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Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs preview preseason camp

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“First of all, excited to be here. You know, it’s different every year you do this. Every team is different. But with the rules in college football in place, we’re able to do more and more in the summer with accountable athletic activities. These kids have been here working. These kids have been here working hard. Our strength and conditioning staff, I think, does a tremendous job with these guys, pushing them, making it fun at the same time, and getting them to work hard. But our kids know, we started meetings, had some administrative stuff last night and had some reporting stuff. It’s really good to get around the guys. They’ve got a lot of energy and it’s fun for our coaching staff to be around this group. They’ve done a tremendous job responding, done everything we’ve asked them to do, and we’ve challenged them.

This is going to be a tough, physical camp, which all of them are, and I tell the players all the time, what’s going to separate us from 13 other SEC teams is what we do between now and the first game.

We’re not preparing for Austin Peay, we’re not preparing for South Carolina, we’re not preparing for Auburn or anybody else on our schedule, we’re preparing for us right now, and we’ve got to do a great job this camp of understanding the areas we’ve got to improve on, and being very demanding and making sure everybody understands the standard that was set last year with the practice habits and the effort and the energy. I really think our players are buying into that.

Now, who the leaders are, y’all are going to ask me that 100 times, I don’t think that’s come all the way out yet. You certainly have players that you want to put in that position, but we’ve got so many competitions at each position that I don’t think that a starter has to necessarily lead. Leaders lead, and if you’re good enough to play, you’re old enough to play. So it’s not like we come in here and say, a young guy can’t be a leader, a good player or an average player can’t be a leader. We need leadership from everybody. We need guys that aren’t afraid to confront and demand.

We sit guys across this front row when we have team meetings and we challenge guys to talk because I think it’s really important that you get comfortable being uncomfortable, and we’ve said that so many times this organization, but it’s hard for these players to confront and demand of each other, and that’s what we’re going to ask them to do in camp, and that’s why we’re going to put them in some tough situations.

Excited about the young guys on the team, just being around them, since we’ve been around them this summer, a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and that makes me excited. We’ve got 110 guys in camp. Thank goodness the NCAA has given us to 105 to 110, so that gives us five more, whether it’s position player, maybe another punter, maybe another kicker. Those things are exciting, to have those extra guys come in and be able to work with us.

I’m going to update you guys on some injuries because I’m sure you guys will ask about these guys and kind of where they are to hopefully answer some of your questions before they’re questions. But Jaden Hunter has a little bit of a hamstring, so he’ll be a little limited. You’ll see him out there. He’ll work, but he’s not going to be able to do everything 100 percent, and we hope to get him back soon and have him work with us.

Zamir (White) will be full go with a protective brace. He’ll have his brace on, but we’ll just have to monitor his volume, but he’s not going to be limited in any way. He should be able to do all drills, and he’s just gaining confidence on that thing, on his knee. But the brace will just help him with that. Azeez, who we know underwent surgery in the off-season, he’s doing well. He’s cleared for everything but contact as of now. He won’t have true contact, but as far as you guys see him individually, he’ll be cleared to do everything. Divaad (Wilson) is actually progressing really well. He’ll be able to work into practice as the season progresses. We’re excited about the progress he’s made. He’s a really competitive guy and wants to jump out there and do everything he can. Deangelo Gibbs is fully cleared with his shoulder, so he’s able to do everything. Terry Godwin has got a little bit of a minor issue with his left knee. It’s small, it’s minor. He’ll be limited, but I know you guys will make a big deal out of it, and every one of you sending out a message right now about it, I’m sure, but he’s fine, he just won’t be able to do indy and some things today. We’re going to hold him out of that.

And then Jake (Fromm), he’s healing really well. He’ll have a splint out when he’s out there, but it’s just a precautionary splint. You probably wouldn’t even notice it if you weren’t zooming in on it from 100 yards away trying to get a picture of it. But he’s fine. He’ll be able to do everything we need him to do.”

