UGA Football

Smart, Bulldogs Preview Spring Practice

Kirby Smart
UGA head coach Kirby Smart.

Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, spent time with media on Tuesday previewing the 2016 spring practice slate. Below are comments from Tuesday’s media availability.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement…
“I’m very pleased with the offseason program, first and foremost. Coach (Scott) Sinclair and his staff have given us really good juice and energy. I’m really pleased with where the players are and the team is right now as far as (being) in shape, toughness, and doing the offseason conditioning. We’re a little over halfway academically in this semester. I do want you to realize that these guys are students first, and they’re presented with a lot of challenges, especially during spring practice academically with tutors, appointments and that kind of stuff. But they’re over halfway, and I’m really pleased with where they are when it comes to (academics).

“We’re coming off Spring Break with tremendous enthusiasm. We’re headed into spring ball. We’re fired up. Fifteen practices ahead of us. We’re looking forward to that. We continue a climb that was started with the offseason conditioning today. I’m one of those people that believe when you’re climbing something, you don’t really notice people until you’re at or near the top. We’re not there. We’re not at or near the top yet. But even when you’re climbing something, every step is just as important as those last two or three. Today is just the beginning of one of those steps. I’m telling our kids we’ve got 15 practices. This is not the first step. The first step was the offseason conditioning program. This is one of the many steps. You don’t get noticed, you don’t get recognized until you’re at or near the top. We’re not there.

“Obviously we want to start that climb, those steps, today in the right direction towards building what we hope to build. Each kid has responded really well. They’ve been very compliant with what we wanted to do. They’ve been working their tail off. We’re hoping to find out more about each and every player throughout these 15 practices we’ve got ahead of us. We can only get one practice in today, we can’t get all 15 in. We’re hoping to temper some enthusiasm out there. We don’t have full pads on. We have helmets and shorts on, which makes this a challenge sometimes to practice that way because we all know football is not played that way. I’ll open it up for questions, excited about y’all being here.”

On the quarterback situation…
“There’s no timetable for the quarterbacks. Great question, as far as how we’re going to manage it. As far as today, Greyson (Lambert) will go with the ones, Brice (Ramsey) will go with the twos, Jacob (Eason) will go with the threes. From there we’re going to decide each day how we’ll do the reps. We have a lot of reps in practice, the way we structure the practice. Each guy will get to throw with all the receivers, the way that practice is structured, but we have to have a guy going with each group. We’re going to evaluate those guys each day. We’re going to encourage them to worry about each day getting better, not worrying about the result of each day. Coach (Jim) Chaney and I have had in-depth conversations about how we’ll practice. I think the biggest thing you can do at that position is structure the practice so you get to see each guy the right amount of time. Y’all are concerned a lot more about who’s going with what group when that’s not as important to us. It’s what each guy’s doing within his group that’s a lot more important. We’ll structure practice so we get to see them progress as we go along.”

On the philosophies on offense and defense…
“We want to be physical and we want to be explosive on offense. We’ve got to be able to run the ball. How do we do that? Today’s not the day to go out there and run the ball. We just don’t have enough equipment on to do that. That identity has got to be created through being able to run the ball. We’ve got to figure out what these players can do before we can figure out who we are. To an extent you could say you should know. Yeah, we’ve been through offseason conditioning, we’ve been through workouts, but to say that I know what our groupings are going to be – is it going to be a three-wide grouping, two tight ends, two-wide, two backs – I have no idea until we found out more about our personnel. The identity—we’ve got to be able to run the ball, we’ve got to have explosive passes, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball down the field. You’re going to say that’s broad, I’m going to say we don’t know until we find out more about our personnel. We don’t make our personnel fit Jim Chaney’s offense. We can’t do that.

