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Smart, Bulldogs preview Fall practice

Kirby Smart
Photo: Steven Colquitt/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, met with media members on Monday to preview fall camp. Below are comments from Monday’s media session.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“I’d like to start off by thanking Karen Huff (Georgia sports communications media operations coordinator) for her 20 years of service to UGA. I think that’s pretty remarkable. She was here when I was here, even before. Thank you for all you’ve done. I know, UGA, we appreciate it. I know Claude (Felton) does and I do.

I’m thrilled for this day to get here. Excited to find out how a lot of these new guys learn. It’s hard when you’re out there in summer workouts to see if a guy learns well, see what a guy does. But when you get in these meetings and you do these walk-throughs, and you have a lot of stuff going on really fast, you find out a lot about guys. There’s only so much you can get done in shorts, and we’re going to be in shorts for two practices, but as we move out of shorts we’ll find out a lot about guys. Football is a tough, physical and demanding game. We have a camp window, we call it, and we’ve been in these seats that you guys are in right now (in the team meeting room) and we’ve been talking about being demanding, being physical. These practices are not easy. The idea is to create adversity for your team, find out who the leaders are and we’re going to be able to do that. Not necessarily right away, because you’ve got shorts on, but as you move into it, you get into scrimmages, you move guys up and down the depth chart and you find out how they respond to things and how they react.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the summer program. The summer program goes unnoticed, and I think the people behind the scenes like, (Director of Strength and Conditioning) Scott Sinclair, (Sr. Associate Director of Strength and Conditioning) Ed Ellis, (Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning) Aaron Feld, (Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning) Rodney Prince and (Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning) Jamil Walker, our strength staff, those five guys do a tremendous job. That goes kind of unnoticed, but not by us as coaches.

Our coaching staff spent a little more time this summer with our players maximizing the time we could be with them. You know, Some staffs choose not to be out there at all; some choose to be out there more than others. But for the things that we were allowed to be out there for, we were there, because we felt like there’s 20 to 25 guys who are going to be impacting our roster this year and be able to play and help us. So, we wanted to see those guys work early on, and we were able to do that. Now the next step is can they learn, can they do the things, can they play physical and move around.

We certainly have some goals for this camp. You know, the areas of concern and areas of improvement for us, special teams would be No. 1. We are going to try to change some things up special teams-wise, as you guys know, from a quality control standpoint, Scott Fountain has joined us. I think he did a tremendous job at Auburn, always has. Has brought a lot of insight to our coaches. He’s going to help us be better special teams and just in practice and organization and things we do. We have to improve in that area. We counted, I think we had, I want to say it was 250 snaps on special teams played by true freshmen last year. So the question becomes: Can the true freshmen this year unseat some of those guys or create a competitive environment to make each one of those better. We’ve got to improve in our kicking units —  that’s punting, kickoff coverage, return game, everything. But we plan to do that and we’ll do that in camp.

Offensively, obviously throwing the ball more efficient is a big goal of ours. Because I think if you throw the ball efficiently, you’ll be able to run ball with the backs we’ve got. When you can’t throw the ball, it makes it hard. It doesn’t matter who your backs are. We’re going to have a lot of shuffling across the offensive line throughout camp. I’m excited about the opportunity for those guys. I think they are up to the challenge. I think it’s going to be a really key, integral part for our success to figure out who are the best eight, who are the best 10, how many do we have that can play winning football on the offensive line, and you can’t find that out on day one. You can’t find it out on day two because you’ve got still shorts on, but you start seeing who can learn and who is really serious about it early on. And then the red area offense was not where it needs to be. We have to score touchdowns and we have to cash the ball in, which when you get in the red area and the field shrinks, you have to be able to run the ball. You’ve got to be able to run the ball because the throwing area is very short. And I know that from being a defensive coordinator, and I also know that defensively, we’ve got to improve in the red area. That was probably statistically the worst thing we did on defense last year was red area. So, with that in mind, we practiced it a lot last year. We practiced it more in the spring. We’re going to even focus on it more this fall camp so we can improve in that area.

Then obviously the pass rush, creating turnovers, things that you always emphasize on defense, we’ll continue to do that. That was one of the areas that we were actually positive, almost reached our goal in, was the turnover ratio. So giving up 19, gaining 27 — that’s the window you want to be in. Now, sure, I’d like to be better than that, but that’s the window you’d like to be. There were so many other areas that we were deficient in that we’ve got to improve that. And we think we’ve done that through getting a good group of freshmen in here and also developing our older players.