On freshman running back Zamir White … 

“He’s fully cleared to do everything right now. He’s in a very similar situation to when I arrived with Nick Chubb. He went through spring, and it kind of reminded me of Chubb, where you all saw Nick out there doing things that first spring back. He was able to do some ball handling, do some things like that. That’s kind of where Zamir has been. He did a very similar protocol to what Nick did, whether it was karate, did a lot of things, getting on the ground on mats, learning to fall again, getting confidence in his knee, and that’s been a big part of his rehab. If anything, at this point, I would say he’s ahead of where Nick was his junior year, because he was — his injury was not quite as significant as Nick’s was at the time. So been very pleased with that. He understands things. He was able to get a lot of mental reps in the spring, but he’s cleared and cleared to do everything. I think the big issue there is not necessarily is he cleared, it’s what kind of volume can he handle. Can he handle 7,000 yards on our GPS at practice? I don’t know. We’ve got to monitor that and see where he hits each day and make sure we bring him back at the right pace.”

On the NCAA’s new redshirt rule … 

“I keep hearing the question, and I keep hearing other coaches answer it and everybody answer it. I really don’t think that it’s that hard. If a player can help you win, there’s no strategic advantage to it. The advantage is if you get to the end of the season and you’re depleted in an area, it gives you the luxury of playing a kid and him keeping his redshirt. But I think a lot of people don’t study the end game. The end game is all these kids’ senior year. So if a kid plays the last four games, and let’s say he plays all four of those games and then we say we’re going to redshirt him, and then the next — he still has four years of eligibility, right? I think after his third year of that eligibility, he will have been here four years. The guy is going to have graduated hopefully, have an opportunity to go to the NFL, or maybe if he’s not good enough to play or he’s been surpassed, he may be looking to transfer or leave. I don’t see many of these guys playing four games and then playing four years because if you look right now how many players are here five years, it doesn’t happen that often. It just gives you the luxury when you have injuries of being able to take advantage of those and say, you know what, this kid hasn’t played but we need him to play now, so he’s going to come in the game and be able to play and not cost him a season. But most guys after they’ve been here four years, been in the program four years, you’re not seeing a lot of fifth-year seniors, at least not in our case where that’s a major factor. But we’ll also take it into consideration, and if guys can help us win, we believe in playing them. We don’t sit here and say we’re going to redshirt them or not redshirt them.”

On the younger players and how he sees them firing in and the perception recruits might be scared to go where there is already so much talent… 

“I don’t know if that’s true or not. I think that’s a media perception, and obviously I think maybe other schools would use that and say that. But I mean, do you see what’s going on in basketball right now? Do you see guys that value a championship over maybe playing as much? They put the other stuff aside. To me if you recruit the right kind of kid, he’s saying, can you win a championship? I want to win a championship. It’s really important that I win a championship. Those are the kind of kids you want in your organization. You want guys who want to win championships. You want guys who want to be the best they can be. Does that necessarily mean they play every snap as a freshman? Not necessarily. And a lot of the accolades that have been given to this signing class, they weren’t earned, they were given. They were given by people that may or may not be able to rate players. I don’t know. I certainly think that that’s a judgment call on each and of itself. What we’ve driven home to those guys is everything you get here, you will have to earn. You will have to go out there and earn it, and you say, where can this class impact you. We watched a tape last night of Reuben Foster hitting Leonard Fournette his freshman year, Trent Richardson making a tackle of kickoff his freshman year, Sony Michel making a tackle against Clemson his freshman year, and there was two common themes to every guy we showed: All four went in the first round, none started their freshman year, and all of them were on special teams. So the first place you impact as a freshman is usually on special teams, and that’s the challenge for this unit. Can they buy into that? Did they dream last year about coming in and making a tackle on punt team? Is that something they can see themselves doing and have value in that? Our job as a coaching staff is to sell that and make sure that we have those guys helping our team wherever it may be. It may be starting, but that’s not what you see all the time.”