“Defensively, it’s very simple. We’ve got to not make many mental errors. We’ve got to be able to go fast because teams are going to go super fast on us. We’ve got to be really sharp. We’ve got to be really smart to not make mistakes and not give up big plays. In this day and age, the teams that give up explosive plays and don’t get turnovers are the ones that get in trouble. We’re going to really emphasize that this spring and create an identity through that. We’re going to have a 3-4 base, but we’ll also have 4-3. Everybody said Alabama was 3-4. We were 4-3 over 60 percent of the time. The similarities will be with 3-4 and 4-3. You’ll say what percentage. It depends on what the offense is doing. So I can’t answer that question. We will have position meetings out of a 3-4 shell, where there will be outside backers and inside backers, but every outside backer has to have a role. Is he a defensive end or is he an inside backer and sub? So we build the defense that way where they get reps in practice at both. They’re kind of hybrid players. That’s no change really from what they did last year, to be honest.”

On his expectations and message to the team…
“The toughest thing to do in doing that – my objective is to get the most out of this team that I can. My expectation is for them to do the best job they can each day of being the best football player that they can. I tell them each day, every guy yesterday, don’t come out here thinking that you’re going to win the SEC East or the SEC tomorrow. That’s not the goal. The goal is to get better each and every day. Our objective as coaches is to get the most out of each team we coach. The best way for us to do that is to have the best practice we can have today. Be where your feet are. We’re centered around that today. A lot of enthusiasm. I’m excited about getting these players out there because they’ve been dying to get out there. That’s our ultimate goal for these guys as we move forward.”

On handling expectations…
“I think treating every day as if it has a history and life of its own, meaning what happened yesterday, whether we won or lost, so what? We’re moving forward. Whatever’s behind us is behind us, and we’re trying to move forward. The expectation is to worry about what you’re doing right now. Certainly a lot higher expectations with what they’ve been through the last few years at Alabama. My expectations for our guys is to be the best we can be every day and not put a defined goal of winning this many games or winning the SEC East. That’s hypothetical. I want them to worry about the here and now and the whole process of getting to that. That’s the most important thing to me, for them to understand we can’t win the Spring Game today. We can’t get practice 15 in today. We can only achieve one thing, which is practice one, and go in the right direction today.”

On the secondary…
“I’m looking for great competition because there’s some young talent in the secondary that may be as talented or more talented than a guy ahead of them when it comes to jumping, running fast, but maybe they don’t have as much experience. There’s great competition there. We told them yesterday nobody’s job is safe on defense or offense. This is going to be a totally competitive environment where every position is up for competition. If you don’t compete every day then you’ll be moved. We want to create that competition. I think competition breeds a little more success. We’re going to challenge those guys in the secondary to compete out there. The guys that have been around and played a lot of snaps, they have no guarantee of keeping those snaps because there are some talented guys behind them and we’re going to let them play. We’ll keep it simple for them and let them go.”

On defensive changes…
“I hate to put a percentage on anything. There’s a lot of verbiage that has stayed the same, that I’m very comfortable with, that Mel (Tucker) is very comfortable with, that overlapped with Jeremy (Pruitt). There’s also certain things that we’ve changed since Jeremy left Alabama that we have now brought here. To say 50-50 might be fairly accurate right now. We’ve only gone through day one, day two, day three installs. So there’s a lot of continuity there, but I’d say it’s probably 50 percent the same, where the kids are going to hear that and say ‘I know exactly what that is. Oh, wait a second, what does that word mean?’ But it’s not starting over by any means.”

On learning Georgia’s team by watching tape…
“We gave them all a clean slate. We said we watched you on tape, we’ve seen your resume on the tape. We’re starting off these offseason conditioning programs with a clean slate. If you’re a guy that we thought was poor effort on tape you’re going to get every opportunity to show us that’s not true. We’re going to take you at what you do. What you do on the field is going to tell us a lot more than what you’ve done in the past. Some of the guys have bought into that, and some of the perceptions of players that we thought were one way, they haven’t been that way. We’re going to keep demanding excellence of them, making them compete. When things get tough, it gets 83 degrees today and they’re tired, we’re going to find out a lot about the guys, especially when they get pads on. We’re not trying to use any preconceived notions on anybody. We’re trying to observe for ourselves and give them a clean slate.”

