UGA Football

Smart, Bulldogs Preview Georgia’s Preseason Camp

Kirby Smart

Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and several players met with media on Monday to preview the 2016 preseason fall camp. They offered the following comments:

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement …
“I am fired up to finally get to go on the grass and have a ball out there on the grass and get to throw it around and practice a little ball. We are excited as a staff, energetic and rejuvenated is probably the right word after a little summer break of being away from the players. I’m ecstatic to get out there and get going. Our strength staff, Scott Sinclair, Ed Ellis, Aaron Feld, Rodney Prince — those guys have done an outstanding job this summer of preparing our guys. I thought they were very well organized. They showed some really good strength gains in the weight room. From a conditioning standpoint, I think they changed it up so it didn’t get boring and monotonous for the players. The days I was able to go out there and watch, I was really impressed with what they did with the players. Now with that said, I think `football shape’ is a little different than just conditioning. We’re going to add the mental aspect, we’re going to add the helmet aspect, and we’re going to add constant reps where you’ve got to think on the fly and run. That part of getting in shape is a little different than how they’ve been training. That’s important.

“We preached three things to our players last night. The big things we talked about were having a successful fall camp. Every one of you (reporters) want to ask me about the season and how the season is going to go. Our goal, our objectives for camp are really simple. I think it’s simple for the players when you make it this way. Number one, we’re looking for leaders. We’re looking for leadership. Every team is defined by the leadership they have, and I don’t know exactly who those leaders are going to be. I’ve had 15 practices of spring ball, had some really good summer workouts. These next 28, 29 practices are what’s going to determine who our best leaders are. When we talk about leadership, we’re talking about being receptive of leadership as well. We’ve got some guys who can be leaders, but how are other guys on the team going to handle that leadership when it comes and confronts them? That’s a big part of what we do. The willingness to buy into the team concept, which I think is archaic in today’s day and age. A lot of guys are all about `me, me, me, me, me, me, me.’ The willingness for our team to accept in camp that there’s a team concept – there’s only one ball. There’s 10 guys on offense that don’t have the ball. So what you do without the ball is a lot more important than what you do with the ball. We’re preaching that to the offensive players. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s going to be players who have better statistics. Linebackers are going to have more tackles than corners and `d linemen.’ It’s about buying into the team concept and doing your job so that we can be successful in camp and have good production in camp so we can be as good as we can be. The third thing for us was making sure that every guy understands handling adversity and success the right way. For me as a coach, how kids handle adversity in camp tells me a lot about them. We’re going to try and simulate the ups and downs of a season in camp. There’s going to be good days for the defense, there’s going to be bad days for the defense. Same for the offense. How you respond to that (is what’s important). There’s going to be players demoted. There’s going to be players promoted in jobs, on the depth chart. There’s going to be movement. How they respond to that adversity will tell me a lot about them. Not only that, but there’ll be guys who have a good scrimmage one. How are they going to scrimmage the second time? At the end of the day they’re going to be hot and cold, bought and sold, based on the whole year. We’re trying to simulate that in a 29-practice routine and get them ready for the season. That’s important that we establish those things in camp as well as all of the fundamentals of tackling, throwing the ball, catching the ball, securing the ball and getting takeaways on defense. That’s what we’re targeting, that’s what we want to do. With that. I’ll open it up (for questions).”

On the transition to head coach…
“I think the transition is almost old news now. After 15 practices in the spring, after all the workouts, all the conditioning programs. As far as the players being used to me and me used to them, I think that comfort level is there. I was probably more present this summer than I’ve ever been before just because I’m the head guy and I wanted to be as close as I could to the players. I think they’ve seen more of me and been around me where they’re comfortable with the demands that we have, the expectations that we have. Now it’s meeting (the expectations) and doing it every day in practice.”

On the team’s ability to maintain focus through the preseason…
“The opener has nothing to do with the preseason camp, whatsoever. The preseason camp is about the preseason camp. Regardless of who we’re playing, we would have the same preseason camp schedule. It’s not going to change based on the opponent. The goals and objectives of a preseason camp are to establish your identity as a team. We’ve preached really hard to our players of what that is. Being a big, physical football team, a downhill football team, and playing with toughness and relentless effort – those are the things we want to establish in camp. That’s what’s important to me. Your ability to sustain that throughout camp comes from your endurance, your conditioning level, your ability to push through. As a coach, I love camp because you get to simulate parts of the season that are going to come up, trials and tribulations, good and bad, starting drills over. You get a lot of time to get the guys in the right frame of mind for the season.”

