September 17, 2009

Atkins, Owens comfortable with their roles

The last place Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins thought they'd play when the season began was at defensive end.

But thanks to injuries at the position, that's just where they've been. At least for a little bit.

Atkins saw 17 snaps at defensive end against Oklahoma State, while Owens said he saw "33 or 34" against South Carolina.

"It was as big adjustment; it's completely different. You've got to be able to read different keys, different sets. It's hard. But if you play football, you've got to know how to play everywhere. I'm just happy that I was able to do what I could to help the team win," Owens said. "I'll do whatever it takes. I'll play offensive line if they need me to. I'm a team player and I'm just here to help Georgia win."

Head coach Mark Richt said the pair held their own.

"They were just in there to push that tackle back into the pocket, so to speak," Richt said. "They were not productive out there by any stretch as far as guys who are true edge rushers, but they did their job. With Geno, we wanted to try to stop some of that run game that they (Oklahoma State) like so much, a speed-option where a real strong defensive end could disrupt that part of their thinking."

Owens, who played defensive end in school, saw most of his action when Roderick Battle went out with a torn ACL in the second quarter.

Although Richt did not rule out either player seeing future time at end, he hopes that won't be necessary now that Justin Houston is back from his two-game suspension to start the year for violating team rules over the summer.

Atkins certainly agrees with that.

"Getting Justin back is huge, getting him back as part of our defense is huge," Atkins said. "I think he's going to be a guy who can get some pass rush for us. He's been grinding all preseason and I know he can't wait to get back. I think we see it out there on Saturday."

Atkins is expecting Houston to make an immediate impact.

The Statesboro native enjoyed an outstanding spring, an effort Atkins said carried on into the preseason.
"I would not put anything past him," Atkins said. "I think he could get two, three, maybe four sacks. Teams are not able this year to see any game film of him, so when he goes out there we'll see what happens."

Owens hopes Atkins is right, although the Florida native said it's still going to take entire defense pulling its weight against the Razorbacks.

"Justin is a great pass rusher who gives pressure on the edge, and hopefully collapse the edge to bring it all inside," Owens said. "We need him to be there. But we need everyone working hard if we want to be successful this season. Not one man is going to be the star of the team. It's going to take all of us."

The Bulldogs might need all 11 defensive players to bring down Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.

At 6-foot-7 and 238 pounds, Mallett reminds Atkins of former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, while Owens sees similarities between the Arkansas standout and former LSU star Jamarcus Russell.

"He's real physical. You can't just try to tackle him, you've got to try and run through them to get him down," Atkins said. "We've got to be physical. He might take a couple of hits and still not got down so we're going to have to get after him as a team, but the bigger they are, the harder the fall."

In Arkansas' season-opener against Missouri State, Mallett and freshman Tyler Wilson combined to throw for over 400 yards.

Owens said Georgia's defense knows it has a tall task (literally and figuratively) against the Razorbacks, but hopes the Bulldogs' experience against a quarterback making his first SEC start will pay dividends come Saturday night.

"We're on the hunt. We'll be trying to grab the quarterback and make plays," he said. "(Mallett) is a big guy, a strong arm, a great athlete. He's definitely a big talent. But this is his first SEC game. Our goal is to get after him."

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