He "has just quietly become one of our better football players – I think one of the better football players in the SEC," Richt said. "Certainly a guy that has become an outstanding leader for us."
Jones, who was rated a four-star prospect and the 10th-best defensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com when he came out of Northside High School in Warner Robins, is coming off a career-high 47 tackles and four sacks. He faces the important task this year of not only backing up those numbers, but also helping the Georgia defense to reach its goals – a Georgia defense that is expected to be one of the nation's best.
"I think we have a great group of guys, a great group of talent," Jones said. "We realize the people we have. We want to be recognized as one of the best defenses in the nation."
"Collectively, on defense, we all think the sky's the limit for us," he said. "We have a great group of guys that can come in and rotate. We're just trying to be the best that we can be, in the SEC and the nation. We're really trying to prove ourselves."
While Jarvis Jones and Rambo got most of the preseason acclaim, Jenkins and Abry Jones believe their job is just as important, he said.
"We pretty much just say, ‘Keep playing ball,'" Jones said. "Our plays will come to us when they come. We do our job. We all know that without us, they couldn't do their job and without them, we couldn't do ours. We really don't get caught up in all of the accolades or whatnot. We're just trying to do it all for the team."
Jones also feels a responsibility to carry the team through the early season, which will feature the suspension of cornerback Sanders Commings and the expected suspensions of safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree.
"It might affect us a little bit, but the defense has a great group of young guys who are ready to play," he said. "As a team, we have confidence in them stepping in. We really don't see too much of a setback."
Jones, who was named third-team preseason All-SEC by the league's coaches, comes into the season with momentum. He had four tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, against Auburn and then matched those numbers the next week against Kentucky to earn SEC defensive lineman of the week honors. He added seven tackles in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech and was named one of the team's most improved players.
Jones senses the same momentum in the defense as a whole, he said.
"I think we just have to keep building on what we built last year and just be more consistent from start to finish, from the first game to the last game," he said.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense will again be built around pressure, Jones said.
"We have to bring pressure week in and week out," Jones said. "We have to get the offense the ball as many times as we can. If we help them put points on the board, it makes the game easier for us on defense."
"The bad taste is all around on the team," he said. "The year before we went 6-7, and one of the things was we didn't finish. It was kind of hard to take that we went 10-0 and then we went to LSU and dominated in the first half and then lost the second half and lost to Michigan State.
"Coach Richt's mantra is ‘Finish the Drill' and that's something we didn't do last year."
That finish to the season spurred the team throughout the offseason, Jones said.
"It's definitely a much different atmosphere. The work ethic is crazy," he said. "We see the year that we came off of last year, and we're just trying to do our best to greatly improve it."