Friday, February 27, 2009

Kicking it with Georgia's Jeff Owens

This is a story I did with Chris Low from ESPN on this past Wednesday.

Georgia's Jeff Owens was like any other Bulldog a year ago. He couldn't wait for the season to begin. Jeff Owens is hoping to bounce back from a torn ACL. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the country, and Owens was one of the anchors of the defense from his tackle position. He was primed for a big senior season.
But in the first quarter of the opener against Georgia Southern, his season was over. He tore the ACL in his right knee while running to make a play. He jumped over a player, landed awkwardly on his right knee -- and just like that -- was done for the season. Because Owens hadn't previously redshirted, he was eligible to return to Georgia for the 2009 season and elected to do so rather than test the NFL waters. Projected as a high NFL draft pick before his injury, Owens will team with Geno Atkins to give Georgia the best tackle tandem in the SEC. Owens is still working his way back to full health, but said he's getting close. Here's my conversation with the 6-foot-3, 298-pound senior, who had started in 15 straight games before his injury and will be an integral part of the Georgia defense in 2009:

What percentage are you right now coming off that knee injury?
Jeff Owens:
I'd have to say I'm about 75 or 80 percent, around that area. I'm doing close to everything. I'm running now, and that's a big plus. I'm getting my strength back, and everything is coming along well.

How difficult was last season, especially watching the defense struggle at times?
It was rough; your senior year and you get hurt and you know you could have helped your teammates out there. But you've got to bounce back and weather the storm. Injuries always happen. They happen every year, and it unfortunately happened to me. It wasn't just me, either. We had a lot of guys get hurt last year.

When was it the hardest for you?
When they'd get ready to go on the road and I couldn't travel with the team. I'd just have to sit back at home and watch. That hurt me more than you will know. I think it was the lowest point in my life so far. I knew I just had to have the courage to get back out there and work hard. There's nothing fun about rehabbing an ACL tear.

With you and Geno in the middle, what are you guys capable of on the defensive line next season?
I see big things. We've got a lot of potential up front. We're back, and we're going to be 100 percent healthy. We've also got Kade Weston. He's going to be healthy, and don't forget about DeAngelo Tyson. He played a lot last year as a true freshman. We have a lot of talent, and I think there's going to be a lot of competition. Guys are going to compete, and we're going to get better week in and week out.

What's critical for this defense in 2009?
It's still early, but one of the things I'll be looking for is that we just can't give up the big plays like we did last year. We gave up like 38 big plays last year, and that's too many. If you're going to be a great defense, you've got to minimize the big plays.

What are your individual goals, and what areas have you concentrated on?
Just getting healthy and getting back 100 percent mainly. But I want to be better with hand placement and working on my technique and fundamentals and trying to be more of a student of the game.

Was there something in the water with all the injuries Georgia suffered last year?
After one guy went down, it just kept going like it was a cycle. It was like, 'Who's going to be next?' It was like the movie, "Friday the 13th." Who's he going after next?

Will you be stronger as a team because you battled through all those injuries last year?
JO: We know what we have to do. It takes all of us to be successful, all 11 on defense. It can't just be one unit. We all have to be great if we're going to have the kind of success we want.

You recently started a blog -- Jeff Owens: The Real Deal -- that's heavy on Georgia football. You even interview some of your teammates. How did that get started?
I just wanted to let everybody know the truth about Georgia football. Everybody wants to know the insides and outsides, and you always hear rumors about this guy or that guy. I figured I'd let everybody know the truth.

What kind of response have you gotten?
JO: It's been good. I got 1,000 hits in one day. It's important to me to let people know what it means to wear the "G" and the stuff we go through as student-athletes in our daily lives.

What gave you the idea?
I saw one of my friends had one, and that gave me the initial idea. One day after football, I plan on being a sports talk show host like Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN, so this is good training.

With Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno both gone, there won't be the kind of lofty expectations for the Bulldogs next season as there were a year ago. How will that impact the team?
I like being the underdog. When you're the underdog, you're gunning for teams. When you're that team, everybody's gunning for you