Before I get started with questions, I’m going to update on some guys. I’m glad to welcome Ahkil Crumpton and David Marvin to our roster. Both those guys are joining our team. I don’t have any updates on Robert Beal or Devonte Wyatt — that’s still an ongoing process, and a lot of places across the country are experiencing the same thing, waiting on guys to qualify and get eligible. Trenton (Thompson) and Roquan (Smith) are both cleared to go. I know you guys probably know that or have asked that, but Trenton and Roquan are both good to go. Shakenneth (Williams) has applied for a medical exemption. We think we’ll get that back any day now. The only other thing, I think some people had asked about, Odell Thurman. Odell Thurman has joined our staff as an intern. We’re only allowed to have five coaches, so he’s allowed to do what an intern does and we’re glad to have Odell helping out in the weight room assisting in the roles that he’s allowed to.

With that, I’ll open it up to questions.”

On the process to get junior college transfer Ahkil Crumpton and any comparisons to Isaiah McKenzie … 

“We combed the country looking for an elite returner. We didn’t feel like we had an elite returner. Really don’t have any experienced returners because we lost two guys. You know Isaiah had done it so long and we weren’t really expecting to lose him. So when that situation arises, you try to fix your roster as fast as you can. I certainly think that Terry Godwin is very capable. He’s got great hands. He’s got some of the best hands and judgment I’ve ever seen on a receiver. I have no concerns about Terry as a possession guy, catching the ball — still to be determined whether he’s an elite returner. We’re going to give him an opportunity to compete for that position. That’s one of the things special teams-wise we’re trying to do different this camp. Probably going to do some live returns to find out on those guys. We can’t test them September 2. We’ve got to find out before then.

But we identified him (Ahkil Crumpton)  as a guy that we thought was a really good player. Of course we watched tape on him and thought he really did a good job. He was not going to be eligible for the SEC unless he took a math at his home college out there in California, so he was able to do that. We think he upgrades our roster. He helps us. He’s from Philly, where we’ve got D’Andre Swift and Mark Webb, so both those guys knew him. 

Does he remind you of Isaiah? I think that’s hard because we’re just now laying our eyes on him. You know, we really haven’t been able to see him other than tape. So, I would be remiss to say now. I’ve got to wait and see how practice goes and we put the pads on. He’s built similar. Isaiah’s pretty good, by the way.”

On the development of the offensive line … 

“I don’t know that they are going to be really young. I think it’s going to depend on how those four freshmen come along. I think inexperience might be a better word, but not necessarily really young. We had 15 days of spring practice to watch the kids on our roster currently. To see Ben Cleveland grow, Pat Allen grow, see LaMont (Gaillard) move inside, Dyshon Sims played a lot of multiple positions, a lot of guys have come on to start and help. Solomon Kindley got a lot better. Those guys we were able to get right there at the end; I guess Ben doesn’t count but Solomon did, when he first got here. I got to see both those guys grow because you know, that class didn’t have a lot of linemen in it like we wanted. But those two guys have gotten better.

Now the influx of these four, including now the junior college kid, D’Marcus Hayes that was here, we’ve got more depth and competition across the board. It’s not necessarily saying, do you have the pieces to the puzzle. It’s where do the pieces to the puzzle go, and we’ve got to figure that out early on. I think if you make a decision on day three or four, you can make a fatal decision and put a guy somewhere he doesn’t belong, and you can put him up too fast. We’ve got to let it happen and we’ve got kind of a 12- to 14-practice schedule where when we have a scrimmage, we’re going to be able to say: Okay, Game 4, this guy is going to be ahead of this guy; let’s get him in the spot. Might cost you an off-sides early, might cost you a blown assignment early, but where is he going to be Game 3, 4, 5, 6, as opposed to right now who are the best ones. If we had to go play right now, we’d have to go like we in did in the spring. We aren’t going to stick a guy out there that’s never done it. We’ve got to give these guys an opportunity to do it, and that’s where the summer, the off-season, all the things they were able to do, we’re hoping we get some help with.”

On the growth of junior ILB Roquan Smith and sophomore DB Tyrique McGhee … 

“Roquan is really special. I’ve never had a kid, even the years that I’ve been at other places, that was able to lead while being out and being injured. That’s hard to do. I mean, put yourself in that situation: You’re not out there. It’s hot, it’s 100 degrees, you’ve got pads on and you’re not practicing , and yet you’re still willing to go say, hey, come one, we’ve got to pick it up, that wasn’t good enough. Y’all can say what you want all the time about I made it up about the defense — we were getting our butts kicked early in spring practice, and he was one of the guys that was confronting people. I was very impressed with that. He’s continued that role because we talked to him about, look, you have to be the leader whether you’re out there or not. He’s out there every day and he’s backing it up. There was a day we conditioned in the summer that he was just first coming back — what we say is you get to a point of failure. He got to failure real quick because he had not done anything. He didn’t shy away from it. So many kids shy away from failure because they don’t want to get to that point. Not Roquan. He hit it head on. By the end of the summer, he was jumping up there running with receivers and asked DBs instead of running with the linebackers because they had to make faster times. So he caught up quick. I’m excited about where he is. He has to do it with consistency, but effort has never been a question for that young man.