On using his previous experience as an assistant coach to determine the setup of camp…
“I don’t know what Georgia did before. For you to ask that question of how much was kept the same at Georgia, I don’t know that. I didn’t go back and research it and look at it and see what they did last year, the year before, how many practices they had and what time they practiced, what time they met. That’s not really what’s important. For me, we met as a staff. I met with both coordinators, we came up with the best practice organization for us. It’s not an exact footprint of what was done the last nine years at Alabama, but it’s pretty close. Each practice, I think there’s different needs we need as a team than the teams I was with before. We’re trying to cater to what the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator, what all of us need to get out of practice. We’re in a different division. We’ll face different opponents. Our personnel groupings we’ll face on defense are different here than they were (at Alabama) just like on offense Coach (Jim) Chaney is saying we’ll need to see some different looks. There’s parts of that that are different, that are not the same.”

On what he has learned about the Georgia program since becoming head coach…
“I know that the players are more willing to push through the pain and toughness to lift more weight. There’s a theory out there that sometimes it hurts to push a little bit more and lift a little bit heavier. Some people are willing to that and some people are not willing to do that. Our guys have shown from spring through the summer that they’re more willing to do that, to get under a bar that has more weight on it, to lift a bar that has more weight on it. Not only are they capable, but they’re more willing. I think that’s really important. There’s a difference between compliant and committed. For me, compliant is just doing what’s asked. Committed is doing whatever it takes. I think that’s where our kids are going. I don’t know if they’re there yet, but they are much past compliant and on the way to committed on the continuum right now.”

On the running back situation…
“Sony (Michel) is going to be limited at the beginning (of practice). There are going to be things that he can and can’t do. He’s going to really work hard on the conditioning aspect really on. We’re not really comfortable with him right now on if he’d have to fall and brace himself. He won’t be as involved. Nick (Chubb) has been doing for the last three months everything the team has done. He will continue to that, everything the team is doing. We’ll continue to monitor his progress. The big thing for Nick is putting the ball in his hand because that’s what he really hasn’t had outside of drill work.”

On the kicking game…
“I don’t have a good read on that. Competition is going to be very important. I sit in bed at night and think of ways I can put these kids in situations that will simulate in their camp as kickers what they’ll face in the regular season. You’re always trying to get that situation emulated. I think in the spring game we were able to get the environment you need for a kicker. I think that’s harder to do in camp, to simulate those situations. I think with both (William) Ham and Rodrigo (Blankenship) will be in constant competition for the place kicking duties and the kickoff duties. As far as punting, it’s an open competition there. You asked if I’m going to try not to kick Brice (Ramsey), but I’m going to kick the best punter. If he’s the best punter then he’s the best punter. If he’s the best quarterback then he’ll be playing quarterback. That’s not going to limit his ability to punt if he’s the best guy for the job. There’s a lot more to that than just leg strength. We’ve got operation times. There’s a lot involved in that.”

On the reason behind the open practice on Fan Day…
“I’ve always felt like that’s an opportunity to give back to your fan base. Not only is it exciting for them, but it’s exciting for the players. I think that’s a good way to give back, to give them an opportunity to come out and watch a practice. I don’t think they know exactly what our players go through in practice. They come to the spring game. They come to G Day. That’s not a practice. It’s important that they get to see that, see these kids push and then be around them afterwards, that’s a part of it. I want the fans to see those guys work, see them sweat, see what they do and give them an opportunity. Our players, around practice six they’ve been banging on each other. It’s good to have some people out there to watch them.”

On sophomore ILB Natrez Patrick…
“Natrez, first off, has done a great job of weight discipline. We’ve got several guys, I’m not going to get into specifics, who have lost more than 20 pounds. Natrez is one of those guys in January when we first arrived until report date that has been in that 20-pound mode, which is important. He’s got to be able to play in space. He’s a big inside linebacker that can run sideline to sideline. He’s had to control his weight in order to play in all situations and create value for our defense. He’s bought into that. He’s been a really good leader and he’s reduced his weight. That’s what we expect to have from him. He’s one of those guys that’s got to command the respect of others by how he plays. He can’t sustain unless he keeps his weight down and he’s done a great job of doing that from January to August 1.”

