ATHENS — Kwame Geathers is making a break from his family’s rich tradition of defensive ends.
Geathers, a sophomore, is emerging as No. 19 Georgia’s first-string nose tackle. Two older brothers are currently NFL defensive ends. His uncle, Jumpy Geathers, had 62 sacks in 13 NFL seasons as a defensive end using his “forklift” power move to earn a reputation as one of the league’s strongest players.
Kwame Geathers (6-6, 350) is strong enough to copy his uncle’s trademark move of picking up and carrying offensive linemen, but he is learning he must bring more than raw pass-rushing power to the middle of Georgia’s three-man defensive line.
The Bulldogs need a big run-stopper in the middle of the line. To be effective, Geathers has had to learn he has to keep his shoulder pads low.
“That’s the biggest key, at 6-foot-6, trying to stay low and use my hands,” he said.
Geathers had only seven tackles in eight games as a redshirt freshman last year as he adjusted to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.
He had a breakthrough in spring practice and has continued the momentum in preseason drills. He and newcomer John Jenkins give Georgia two massive run-stoppers at nose tackle.
Coach Mark Richt acknowledged on Monday that some members of his staff assumed that Jenkins (6-4, 342) would be an immediate starter.
Instead Geathers, who was named the team’s MVP on defense in spring practice, has continued his emergence this summer.
“The day we signed Jenkins, I think most of the coaches would have said Jenkins would probably be the guy, but then after spring ball we saw Kwame wasn’t going to lay down and just let somebody take his job,” Richt said.
“So that’s great. Competition is great. The depth at that position is good.”
Football is a way of life for the Geathers family in Georgetown, S.C.
Robert Geathers, who played at Georgia from 2001-03, has 27.5 sacks in seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Clifton Geathers played at South Carolina before he was Cleveland’s sixth-round draft pick this year.
Then there is Jumpy Geathers, who played for New Orleans, Washington, Atlanta and Denver and continues to set the football-first tone as the brothers’ uncle.
Kwame Geathers’ current challenge of keeping Richt, Grantham and defensive line coach Rodney Garner happy may be a snap when compared with meeting his uncle’s expectations.
“My uncle, he’s kind of tough,” said Kwame Geathers with a big smile. “Every time you see him, the first thing is football. It’s ‘Let me see your stance.’ First thing. It’s not even ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ It’s ‘Down in your stance. Let me see it. When are you coming by my house and let me work with you?’ Things like that.
“It’s always football. He loves football. He always talks about football. He’s always thinking about football. With him and my family, it’s always like that.”
Geathers forced a fumble and had four tackles, including two for losses, in the G-Day spring game. Some suggested he was motivated by the pending arrival of Jenkins this summer.
Geathers and his coaches say he also needed the year to learn the new defense.
“He got a year older, kind of saw what he wanted to do, saw we were going to go out and recruit somebody who could do it,” Grantham said. “Maybe the combination of all that, I’m not sure. Definitely there was a change in his mentality from one year to the next and he’s really doing a good job.”
Geathers said he and others on defense are playing with more confidence.
“It’s my second year in the defense,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for everybody on the field. I think everybody knows how to move faster, everybody knows how to play faster.
“It was just knowing what I’m doing. That’s the biggest thing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to play slow out there.”
The emergence of Geathers and the addition of Jenkins allowed DeAngelo Tyson to move from nose tackle to defensive end. Tyson had to return to nose tackle for one practice on Friday when Geathers missed the session after taking a blow to his head and Jenkins was out with a left hamstring injury.
Geathers returned on Monday.
Richt said Geathers has the edge over Jenkins in experience and conditioning.
“There’s a mental aspect of it, too, just to fight through a tough practice, fight through being coached hard, fight through trying to figure out what to do,” Richt said.
“I think John, once the smoke clears and he really understands exactly what to do, down after down, he’ll get much better. He already has his moments, but he also has times where he looks lost and he gets knocked off the ball because of that.”
Richt said he expects Jenkins to play “some meaningful snaps” behind Geathers in the Sept. 3 opener against No. 5 Boise State.
“I’m sure as the season goes along I think John is going to improve, I would say dramatically,” Richt said.