Q&A: J.J. Green plans to stand tall in Bulldogs’ secondary

J.J. Green has flourished in his role as a nickelback since switching over from offense. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

J.J. Green has flourished in his role as a nickelback since switching over from offense. (UGA photo by John Kelley)


ATHENS — J.J. Green is listed at 5-foot-9 on Georgia’s football roster. But so forthright and honest is the sophomore defensive back from Kingsland that he’ll actually correct people on his height.

“More like 5-8,” he says with a big smile.

Green doesn’t see his height – or lack of it – as a liability when it comes to his ability to defend opposing receivers from the “Star” position he currently holds in the Bulldogs’ secondary. In that role, Green or whoever happens to be in that spot often draws the most dynamic and versatile offensive play-makers, such as Clemson’s Sammy Watkins last year.

Green doesn’t believe his height should prevent him from doing that job well.

“Some of the greatest to ever do it, Ty Mathieu, Brandon Boykin, those guys are short,” Green said. “But they never let the height thing be a factor. If I see somebody taller than me I think he’s got something against me. I just want to beat them, every time. That’s just me though. I don’t want people to say there’s a height difference. If you’re a football player, you’re a football player. If you’re going to ball, you’re going to ball.”

Green has been having a ball for the Bulldogs since moving to defense after earning significant playing time as a tailback last season. He was the surprise of spring practice, earning the No. 1 job at the nickelback position.

Green has also been getting work at safety in Georgia’s base-defense package and will have a role on special teams as well.

Green answered a few questions for The AJC following a recent practice. …

Q: To what do you owe your quick rise on the depth chart under defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruit?

A: When you learn the playbook and show Coach he can trust you with the plays he’s calling without messing up – you’re going to mess up some, that’s just being a DB – but when you really get down and know it, then you’ll be great.

Q: What has been your secret to mastering the playbook?

A: “Some guys just got it. You look at the board, he draws up a play, you write it down. Some guys don’t have to write it down; they’ve been through it before. But most times if you study, you’re gonna know it, and when you get on the field you know what you’ve got.”

Q: What is it that Pruitt is looking for in a defensive back?

A: “When live bullets are coming at you, he wants to see how you react. That’s all it is, how are you going to react when somebody’s running full speed? How are you going to react when adversity hits you, like playing against Clemson? How are you going to react when he throws you out there in front of 90,000 fans and you’ve got some of the greatest receivers in college football coming at you, how are you going to react? That’s all it is.”

Q: What is it that you bring to the position?

A: “My competitive nature. Competing. I love competition. That’s why we play football. If you don’t want to compete, don’t play it. That’s all it is. The best guys out there, you’re going to compete against them. They’re going to get you better; you’re going to get them better. That’s how it is in practice. We’ve got the greatest wide receiver corps in college football. So when I’m going against guys like Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, some of them guys for three or four years, that’s going to make me better to go against anybody.”

Q: Have you gained confidence going against Georgia’s receivers?

A: “No doubt. Ever since I moved to DB, I’ve been going against Chris Conley. He’s one of the greatest wide receivers in football, if not the greatest. He’s a freak of nature. So he just makes me better. After playing him, I can just relax and let the game come to me.”

Q: Are you in the competition to return kicks?

A: “I don’t know. Highly classified. … I wouldn’t mind returning, but I also want to block a punt. I haven’t blocked a punt since high school and that comes easy to me. I’d rather have Isaiah back there, to be honest.”

Q: Isaiah McKenzie, the freshman? What have you seen from him?

A: “The guy’s fast and quick. Playing against him, going out there in competition, two-on-two and one-on-one and just watching the guy run, he’s not just a straight-line runner. He can make moves, but he’s also fast and quick at the same time. Y’all will enjoy watching him this year. Y’all will be having him up here (for interviews) real quick. That guy’s gonna make somebody some money someday.”

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