ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia's stout defenses in recent years have earned a nasty reputation. First-year defensive coordinator Willie Martinez doesn't want that to change, but he's putting a heavier emphasis this season on creating takeaways.
"That's our main focus," cornerback Tim Jennings said. "When the ball's in the air, our attitude is the ball belongs to us. Our focus isn't pass break-ups anymore. We really want to get the ball back to our offense and get them back on the field."
Georgia's defensive backs know all about the Bulldogs' lowly spot among Division I-A teams last year in total interceptions.
"One-hundred fourteenth in the nation," senior cornerback DeMario Minter said.
Minter was close. Georgia's five interceptions tied for 113th and was the program's lowest total since 1971. Current running backs coach Kirby Smart had five in 1998 and six in 1997 for the Bulldogs.
Only Baylor, Ball State and South Florida had fewer picks last season than Georgia. The Bulldogs were 73rd in turnover ratio, which included 17 takeaways.
KEARNEY OUT FOR YEAR: Freshman linebacker Tavares Kearney, already suspended one game for confronting an instructor, will miss the season with a knee injury.
The school announced that Kearney needs surgery to treat a chronic injury to the articular cartilage in his right knee.
The operation is scheduled for Wednesday, followed by an expected eight weeks on crutches. The Bulldogs will seek a medical exemption from the NCAA for 2005, which would give Kearney an additional five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.
Kearney faced school charges of disorderly conduct after an instructor accused him of cheating on a nutrition exam last month.
The instructor said Kearney twisted her wrist after she confiscated his camera cell phone because she suspected he was using it to cheat. He was cleared of cheating but agreed to disciplinary measures proposed by school officials, conceding he "did not handle the situation in the best way possible."
Coach Mark Richt also suspended Kearney for the opener against Boise State. Richt said the suspension will carry over to the first game in 2006.