Tyrique McGhee is a guy who is a really serious football player. I would put Tyrique up there as one of our best tacklers. I learned a long time ago when you sign a young man from Peach County, he’s going to know how to tackle. They play tough, physical football, and Tyrique identifies that each day. We’re excited to have him. Tyrique is one of those guys that’s going to be in a big competition, who is going to replace Mo Smith at the nickel star is one of our biggest questions, and Tyrique is in the thick of that. But he’s also in the thick of corner and he also had the No. 1 special teams snaps of all our true freshman. So he’s a guy we’re really counting on for leadership.”

On transition from first season as head coach to second season and any comparison to first year at Alabama … 

“I think that’s a great analogy. Last night, I  had a guy that we used consulting with our team, Trevor Moawad, who does a great job. He actually sent me some bits and pieces of video from this day, the second year at Alabama. Now it was just the players. It wasn’t coach. Just the players, and the players talking about how they felt much more comfortable understanding what the standard was, what the expectation was and that no matter what, you can’t really relax out at practice because you don’t know what’s coming — to expect the unexpected. We’ve tried that a lot here to make these guys uncomfortable in summer workouts. We would say the workout is going to be one thing, and then we would change it while we’re out there to make it uncomfortable. That’s the experience we want. So, I draw back on that year coming off a pretty average year, just saying, how we’re going to get to the next spot. Well, first way you get there you is get really good players on your roster. You improve that through your recruiting process. You develop the ones you’ve got. We’re hoping to develop the ones we’ve got. The biggest difference that I compare that to is you had a senior quarterback who is probably one of the best in the conference compared to a guy who a sophomore coming into his second year that we’re expecting high things from.”

On if he remembers any doubts going into his season offseason at Alabama … 

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s that way here. I think it’s more when you come in as a second-year coach, when we got here, I knew I had coached against University of Georgia. I had recruited against the University of Georgia. I pretty much knew what was here and I knew the expectation level was here, and I also knew the expectation didn’t necessarily meet the quality of players that were here, and I think that’s indicative of what the NFL thought of our roster last year. I think now moving forward, as you start looking forward, you say,where are we going from here. Are the kids buying in here and doing what they have to do, and I think they are. They are adjusting well. They know what to expect. They know this camp is going to be tough and physical. They know we’re going to tackle. So all those things are there, and that’s what makes them feel a little bit better that they are in year two of the offense, year two of the system, and that stuff helps.”

On redshirt-freshman OL Solomon Kindley … 

“Solomon is a kid that’s real serious. Football is really important to him, and I like those kind of players. He struggled last fall camp. Like when you just put him on a board drill, he can block most three techniques, he could block all of our freshmen, but he struggled getting the call coming to the line, knowing the snap count, a lot of things that freshmen struggle with. In the spring, he erased about 70 to 80 percent of those mistakes — still had mistakes but a lot less. And if he continues to do that, he’s a powerful guard. Powerful guards can play because they can get movement. They can get their hands on people and get movement. And he’s got to continue to do that. He’s got some guys that are coming in behind him. He’s got the potential for tackles to move into guard because they are going to play the best five. If he continues to do what he does, he should be fine, but he can’t relax because we’ve got some great competition at that position.”

On expectations for freshman DB Richard LeCounte and freshman LB Nate McBride … 

“I think expectations is a big word that you say for a freshman. My expectation is to go out there today and know how to line up and do the five coverages. That’s my expectation. Then when we do special teams, my expectation is for them to be first in line, and be first down in coverage, because they are both fast, they are both physical and that’s it. I can’t put an expectation to say you’re going to start, you’re going to be this or this. You can’t do that to a kid. What you do is say worry about day one and then we’ll worry about day two. We put a calendar up here and show them the calendar. We don’t even look at the next day. We look at the day that we’re on, and that’s really all that matters. I know you guys want to forecast and you want to talk about the first game, you want to talk about the second game, but we don’t do that. All we’re thinking about is what’s going to give Richard the best chance to be successful, today. Nate, what’s going to give him the best chance to be successful, today. And if he does that for 28 days, 29 days or 27 practices, he’s going to be fine.”

On going into this year’s fall camp compared to last season’s fall camp … 

“I don’t think you ever feel different when you’re coming into a season because every team is different. It’s a different set of problems, a different set of issues. Like I said, our biggest concern is what are our areas of focus and how do we get better at them. I think every college football team has those questions but they change year-to-year. You’re right, last year, it was running back, uncertainty at quarterback. Now, the running back thing is the last question right now. I mean, knock-on-wood, you’ve got to stay healthy but we have a running backs, so it’s how do you use these guys and how do we get these guys the ball with efficiency and throw the ball and catch the ball, because they can run the ball. That’s not the question. The question is can we get them in situations where we have successful box count numbers to help them.

