No two players will have their hands on the football more frequently Saturday night than two Georgia products.
That isn’t a bold take, a Malcolm Mitchell prophesy or anything of the sort. It’s quite literal, seeing how David Andrews and Ben Jones will be the ones snapping it when the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans meet at Gillette Stadium.
It’s been a long time coming.
“I met Ben for the first time in high school. I looked up to him then before I even had an offer to Georgia,” Andrews, once a three-star recruit, told ESPN’s Mike Reiss during his Monday press conference in Foxborough, via Patriots.com. “I really respected the way Ben played, and I was fortunate enough to share a year with him at Georgia. He taught me a lot that year, and then even after that, we’ve stayed very close.”
Just a little less so this week – national championship anguish or not.
“Now we’re enemies,” added Andrews.
Jones made 49 starts at center for the Bulldogs from 2008 through 2011. Then, the freshman who sat behind him got into the middle of things in 2012, and Andrews proceeded to start 40 games up through 2014.
A strong line of succession it proved to be, with one driving to become the other from special teams to six-line packages to the pivot. Andrews saw action in 10 games during Jones’ senior campaign.
“I always admired how tough he played, and just really coming in my freshman year at Georgia and seeing him and trying to learn and seeing how he picked up the game,” Andrews said of Jones. “Obviously, it was a lot different than how I was as a freshman at Georgia, and I just admired how he seemed to kind of be a step ahead of people and trying to figure out what the defense was going to do. I really admired that, and it really kind of fueled my passion for that, I think more than what it was.”
Jones and Andrews became team captains and Rimington Trophy finalists during their tenures in Athens. The latter was named team MVP en route to going undrafted in 2015, and the former was named to the program’s all-decade team on the way to becoming a fourth-round pick in 2012.
“I really appreciate everything he helped me with,” said Andrews. “And seeing his leadership, things like that, while I was a young guy at Georgia I really looked up to and tried to learn a lot from.”
Both are long removed from blocking for the likes of running backs Knowshon Moreno and Todd Gurley, or quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray. But the learning has given way to applying.
Andrews, a first-year Patriots captain, has started 41 of his 44 appearances since entering the league. The four-year starter he succeeded at Georgia has gotten the nod in 75 of his 96, having spent four seasons with the Houston Texans prior to signing with the Titans ahead of 2016.
All of which leads them to the AFC divisional round.
They’ve been on the field for a combined 2,012 offensive snaps this season. Jones, 28, hasn’t missed one for the 10-7 Titans. And while he and the 25-year-old Andrews won’t log one simultaneously when the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff arrives, there’s something to be said for the fact they’re there in the first place.
The mentor and mentee, listed at 6-foot-3 and hailing from Alabama’s Bibb County and Georgia’s Wesleyan School, respectively, are not that far apart once again. Just not so much this week, according Andrews.
“No, not this week,” he said.