to know what you're doing, too," Richt said.

Neither Johnson nor Battle is expected to lose their starting job anytime soon, if at all, but sophomore CJ Byrd probably will get more playing time starting this week.

There is a way, Battle said, to end all the talk.

"I'm sure if we go out and get two picks a game the rest of the season people won't be talking about Greg Blue and Thomas Davis being big hitters," he said. "They'll say, ‘You're better than Thomas Davis and Greg Blue because you caught more picks than them.' I believe each player brings their own thing, their own contribution to the team. Maybe we're not big hitters, maybe that's not what we bring, maybe it's our vocal aspect or our hustle aspect."

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