Monday, August 31, 2009

Owens, Atkins opposites in terms of volume, but make same noise on field

Owens, Atkins opposites in terms of volume, but make same noise on field
Sound of Success
By Marc Weiszer Story updated at 3:35 pm on 8/27/2009

Kelly Lambert
Georgia’s Jeff Owens, left, and Geno Atkins will provide a force for the Bulldogs at defensive tackle this season. Both are expected to be NFL draft prospects after the season.

Kelly Lambert
Georgia’s Jeff Owens, right, is known for his boisterous, outgoing personality, while Geno Atkins has a quiet demanor.

Waiting for Jeff Owens to arrive for an interview and wondering. Is he in a deep slumber? Dreaming of sacking Tim Tebow?
Inquiring minds want to know after reading his midday Tweet: "It is time for me to take my afternoon nap ttyl!!!!!"
The Georgia defensive tackle shows up on the scene and offers confirmation that his more than 700 followers already knew - that he was indeed catching some zzz's.
"I was taking a nap," Owens said. "That's what it's for, to tell the world."
Owens is a 6-foot-3, 300-pound social network all by himself. He's got his own blog. He's embraced Twitter, even though his teammates might be surprised since he doesn't really seem like a 140-character-or-less type of guy.
"He's a loudmouth. You always hear him," said Kade Weston, Owens roommate the past two years.
Geno Atkins - the other force to be reckoned with at defensive tackle in Georgia's starting lineup next to Owens - is a cell phone turned to silent by comparison.
"I used to tell people he would be home and I didn't even know Geno was there," said his mother, Sandra Atkins. "He has two sisters and it's total opposite with the girls. They are running all over the place."
Florida's star linebacker Brandon Spikes bowed out of a scheduled trip to SEC Media Days - with nearly 1,000 media members in attendance- because he was camera-shy.
Owens went for the second straight year and would probably be fine making an annual appearance.
A few weeks earlier, he greeted reporters in Athens by saying, "You guys want to talk to the QB killer?"
No wonder The Sporting News tabbed Owens as the best personality in the SEC.
"Jeff always keeps you laughing," senior defensive end/linebacker Marcus Washington said. "He's a big ol' clown."
The talk of the town is what his mother calls him, Jeff says.
"I love meeting new people, hanging out with people," Owens said. "I'm a very outgoing guy."
"Jeff's the life of the party," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "I know he can be a little bit annoying probably because he talks alllllll the tiiiiiime. I'm sure some people would like to turn down the volume. He could probably get one of those nuisance law tickets that they give out in town."
Over before it started
Owens' volume was turned off last year on the eighth defensive snap of the season against Georgia Southern.
The preseason No. 1 Bulldogs lost arguably their best defensive lineman with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
So after months of rehabbing, Owens is back for a second senior year.
"I appreciate it more," Owens said. "I appreciate the game because it can be taken away from you like this (snapping his fingers), with a blink of an eye."
Atkins, who blew up as a sophomore when he totaled 71/2 sacks, became the player opposing coaches knew they had to stop on the Bulldogs' defensive front. He didn't have a sack last year and his tackles for loss were nearly cut in half, but he still made second-team preseason All-SEC.
Without Owens, the 6-1, 290-pound Atkins drew more double teams.
"Not having his presence really hurt our defense," linebacker Rennie Curran said.
"I missed him," Atkins said. "I missed his personality, I missed his input, his motivational speeches. He gets the teams riled up in the locker room and the meeting room."
Coach Mark Richt considers Owens "a very spirited player, a guy that can rally people around you."
Except it's not easy leading when you're not in the thick of the battle.
"It was tough just watching from the sidelines knowing there's nothing that I can do," Owens said. "I'm helpless. It's hard to motivate people from the sidelines when you're not playing. It was a tough time in my life and I'm happy I'm past that and I can get back out there and play."
Owens made only one road trip last season, watching with teammate Brandon Wood as Florida pummeled Georgia 49-10 in Jacksonville.
"It's a sight to see from the stands," he said.
Owens has read up on players who have returned from ACL injuries, including former Miami running back Willis McGahee.
The injury taught Owens never to take things for granted.
"I think I'm going to be a new-and- improved Jeff Owens," he said. "Going to be more vocal, going to be a big-time leader of this team."
South Florida days
As far as Atkins can remember, the first time he crossed paths with Owens was at a high school track meet when they competed in the shot put and discus.
Owens grew up in Sunrise, Fla., outside of Fort Lauderdale, and Atkins lived about 15 miles away in Pembroke Pines.
"He was really loud and thought he was going to win the meet," Atkins said. "They had some kind of catchphrase that him and his friend were doing every time they would throw."
Atkins bested Owens in both events, including a "50-something (foot) throw" in the shot, an event in which Atkins competes for the Georgia track team.
Owens got the better of Atkins in football in a Broward County matchup. Owens still remembers precisely not only that his Plantation High team beat Atkins' St. Thomas Aquinas team 21-3 in 2003 when Owens was a junior, but the win happened after a storm delay. The next year the game was washed away by Hurricane Frances. Gene Atkins Jr. didn't dedicate himself to football until the ninth grade, even though his father, Gene Sr., was an NFL safety with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. "I was big as a kid and would have had to play with bigger kids," Atkins said. "Mom and Dad didn't feel like that was safe." Atkins played offensive guard as a freshman; defensive line and linebacker as a sophomore; middle linebacker as a junior; and defensive tackle as a senior. Georgia, which missed out on some players at the position in recruiting, turned to Atkins late in the recruiting calendar. Miami, Florida and Florida State never had Atkins on their radar.
A year earlier, Owens turned down all three of those schools.
Owens had often gone with his father, Billy Jones, to Miami games.
"For Jeff to come to Georgia, he really had to buck his dad," Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "Grandma was probably my hardest sell."
Billy wanted Jeff to go to Florida and Jeff's grandmother, Annie Dozier wanted Florida State. Jeff's mom, Lillie Jones, just wanted whatever her baby wanted, Billy said.
Owens' first official recruiting visit was to Georgia for the Georgia Tech game in 2004.
"The fan base was completely different than Miami," Owens said. "Everybody loved Georgia. I loved Georgia." Owens hosted Atkins the following year.
"I had Jeff take him out," Garner said. "I don't think anybody knew anything about what this kid was thinking. I couldn't tell you at his house a few times what he was thinking."
Sandra Atkins wasn't even sure if her son wanted to play college football.
" 'Well, yeah, if I have the body for it, I might as well do it,' " he told her.
On an information sheet he filled out as a freshman, Atkins wrote down his nickname as "Geno" and that's what he started going by at Georgia.
Two years ago, Owens started calling Atkins "180" because of his 180-degree turn since he got to campus, but most of his noise still comes on the field.
"Sometimes, it's hard to get Geno to talk," said defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, who recruited Atkins. "He's better, though. He smiles now."
Candy money and NFL money
Airheads and Blow Pops.

