June 25, 2009

Owens takes lessons from Erk

Inside the defensive team meeting at Georgia's Butts-Mehre Building, there's a larger-than-life photo of legendary Bulldog coach Erk Russell, blood trickling down the front of his forehead.

It's a famous picture, no doubt one long-time Georgia fans have seen on more than one occasion. But for players of the current Bulldog generation, Russell's exploits as Georgia's defensive coordinator are not that well-known.

Although most know who the late coach was, many do not understand the details and what makes him such a folk hero in Bulldog lore.

Jeff Owens is an exception.

During a recent interview, Owens spoke of Russell in reverent tones, letting reporters in on a little secret. The big senior defensive tackle has taken time to do some research of his own.

"I have. I think it was Easter Dinner, I was home and somebody threw on an old tape of Erk when he coached here and at Georgia Southern," Owens said. "Watching it, you really got a feel for what he was all about and what he meant to the program."

Owens laughed when asked if he would have liked to have played for Russell, who gained fame for butting heads with players to help get them fired up to play.

"Oh yeah, most definitely," Owens said.

Could he see current defensive coordinator Willie Martinez do such a thing?

"No. But I could see Coach T (Joe Tereshinski) do it," Owens laughed. "Oh yeah, most definitely Coach T would do it."

Although Russell passed away several years ago, Owens said the current Bulldogs would do well to heed his lessons of the past.

A little Russell mojo would serve Georgia well.

"The main thing we have to change is our attitude, and that's something we're doing," Owens said. "If we want to be a dominant defense, if we want to be the most dominant defense in the SEC, the nation, it's got to start up front with the inside guys. We're putting it on our shoulders to run this defense."

Along with Owens, Georgia's defensive line of Geno Atkins, Kade Weston, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Wood, Brandon Wheeling, Ricardo Crawford, plus freshmen Abry Jones, Derrick Lott and Kwame Geathers would appear to have enough broad shoulders to carry the load.

"Abry is catching on well as is Lott, but we're still trying to teach them some things before Coach (Rodney) Garner gets hold of them," Owens said. "We're just trying to motivate them and keep them going."

Owens said he, Atkins and Weston have warned the pair about how tough Garner can be.

"Right now they have no idea what's coming," Owens said. "They're going to have to want it. We've told them it's going to take a lot of effort. You can't coach effort. If you show effort, Coach G can work with you. If you're lazy, don't run to the ball, you're going to make it hard on yourself."

Geathers will receive the same message once he arrives.

Although Owens said he has not spoken to Geathers personally, Weston has and that Geathers is expected in town sometimes next week.

"It's going to be an eye-opener for him, too," Owens said.

As for his own health, Owens said he's ready fine and ready to go.

When asked if there was any way he could foresee not starting Georgia's opener at Oklahoma State, the 300-pounder gave his usual glib response.

"The only way I can say I won't if I go to Coach (Mark) Richt's (lakehouse at Lake Hartwell) and hit my head in the lake or fall of a jet ski," he said. "That would be the only way."

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