On building excitement for the Spring Game…
“I think it shows the energy and passion level for a united Bulldog Nation, which is what I’m trying to achieve on G Day. I’m still trying to challenge everyone to come out. There’s no reason why we can’t fill that stadium on April 16. I’m excited about it. I think we’ve got a great fan base. I think it shows a commitment to the program, and it also shows our players the passion that our fans have. It certainly doesn’t hurt in recruiting either to have 93,000 fill the stands. That’s kind of what we’re aiming at.”

On the winter workouts…
“I would say it’s off and on. I’m pleased with where we are now. I’m not necessarily pleased with the way we got there throughout. There were bumps and bruises in there. There are days that were better than others. I’d say that’s the case any time. If you’re honest with yourself, every day is not a good workout. If you think that’s the case then you’ve probably got a little bit of fool’s gold in you. The days we didn’t have good workouts I made sure I let them know that. It’s important they know that. I think one of the best things you can do for an athlete, psychologically, is give them instant feedback. I had the analogy once about the speed limit signs. You put the speed limit on the road, they won’t necessarily obey it. When you flash somebody’s speed, they’ve done studies, and when they’re flashing the speed guess what you’re doing. ‘Slow down.’ It’s called instant feedback. We try to tell our players all the time, if you don’t do right we’re going to give you instant feedback. It’s a great analogy because I see a speed limit sign and it doesn’t necessarily slow me down. But if I see a flashing sign show me my speed, what do you do? ‘Whoa.’ I try to give them instant feedback of what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, accentuate the positives and let them know when they don’t. I think people respond better and they respect you more when you do that. That’s what we’re trying to do with our guys.”

On the full pad practice schedule and an update on Nick Chubb…
“The NCAA has rules for us. We’re going to have three helmets and shorts where we can’t (go in full pads). There’s 12 other practices where we’ll either be in full pads or we’ll be in shells – uppers and shorts. The three days we’re required to be in helmets and true shorts, we’ll adhere to those three days and we’ll get after it.

“As far as Nick goes, this guy is working tremendously hard. He is dead on schedule, or he’s a little ahead of schedule as far as what we expect of him. He started doing a little cutting since we’ve been back from Spring Break. So he’s running, not just straight ahead, but doing a little bit of cutting. He will not be involved in any team drills throughout spring, but we’re excited about where he is. He’s progressed really well. He’s a kid that obviously overachieves anyway, but he’s overachieving in rehab as well.”

On if Chubb will be ready for the season…
“It’s hard to say right now. He’s on schedule for where he’s got to be right now. I’m not forecasting forward to say he’ll be 100 percent on the first day of practice of fall camp. I think we’ve got to determine that as we go.”

On the position that he feels is the biggest question mark…
“I’ve got questions at every position as far as depth. The majors, I’d probably say inside linebacker because of some injuries. Reggie (Carter) is coming off of a shoulder surgery. Roquan (Smith) had a surgery on his wrist, and he won’t be able to go all spring. He’ll be able to do some drills, but not all. Shaun McGee, who’s worked some at inside linebacker, had to go through a knee scope. So when you start saying these guys, they’re not out but they’re not completely in either. That scares me a little bit because it’s not a position of great depth anyway. The offensive line, they’ve been a concern all along – the size and the depth there. It’s important that we improve on that going forward. I’d like to have a three-deep offensive line every spring. That’s 15 guys. That’s hard to do in spring unless you get midyear enrollees. It’s a challenge to get 15 good, quality offensive linemen. I think that’s one of the areas we’ve got to work on building and try to get more depth at that position.”

