ATHENS — Georgia’s J.J. Green is one of those delightful young men you simply enjoy running across every now and then in this business.
College football and the entitlement and idolatry that comes with it can sometimes rob these elite athletes of their joy, or at least that which they reveal to reporters. That’s definitely not the case with Green.
It’s evident that he is simply happy to be where he is and doing what he does. At the moment that’s play defensive back for the Bulldogs.
You’ll recall that Green was asked to play tailback last season, and he did it well. He came to Georgia out of Camden County as the proverbial “athlete,” with thoughts of him playing a slot-receiver position or possibly cornerback. But after Ken Malcome transferred and it became obvious that depth may be a concern in 2013, the Bulldogs decided to see what he could do at tailback.
Green came through in a big way. After Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall went down with early-season injuries, Green and fellow freshman Brendan Douglas were asked to carry the load in the backfield. And The 5-foot-9, 183-pound Green proved to be a dynamic play-maker carrying the football.
Green ended up starting two games and playing in all 13 on offense. He rushed for 384 yards — with a 5.6-yards per carry average — and scored three touchdowns. He also had 104 yards on 12 pass catches. Green had 17 carries in a win at Tennessee and 129 yards in a win over North Texas. He also ended up being the Bulldogs’ best kicker returner, averaging 24 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 48-yarder against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
The point is, Green was quite proficient at filling that role. And with the Bulldogs’ big guns still hobbled heading into next season, Georgia certainly could have continued to use him in that role.
But new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had recruited Green as a defensive back while Pruitt was at FSU last year. And he wanted Green back on his side of the ball here at Georgia. He approached Green after one of the Bulldogs’ mat drills last month about playing defense again.
Green’s response: “Sure.”
So far Green has had only two on-field practices with the defensive backs. Early on at least, he’s playing left cornerback and working with the No. 1 unit at the ballyhooed “star” position, or nickelback to most of the rest of us.
Green was among the defensive players I interviewed after Thursday’s practice. Here’s some of the highlights from this upbeat and optimistic young man:
Q: What has it been like playing on Jeremy Pruitt’s defense?
A: “You could say intense. Coach Pruitt wanted to make a point that first day practice that he was all about his business. But it went well. I learned a lot about the defense and started making some calls here and there and in the nickel packages. So it’s going well.”
Q: What went into the decision to move to defensive back?
A: “I thought about it. It was just a thing I wanted to do after the bowl game. I thought, ‘I could go to defense now. I could show them what I can do.’ One day after mat drills the coaches asked me, ‘you wanna play defense?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ So it was really my choice. If I didn’t want to play I could have stayed at running back.”
Q: Did they promise you some playing time if you moved over there?
A: “Nobody knows about playing time. Coach Pruitt just said nobody’s a starter right now. He’s just trying to put everybody in different places so he can look at them on film. So everybody’s going with the 1s, 2s and 3s and he’s evaluating every play. Right now I’ve just got to show I can play, be physical with the receivers and help with the run. They’re just seeing who can ball out.”
Q: Have you found it difficult to have to cram to learn the defense after having to pack in all that new knowledge on the offensive playbook last year?
A: “I mean everybody on the defense right now is learning Pruitt’s system. So step by step we’re just learning what to do. Right now he doesn’t want us in the playbook. He just wants us to perfect our craft. He doesn’t want us thinking about the play call. So we’re just going with the flow.”