Jeff Owens hawked them to his classmates at Plantation Middle School.
He bought them at the store and sold them even though such activity wasn't permitted.
"We were in class and a lot of kids were eating candy," Owens said. "One of the teachers was like 'Where is the candy coming from? Who's passing out candy?' "
A partner in crime fessed up. That was the end of that ring, which Owens figured brought in about $20 for Christmas presents. At Plantation High, Owens took a turn as John Proctor in "The Crucible." If Owens doesn't turn out to be a sports radio host, he says he may give acting a whirl. Of course, the NFL should come calling for both Atkins - a projected first-round pick - and Owens - a top senior prospect before his injury last season.
Owens' parents advised him after the 2008 Sugar Bowl to enter the draft after his junior season. He came back to Georgia. "Even after the Hawaii game, we were telling him that we thought it was the right time," said Billy Jones, self-employed for 20 years in stucco and plastering. "We thought he would come out graded pretty high, but they never got the paperwork in. ... He changed his mind for some reason and his knee got injured."
Atkins' mother told him during last season that unless he was a likely top-10 overall pick, to come back in 2009 and get the free education.
While Mathew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Asher Allen left after their junior seasons, Atkins made an early decision to stay put. "We made the right decision," said Sandra Atkins, who works in construction management for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. "We looked at where some of the guys that were ranked ahead of him landed, late second round, why not stay and improve your chances?"

Fish tales for Atkins, Owens

Billy Jones taught Jeff how to fish in the Florida Everglades, where they still try to hook bass, crappie and blue gills.
"I still take him out there and beat him up," Jones said.
Owens and Atkins have their own fish story from three years ago.
It seems that they went night fishing along with Dale Dixson, a former Georgia defensive tackle.
"Small boat," Atkins said. "Size of a tub. We're all big guys. We all sat on a different side of the boat so it wouldn't tip over."
At about 10:30 p.m., they used a flash light to guide them on the lake. "Geno didn't know how to fish," Owens said. "We were out there fishing, shooting the breeze. There were some spiders. Some big long spiders that crawled in the boat. He panicked. I don't know why because the spiders weren't going to mess with him."
Atkins begs to differ. "I don't like spiders, so I'm freaking out," he said.
That turned out to be the least of their problems. A rope used to anchor the boat got tangled up in the motor. "We were stranded out there for 30 or 40 minutes until we got the knot untangled," Atkins said. Atkins says he hasn't gone fishing since.
Potent combo

Owens and Atkins are the only pair of defensive tackles from the same team on the 40-man preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy for the nation's top interior lineman.
"I think we can be one of the top defensive talents in the nation," Atkins said. "Both of us have strong attributes. Jeff is very strong off the ball. He's powerful. He commands a strong double team. I'm quick off the ball, powerful. No team's going to be able to say we're going to gameplan on Jeff solely, because he'll have me right there helping out being destructive."
Garner said teams can't concentrate on "just taking 56 (Atkins) out of the game. You've got to take 95 (Owens) out of the game, too. ... One of them guys is going to be one-on-one. If you're the one that's one-on-one, you've got to win. You've got to be prideful enough to know I've got to win that one-on-one battle." Georgia's defense, a trouble spot in a 10-3 season last year, will look to bounce back with its strength in the middle, which includes Weston in the interior rotation.
"Because we run so well, the nice thing is you want the ball going east and west, you don't want the ball going north and south," Martinez said. "If you're able to do that and push it, then you've got a chance to have success." Every formidable defensive tackle tandem at Georgia will be compared to Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, who went No. 6 and No. 13 respectively in the 2001 NFL Draft in 2001. Richt used the word "dominating" to describe Atkins play this spring. Garner calls him a "a very, very, very powerful guy," with great leverage and center of gravity who has just scratched the surface. "I think he's really relied on his God-given ability and has not perfected his game like he should," Garner said. "He knows that. He really knows if he really paid attention to the little things and was very detailed (oriented), he could be a special cat." Atkins is gearing up for what he sees as a special season for both him and Owens.
"If we both stay healthy," Atkins said, "we're both going to have a presence where teams are going to have to respect us." Added Owens: "We're going to dominate. We're going to dominate big, the two of us." The outgoing one and the understated one.
"I guess you could say they're like night and day," Marcus Washington said, "but on the field they're like thunder."