On his relationship with Georgia…
“I love my job. It’s a combination of the two. I’ve been coaching now for 18 years, and I don’t think that I’ve ever looked at it as just a job. It’s been a passion for the players. My drive and my why is to develop players, to give them an opportunity to better themselves, whether it be through the NFL or an education, that’s why I do this. It makes me feel really good when they achieve that. Since I’ve been here, it’s not like it’s been my love affair with the university has come with the job part of it. To me, my love affair is with the players, recruiting them, developing them and making them better. That’s why I do this. Anything I can do to help them is what it’s about for me. I don’t see it as a burden to come to work.”

On Sony Michel’s growth as a player…
“At the time (of the Alabama game) he was used more as a specialty out of the backfield, as a receiver out of the backfield. We didn’t get to see him. We played him earlier in the year. When I saw him he was more of a change-up pitcher to Nick (Chubb). You had the thunder and you had Sony coming in there with quickness and lightning. I didn’t see the actual change, but I know throughout the year he took on a much greater workload. He was able to handle that, which was a great blessing. We’re hoping he’s up to the challenge again. And obviously we want Nick back. We want every healthy back we can get. I do believe he grew as a runner because more was demanded of him. So he grew as a runner and he was not just a specialty, free-release guy, angle routes out of the backfield. He became more diversified, which is important to him.”

On returning to practice…
“It’s important that we get out there and get on the grass. I feel the same way getting to the offseason workouts as I do today. We don’t put any less emphasis on that, going out there and doing the offseason conditioning program where I’ve been on the grass, excited to be around the players. The only difference is you guys get to come out. For me, I’m just as excited. I’m glad when we put the pads on because we’ll find out a lot more about the team than when we have the shorts on. We’ve had shorts on. I’ve gotten to see them run around in shorts for how many weeks. I’m excited now to get out there, get on the grass and get going. To me, that enthusiasm was just as much as on Signing Day when we get out with the players.”

On the kicking situation…
“Brice (Ramsey) will continue to be part of our punt program. During punt periods he’ll come over and kick. We’re going to find out if he can continue to do that. Obviously we signed a punter, and we’re going to find out this spring who does the best job of punting until Marshall (Long) comes. As far as kicking, we’ve got Rodrigo (Blankenship) and a kid named William Ham who both will be involved in our kicking game. We’re going to give these kids every opportunity to be involved. We’re going to challenge them hopefully in the fall with some guys we bring in. Brice will be involved. All that’s going to do is pull him away from the quarterbacks for that one punt period.”

On offensive line assignments…
“Every guy, Coach (Sam) Pittman believes this, should learn every position. Obviously they’ve got to work at one position starting off. As far as where we’re starting off, you’ve got Kendall Baker who will be able to work at tackle some, and obviously Greg Pyke. Isaiah (Wynn) is a guy who’s got to be able to play all five positions. He’s going to start off at guard. There are some in-depth conversations there. What we basically do is identify a guy – is he a tackle only, is he a guard/center only, or can he go both ways and do both? Throughout the spring we’re going to work different groupings there. I think it’s important to cross train because we cannot anticipate injuries, and they ultimately will happen in the offensive line and the front. We’ve got to be ready and more prepared to handle those situations as they come up. But I’ll say this, Coach Pittman has done a really good job in year’s past, us playing him both at Tennessee and at Arkansas, of when somebody goes down having another guy ready and training those guys across the board.”

On Chuks Amaechi and Brendan Douglas…
“Chuks is a guy that’s coming off labrum repair after the bowl game. He’ll be very limited from the labrum surgery. We’re going to have him do some things on air. He will not be a part of contact stuff, and everything going on with that. He’s a guy that’s really tough with the shoulder happening as recently as it did. Brendan Douglas will be available for some stuff. We’ll have a black jersey on him. He won’t be a contact guy right away, but he’ll be covered up with a cast and progressing forward with his wrist.”

On his emotions as a coach in games…
“I think I’ve got to ride the horse that brought me. I’m going to be who I am. The biggest thing for me is going to be not changing who I am. There’ll be times I have to temper that, whether it’s good or bad times, or emotional times, you’ve got to make good decisions as a head coach. My enthusiasm is natural, and it’s not premeditated. I think that’s still going to come out in me. It’s not something that to be honest I’ve really concerned myself with. I plan on doing what I do and trying to affect the players. Whatever I can do to reach them, and if that affects their enthusiasm for games, I want it to be that way. But it’s not something that I’ve thought long and hard about.”