On the fan impact on the quarterback situation…
“Do the fans impact my decision? Absolutely not. They can go out there and cheer and scream for him but I’ve got to make the best decision for this team. Ultimately, with the fans and who the fan favorite is, that’s going to be the guy that wins the games, I promise you. If Eason loses a game, they won’t like him either. They won’t like me either. The fans being there for practice, that’s not a big deal to me (for the quarterbacks), and that’s not anything to affect the quarterback race. They can have people up there put a tick mark by every rep that every guy does with the ones and twos. That’s what you guys (reporters) do. That’s fine too. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking to see how guys respond with people out there in the stands.”

On what he wants to see from the secondary…
“To be honest, I’m looking for a limited number of big plays. That’s the number one thing I want out of our secondary. Limit explosive and big plays. That’s one of the number one criteria for giving up points. We want to limit that. You do that by communication, by tackling well in the secondary, being on the same page. Those are some things that we had some issues with in the spring. It’s really important that we address those issues by not giving up big plays, by being communicative people and talking to each other. That’s really what we’ve got to be able to. We’ve got to play man-to-man defense better and get up on people and jam them and affect their ability to get off the line. At the end of the day, if we want to be a good third down defense we’ve got to have guys that can go out and play man-to-man. That’s a big part of it.”

On the freshmen tight ends…
“First thing, those two kids have had really good summer conditioning programs. As a staff, Coach (Scott) Sinclair, I asked him and said let’s give some awards to reinforce positive performance over the summer. It was hard to pick a freshman to give one to. That group as a whole has really done a good job, but both (Isaac) Nauta and (Charlie) Woerner have both come in and pushed the other guys. I think they’re going to make Jordan Davis, Jeb Blazevich, Jackson Harris much better because they’re going to push them. We’ve got some guys we can use there. How fast they learn will determine how fast they get on the field. Can they help on special teams? Both of them have great body types, length, size. Coach Chaney has a history of being able to use those type guys. I’ve seen it first-hand. If they’re in the best 11 players, they’re better than the wide outs, then they’re going to be on the field. That’s determined by our players. That’s who we are and what our identity is.”

On the offensive chemistry…
“I think there’s a big misnomer out there that if Sony (Michel) and Nick (Chubb) are not there or are not healthy for the first game that there’s no one there. That’s not true. We went through a large part of the spring without Nick. Tae Crowder, Brendan Douglas have taken a lot of snaps here. Tae Crowder has come a long way from spring ball. We’ve got two freshmen I’m excited to see what they know and can do. The rhythm can be built through those guys. We’ve always had a `next man up’ mantra. Whoever is the next man up has got to step up and play. Everyone’s got to block a little harder, everyone’s got to step up and create some holds. As far as the timing, I think we’ll get enough timing with the work they’ll get. Obviously Nick’s going to be able to work and do everything, and the timing should be there.”

On the Lake Oconee bonding experience this past weekend…
“I think it was somewhere between 30 and 34 (newcomers) that came. It was kind of a spur of the moment, last-second decision. I was shocked at how many kids weren’t planning on going home before camp started. They were going to be in town and they decided to come down. It was really cool. I found some interesting things about guys as far as diving, swimming, tubing, some athletic ability in there. I’ll tell you this, Solomon Kindley, y’all will probably print this and have the guy be the greatest `O Lineman’ ever but the guy is a great athlete. He can do backflips, front flips, lifeguard, save people if they’re drowning. He does it all. He was a treat. My tube didn’t enjoy it. My kids didn’t appreciate him. He grabbed the handles on it and just ripped the handles off the tube. We’ve got to get a new tube. I’m looking at charging the athletic department for that (laughs).”

On the importance of thinking at game speed…
“We try to simulate what happens in a game in practice. The more you can do that at a full-speed pace and challenge the guys, I’ve never been one that has felt that making it easier in practice is better for the kids. We’re going to challenge them by what we call. We’re going to challenge them by what we do offensively and defensively so that the game is easy. That’s the motto I’ve always had. It’s worked well to challenge them by what we’ve do. You’ve got to work them hard, you’ve got to challenge them, you’ve got to make them do the things they’re going to do in the game under pressure. You’ve got to do it the same way in practice. We’re going to work really hard to simulate that in camp and keep the enthusiasm and tempo up. The faster the tempo, the faster you’ve got to think. I think in the meeting room you can only get away with so much. I think it’s easier on a kid when he’s sitting in a chair and he’s got to make a decision and make a call. That environment is much more peaceful than what we know to be the Georgia Dome. We try to simulate that and put pressure on them, but it doesn’t simulate what they’re going to see in live action.”