Defensively, a lot of people talk about, well, you’ve got everybody coming back. Yeah, we’ve got a lot of guys that are in their second year, and sometimes their first year. The secondary is one of the spots nobody is talking about. We’ve got guys back, but how well do those guys play. Do they play to the standard of what University of Georgia is? I don’t think so. I can’t sit here and say we play to the level of expectation that a secondary should play to. Who are their backups? I think we are four or five true freshmen in the two-deep in the secondary, so they are one snap from playing.You’ve got these guys that y’all know as vets that have been here a long time, I mean, Dom (Dominick Sanders), AD (Aaron Davis), D’Andre (Walker), Malkom (Parrish), those guys have been here a long time and played a lot of games. But the guy behind them just got here. So we have to be sure that we’re developing those guys without holding the older guys back, and the older guys got to play better.”

On any specific goals he has for himself and the coaching staff … 

“With our coaching, absolutely. I think the big demand for us is what can we do to do a better job helping our players be successful. To pinpoint one of those, the No. 1 goal for me is to reach our goals. We have a goal on punt, we have a goal on kickoff, we have a goal on defense. For every statistic, we have a goal. We didn’t reach many of those. Now, do you change your standard? Do you change your goals so you can make them? Or do you say, oh well, we’re not going to be very good in this area, we’ll lower it. No, the standard is what it is, and we have to try to get to that point. But that’s true in our coaching staff, as well, whether it’s delegation of time, who has got what responsibility. All of that’s off-season stuff, who has got what opponents, what your job is in the off-season. All those things have been delegated and some are very similar to last year, and some are different, but each is its own entity with each guy.”

——

Senior OG #77 Isaiah Wynn

On how the offensive line can develop…

“Really just narrow down on being very good technically. Having hand placement and movement and little stuff like that that can help the quarterback running back and make plays and get in the end zone.”

On building the offensive line…

“For the offensive line, our goal is to work as a whole unit. A lot of times we’ve had some missing pieces, but now we just want to all be on the same page.”

On facilitating the run game… 

“We’ve got to be more physical at the point of attack.”

On adjusting to new positions on the offensive line…

“You just have to be eager to learn. That’s all it is. As long as you’re eager to learn and pick the coach’s brain.”

——

Senior TE # 83 Jeb Blazevich

On preseason expectations…

“We can’t look ahead. We’re focused on the here and now. If we look ahead to App State and further on, we have a huge chunk of practices in there. You can’t get ahead of yourself. We have to focus on the here and now, whether it was the meetings this morning, or last night, or practice we’re getting ready to have, we need to focus on what we’re doing right now and how we can maximize that.”

On developing in practice… 

“That’s when the details matter. That’s when we need to get more creative. We just need to put the pressure on ourselves when we’re out there to perform well, and that will carry over in the game.”

On the return of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb for their senior seasons…

“It’s like anything, we’ve depended on them, like any teammates. They’re special, talented guys, and I’m happy they did come back, and I’m excited to continue to watch them progress and grow.”

——

Junior ILB #3 Roquan Smith

On knowing Odell Thurman, new strength and conditioning intern…

“I actually did. My high school coach used to talk about him, so I heard about Odell through him as well as just being one of the Georgia greats. I’ve heard a lot of great things about him. I think he is a great guy. He went in the second round so he obviously knows what it takes, so getting information from a guy like that is definitely beneficial.”

On eagerness to getting back on the field…

“I’m very excited to get back out. Just the opportunity to take advantage of each opportunity that I get, so being able to get back out there today is big. I’m excited and words can’t really describe how I feel.”

On leadership…

“There are a lot of leaders out there that tell the guys to step it up if we need that. I’m just one of those leaders as well that tells the guys to get going when they need it. I love being vocal and being able to be there for my teammates, so they can depend on me. As a sophomore, it was my first year really starting so I wasn’t quite sure about certain things here and there, but after you get that year of experience then it’s like hey I’m one of the leaders on the defense and I feel like you are more confident.”

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Senior OLB #7 Lorenzo Carter

On his feelings starting fall camp as a senior…

“It is a lot of excitement – just walking from the Georgia Center to here, being able to be on the field, and just this morning in the walk through. I’m happy to be back on the football field. It is another football season to play with my teammates.”

On year two of the new system…

“It is not a new system anymore. It is our second year under our belts. We have been with Coach (Kirby) Smart and the whole coaching staff for a second year so everybody is a lot more comfortable. We know what to expect and what the coaches expect from us, so we just have to go out there and produce.”

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