On attention to detail as a coach…
“The devil is in the details. We spent a good two hours this morning to make sure this practice is organized. It’s very important that you have every detail, every expectation. Yesterday we went over with the guys every expectation we have of them. We want them to understand because I think it’s important to be successful that they know what you expect of them and they can respond when it’s not that way. It doesn’t matter whether it’s running on the field, running off the field, all the things that you might take for granted. Having your helmet in your hand, your helmet’s not sitting on the side. Every detail that you can have covered, we’ve covered with these guys to make sure they understand that these things are important. They’re part of discipline. They’re part of doing things right. They’re part of accountability. If we don’t have accountability and discipline, and if you don’t have that then you don’t have a very good program. It all starts with that, and a lot starts today. Some of it started in the offseason conditioning program, but there’s only so much you can do from that standpoint.”

On instant feedback…
“I think instant feedback to each player is different. Some guys need that, some guys need to be motivated, some guys need to be driven. Some guys don’t. Some guys just need to be corrected. Each guy will handle it different. Each player is different in that regard.”

On Tim Kimbrough and Chauncey Rivers…
“Chauncey, he’s been a university issue. They’re handling that. University issues, as far as we go, he’ll go through spring as normal. We know he’ll have some stuff he’s got to adhere to until the beginning of the year. Tim Kimbrough is a guy that had a little bit of an issue before the bowl that we were not part of. We talked to him about that and we’ve addressed it. Tim has done a nice job of doing what we asked him to do. Tim’s back with us. Tim’s repping. He’s got a clean slate.”

On the early enrollees…
“They’re going to face some challenges today, I promise you. They’ll see some guys they haven’t seen yet, as far as going up against. But we’re excited about all those guys. Ben (Cleveland) has been working hard. He’s a competitor. He’s a guy that in the offseason conditioning program has tried to win every drill. It’s important to him. Isaac (Nauta) is the same way. Isaac has worked really hard with the tight ends. He’s challenging those guys day in and day out to be their best. Really impressed with Chad (Clay). He’s worked hard. He’s done a good job. It’s going to be a hard learning curve for those guys, but there’s going to be a large competitive curve because some of those guys haven’t gone up against the competition that they’re going up against today. Julian (Rochester) obviously has worked really hard with us as well. He’s doing a good job. He provides us depth at a position we lost a lot of guys inside. I’m pleased with how hard he’s working. We’ll find out a lot about each of those guys today. It’ll be fun. It’ll be my first chance to see them against big people, fast people. Riley (Ridley) has been working really hard and he’s done a good job as well. I’m proud of him coming in as quick as he did and working. One of the reasons we decided to take Riley was because he’s a guy that’s going to give us more competition. Competition is what we’re about, competing for your job. Nobody’s safe. He gives us competition at a position that we need to push some guys.”

On how he’ll handle his first practice as head coach…
“I wish you’d asked me that question after this practice. Some of it I’m going to find out there. I’ve got a plan to be involved with the offense certain periods. I plan on going over there, and I’ve scripted it out and plan for myself to be there and be visible when I’m with them. The good thing about spring is you go good-on-good. I’ll get to be around them by being with the defense. There’ll be parts of the day when they’re not together that I’ll be over there. I’ll also have a role in the secondary. We’re one guy short, who’s a GA. Without the GA, I’ll have to help out with the secondary, maybe during individual periods and that kind of thing. Throughout the practice I’m going to make a concerted effort to go with the offensive guys. It’ll be fun. It’ll be a change.”