On the plan for the offensive line…
“(Greg) Pyke will start out at right tackle like he finished the spring. We’re going to start with Dyshon (Sims) and Lamont (Gaillard) inside at the guards and Isaiah (Wynn) out at (left) tackle. We will rotate every practice so that Isaiah is also getting work inside. We’re hoping that the first practice, about 60-percent of the snaps Isaiah is a tackle, 40-percent of the snaps he is a guard, which forces our hand at that left tackle position to have some guys rotating there whether it’s Kendall Baker, Tyler Catalina. All those guys are going to get work there on the offensive line. The way practice works, everyone is going to get reps but Isaiah Wynn is the swing guy. Greg (Pyke) is out there on the island, the guards stay inside and then we work with Wynn back and forth with Catalina and Baker working when Isaiah’s not there. Pyke will stay at tackle because we’re short on tackle more than we are guards. We’ve got more guards who we think can play winning football. That will be a day-to-day operation. It’s field-to-field so there’s going to be times when guys are crossing over so we get cross training for all positions there.”

On the special teams return units…
“Over the summer I went back through and watched every snap of our return teams just to see personnel, not necessarily scheme. There were some situations there that were a little scary. When you talk about turning the ball over three or four times on special teams, that’s never a good situation. That’s another thing that we’re approaching, attacking, making sure that those guys understand the importance of ball security. The University of Georgia last year was five turnovers from being first in the SEC in margin. The best team had a plus-nine, Georgia had a plus-four. That’s five turnovers. Whether you got two more and didn’t lose three, it doesn’t matter what the difference was. You could be first. The margin is that small. If they just don’t turn it over on special teams last year they’re probably first in the conference in ratio. It’s really important that we stress that. We’ve done that. We actually have some weapons. If you play scared on special teams and you’re not aggressive, you take something away. We’ve got some guys who can really return the ball, and we’ve got to do a great job using those guys as weapons whether it’s kickoff return or punt return. That’ll be emphasized throughout camp.”

Junior OL Isaiah Wynn

On his role as a veteran on this team…
“I think we are all doing a good job of taking in the freshmen and welcoming them into our brotherhood. I think the mental part is a big step coming from high school to college. The physical part will come along.”

On the rotation of the offensive line…
“I am pretty open and confident in the rotation. I know whoever steps in is going to get the job done.”

On overall depth of the offensive line…
“I feel really good about it. I feel like even the freshmen who just came in are learning a lot. By the end of camp, everyone will be clicking together, and it will be a great feeling. Whether it be a starter or a backup, everyone will be willing to step in and step up.”

Junior ILB Reggie Carter

On the start of camp…
“I’m very excited and glad to be back. It’s going to be a fun year, and I’m just happy to be back out there with my teammates.”

On the spotlight being on the defense…
“Everybody is going to go out there and compete. We are all going to work as hard as we can.”

On what the team’s focus is going to be during camp…
“We are going out there to work and compete. Whatever the coaches throw at us, is what we will do. Everybody is going to go out there and give 110%. We are going to work.”

Senior C Brandon Kublanow

On the injuries at running back …
“I’m not worried about it. We have a lot of hard working people on the team and we’ve had a great offseason. So whatever happens happens. We always have guys to fill in.”

On summer workouts …
“Coach (Scott) Sinclair did a great job and we’ve made tons of gains in the weight room. We worked out really hard and had a great offseason.”

On changing the monotony of workouts …
“Some guys can go in there and get a little bored if they are doing the same thing every day and every week. But they did a great job on changing things and making sure they are always throwing us off. We want to be comfortable being uncomfortable, coach always says.”

Junior SS Dominick Sanders

On the tempo of practice …
“He (head coach Kirby Smart) is all about the tempo. Very intense guy. When it comes to working, he is all about getting the job done. A lot of things haven’t really changed, but him coming in and showing us how fast things should go really helps out a lot.”

On what the defense has to do this year …
“Really, just stay focused. And everyone has to become leaders on the back end and the front end -being a brother to one another and keeping each other by their side.”

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