Jones Embracing Role

ATHENS – There isn't anyone in the Georgia locker room or the stands at Sanford Stadium who expects more of Reshad Jones than he expects of himself.

The third-year sophomore is in his first season as a starting safety, and despite leading the team with three interceptions, he isn't anywhere close to meeting his goals for the year.

Prior to the season, Jones had started just two games, but his wish list for the 2008 season still included earning All-SEC and All-America honors – goals he never considered unattainable.

"I had to set high expectations," Jones said. "I'm a competitor, so I like things like that. That's what made me want to come here and be great."

Eight games into the season, those lofty expectations seem like a long shot, but Jones is still working on his resume, and his case for national notoriety has been getting stronger each week.

The beginning of Jones' season at one of the defense's key positions didn't exactly go as planned. He struggled at times, and through five games he had just 18 tackles. It was a learning process, and a combination of his lofty expectations, Georgia's tough schedule and the weight of history all made it a steep path to success.

"At safety, it's like a quarterback," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "You've got to make all the calls, know the whole defense, and I think he understands it now, so he's feeling a lot more comfortable."

The turning point for Jones came at the low point for the Bulldogs.

After Georgia lost to Alabama on Sept. 27 – a game in which the Bulldogs' secondary was helpless against the Crimson Tide's aerial attack – Jones took a look at what awaited his team the rest of the season. Then took a longer look in the mirror.

"I looked at that game, and I knew we had a long season and a long road," Jones said. "I knew it was going to take a couple guys to step up and help the team move in the direction or the path we wanted to go in, and I wanted to be one of those guys."

Jones may be simplifying the process a bit. After all, most players don't make a major leap forward overnight. Surely the experience he had gained and the film he studied were key contributors in his growth.

Still, from one game to the next, Jones had become a different player.

In the three games since the loss to Alabama, Georgia has gone undefeated, and Jones has racked up 25 tackles and added two interceptions.

"He's really picking it up, and now he's seeing things and just reacting," Martinez said. "He's getting himself in more playmaking because he has great anticipation."

For Jones, however, it wasn't just about making plays.

The Atlanta native grew up watching his favorite team produce one legendary safety after another. He idolized former Bulldogs like Greg Blue and Sean Jones. When he arrived, he honed his craft under the tutelage of stars like Tra Battle and Kelin Johnson, who ended his career last season as the defensive leader of the No. 2 team in the nation.

Those players had made their mark at Georgia not by simply posting impressive statistics, but by making plays that are still talked about among Georgia fans years after they happened.

Jones' goal was to add his name to the long lore of great Georgia safeties.

"He started off rough a little bit when he came in as a freshman," Johnson said, "but he's learning how to finish, learning how to become that player that Greg Blue and Thomas Davis and Tra Battle and Sean Jones once were. He always made plays, but he's starting to make those plays when it's needed."

Those players that had come before him had one other quality, however – one that didn't come easily for Jones.

From Davis to Battle to Johnson, each had been a vocal leader on the defense, a player who led with his words and his game. In fact, few had embraced that role more than Johnson.

When Jones stepped into Johnson's starting safety spot this season, he wasn't just taking over on the field. The expectation was for him to step into Johnson's role in the locker room, too. It was a role Jones wasn't ready for.

"I guess it was just added pressure early for him, pushing that leadership role and pushing some of that playmaking role on him so soon," Johnson said. "Maybe because the coaches weren't used to him maybe being a little bit more laid back, more settled. Now he's learning, (he) has to start being that type of player."

Two months ago, Jones wasn't a leader. He was just a first-year starter getting comfortable with a role that was far more significant than any he had played before. The long shadow cast by Georgia's legacy of safeties simply complicated that adjustment.

It was that legacy, however, that first made Jones want to come to Georgia. It just took him a while to realize what he had to do to add his name to it.

"I think I'm starting to embrace that," Jones said. "Georgia's a safety system, and before Kelin it was Thomas Davis or Greg Blue. So he took over for them, and he had brought it down to me, and I feel like I'm stepping in and taking the role he had."

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