On leadership within the team…
“I don’t know if I’ve got a great feel for it. We’ve had several leadership meetings. We’ve got a senior group, but we’ve also got a leadership group. The senior group has done a good job. They’re very opinionated. Those are the guys who are willing to tell you what they really think because they know where they are in their careers. They’re open to doing it. A lot of the younger guys won’t do that, they’re not comfortable with it yet. We’ve seen some of the leadership rear its head in some of the trying conditions that we put them through in the offseason conditioning programs. I’m excited about some of the vocal leaders who have spoken up and talked. That’s a big thing that you can do, you can develop leadership. We’re trying to do that here. That’s probably the biggest thing I take from the University of Alabama – every year trying to find that new group, that new person. All of these guys are new to me. It’s like (asking) which one of these guys is going to step up and be the leader, which one’s going to be the vocal guy, and which ones are not going to say anything but just do all the work and have people follow them. I think looking at that, standing back and saying ‘Okay, I can see this now because I’m not over here in this drill coaching it.’ You can see that a lot more in the head coaching position. I’m very pleased with where that is, but I also think we’ve got a long way to go to be where I want to be as far as leadership.”

Junior TB Sony Michel

On the transition to the new coaching staff…
“It’s been great. We came together as a team, which was the most important part. We’ve been sticking together and buying in.”

On the work load he’s facing this spring…
“I’m going to get a lot of work. We’re down on backs so it’s about just going out there and doing what I can for the team. If that is to take a lot of reps, then I will take a lot of reps.”

On Coach Smart’s philosophy of being comfortable being uncomfortable…
“It’s been tough. I don’t think anyone on the team is comfortable right now because everyone is going out there today and the rest of the spring and competing. Everyone is competing for positions and nobody can say that a job is given because they won’t always have the job tomorrow.”

Junior TE Jeb Blazevich

On the new offense…
“Day one of spring practice is right now, so I hope we know a good bit of it. I’ve been asking [the coaches] questions whenever I can. We’ve definitely been around it a lot. Thankfully, we have the iPads and we have all the playbooks, so a lot of it was on us, but you’re allowed to ask a lot of questions, so we were able to get a good bit of it in. We’re just excited to get out there and try it out. We’re excited to get out there, work hard, and get day one under our belts.”

On schematic differences…
“Football is football. At the end of the day, it’s all kind of the same, it’s just what you call it and how you draw it up different ways. We’re excited to just get out there, work hard, get day one under our belts, and try to put it all together today.”

Senior OL Brandon Kublanow

On the start of spring practice…
“I’m excited. I’m excited to go out there and compete with everyone. We’re going to have a fun spring. I’m excited to get out there today.”

On how he feels about returning to the field…
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing, getting physical with each other. It’s been a while since we’ve put on full pads. It’ll be fun for sure.”

On practicing in a new location…
“I compare it to ‘Field of Dreams,’ where it’s like ‘if you build it they will come.’ It’s cool having all the space, but the drive, it is what it is. It’s something we have to deal with. We’re getting an awesome indoor (facility), so we’re very excited about that.”

Senior FS Quincy Mauger

On what the team is working on…
“We need to work on everything as far as strength and conditioning. Now we’re at the stage where it’s time to put on the helmet and just stay in the film room.”

On how he feels to get things underway…
“I’m very excited. It’s one of those things that a lot of us have been waiting for for a while and it’s prime time now.”

On his personal goals…
“I just want to help my teammates and to become better. I want to push them just like our coaches push us. We just need to win today and take it one day at a time.”

On the team’s new motto “Attack the Day”…
“Attack the day is a great motto that we all have bought in to. We have to attack the day just like it’s our last. We will definitely be attacking the day today in practice.”

Junior SS Dominick Sanders

On the new coaching staff…
“I’m not going to compare them, but this new staff is pretty good. Just having them here is a blessing, showing them that we will be able to work hard and give them our all every single day that we have with them. It’s demanding.”

On the secondary being the leaders of the team…
“Being back there is part of leadership. You have to buy in, not only to the secondary, but up front too, as a whole. As a whole unit, we all have that role of being a leader. We have each other’s backs in the back end and the front end.”

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