ATHENS — If indeed Leonard Floyd’s career at Georgia is drawing to a close, this properly sums up how dynamic and powerful a player he has been: There are three plays he consider his best memory at Georgia, and none of them are the 96-yard fumble return touchdown.
Partly because Georgia lost that game, at Tennessee in October. And partly because it wasn’t up to his standards.
“Yeah I won’t consider that a top 3 because I know I can run faster than that, for sure,” Floyd said. “I’m pretty down on myself about that play.”
He also didn’t celebrate after the play.
“I was tired,” Floyd said. “I was dog tired.”
Floyd’s three-year career at Georgia still has at least two games left – Saturday at Georgia Tech and then whatever bowl the Bulldogs play in. And who knows, maybe Floyd will surprise everybody and return for his senior year. Not likely, but few thought he would return for this year.
And for the record Floyd was asked for his three memories, rather than volunteering them. There was one for each season (so far):
His freshman year, when he sacked LSU’s Zach Mettenberger to force the fourth down that ultimately sealed Georgia’s win over the No. 6-ranked Tigers.
Floyd’s sophomore year against Auburn, when he had a sack and forced fumble, but mainly because it was teammate Todd Gurley’s return.
“I’ll always cherish that game,” Floyd said.
The third favorite memory was this past Saturday: On consecutive plays in overtime Floyd made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage in overtime, as Floyd and Georgia’s defense essentially won the game.
“I felt my opportunity was gonna come to win the game, or either put somebody else in position to make a play,” Floyd said.
This hasn’t been quite the breakout season that was expected of Floyd, who was honorable mention All-SEC last year. Even when he was named one of the five finalists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker, it was surprising – including to Floyd. He doesn’t rank in the top 10 in the SEC in sacks, tackles-for-loss or tackles.
But it may not really be his fault, and he’s come on quite strong lately.
It was a slow start to this season, as Floyd alternated between several roles, including inside linebacker. The emergence of Jake Ganus and Tim Kimbrough at inside linebacker – and a nagging injury to Jordan Jenkins – has had Floyd playing almost exclusively at outside linebacker the latter half of the season. That’s where Floyd can make more plays: He had 3.5 tackles-for-loss over the first five games. He has 7.5 since then.
“He’s much more home outside, I think it’s easy to see that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
“I always enjoy coming off the edge because that’s why I came to Georgia, to rush the passer,” Floyd said. “I always feel good doing that.”
Teammates – who just call him “Flo” – have also described Floyd as much more vocal this year. But he became less vocal off it, or at least with the media. His interview after Monday’s practice was only the second time this season, and the first time was following a game, so this was the first time to really sit down and talk with him.
“I’ve been mostly trying to focus on the season, and not all the extra media and all that stuff,” Floyd said.
So was coming back for this season a success? His NFL stock appears to be the same: Possible first-rounder, depending on how draft workouts go. (And again, Floyd said he hasn’t made a decision.) And while Georgia didn’t win a championship – which he said would be his reason for returning next year – Floyd has been a big part of a defense that now ranks ninth nationally, and third in the SEC behind Alabama and Florida.
“It was another year to play for the G, which I love. I love playing for coach Mark Richt. And without him I wouldn’t be in the position I’m at right now. So playing for him, if we didn’t win a championship, I’m gonna play for the seniors.”