On the status of Demetrius Robinson … 

“I figured that one was coming because I’ve seen some of our competition. I think it would be presumptuous to think that that makes it better for us because it’s handled on a case-by-case basis with the NCAA. So each one of those cases would have been independent of his because each one of them would be based on that student-athlete’s situation. And I think in Demetris’ situation, it may be similar, it may be different than theirs, but each one is independent. So obviously we’re hopeful, but it’s out of our hands, and the NCAA will get back to us when they get done with the appeal.”

On starting a freshman at quarterback in most games he has been head coach and if that is the landscape of college athletics … 

“I would never say I got comfortable with it or I’m comfortable with it. I think it’s an enormous challenge to do that. I think that’s a burden on a lot of people because in any offensive system, the guy that’s got to have the most information or the capacity for the most information is the quarterback position. So that’s not easy.

Is it the norm? I think it’s happened more often, and the main reason it’s happened more often is because more kids come in prepared. The level of mental practice for high schools, the seven-on-sevens, the throwing, the advanced age of high school football now, the job the high school coaches do is just tremendous, so the kids come in more prepared. But never would I say that you’re more comfortable with it. I don’t think any head coach that tells you they’re comfortable with that is going to be telling you the truth because experience is valuable, and I think experience pays off. But I certainly know that there’s talented enough players to come in and take over a team and command leadership.

One of ours was — it happened kind of naturally, then the other one was forced, so for two different situations, we’ve had a freshman, and that’s something that a lot of coaches are having to deal with across the country, and each year it’s probably going to be more and more prevalent as kids transfer and move because you don’t find the guy willing to come in and play like Hudson Mason did. You don’t find the guy willing to wait his turn and play like AJ McCarron did. They’re more often gone.”

On Ohio State…

“First of all, I think we do a tremendous job here of policies and procedures, and of understanding what to do. And if you don’t know, you ask. Being a first-time head coach, first year, I think the education piece is so important. I think Greg [McGarity] and President [Jere] Morehead do a tremendous job with us, making sure we know the chain of command, making sure we know who our Title IX coordinator is on campus, Janyce Dawkins and Darrice [Griffin], who does ours here, our deputy athletic director. I think you have to know who those people are, and you have to be in good communication with them. They do a tremendous job of letting us know exactly how to report and how to do things, and even last year Janyce came and spoke to our team, and I think that’s really important to have that relationship.”

Follow-up question to Ohio State … 

“I’m not going to do hypotheticals, unfortunately. But I think the biggest focus for us is obviously to be on practice one. I know where you’re headed, and I get it, but it’s not a topic right now for me. What I feel really comfortable with is the structure we have here, the organization we have here, the leadership we have here, and the ability to communicate across the board, which really makes it good for us. But we’re really worried about practice one right now.”

On his thoughts if positive press affects players … 

“My antidote is practice because I think if you ask our players, there are no accolades being given out there at practice unless they do it exactly right, every time. But I think the remedy is a standard of excellence that is not adhered to based on results. So we’re not going to look at what the media, or some outside source, or what aunt, uncle, grandma say about me, we’re going to do it based on how we perform in practice, and if we practice to that standard and that level of energy. Then there will be pats on the back. If not, then we’re going to try to demand excellence as a staff. You hold people accountable, and the best teams are the ones that we don’t have to do that – the players do that – and that’s probably the best way to handle it.”

On the status of senior ILB Natrez Patrick … 

“Natrez has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s really worked hard this off-season. I’m proud of the progress he’s made. Again, all decisions in that manner will be handled internally.”

On any scenario involving freshman QB Justin Fields starting at quarterback … 

“I look at it, can Tyson Campbell beat out Deandre Baker? Tyson Campbell could beat out Deandre Baker. Can Brenton Cox or Robert Beal have a chance to start over D’Andre Walker? Certainly. I think could Jamaree [Salyer] work at center or Warren Ericson work at center and beat out Lamont [Gaillard]? Certainly. I think when you start thinking about that and you start trying to make it a bigger deal than it is, for me it’s all about who’s going to play with the most consistency, who’s going to do things naturally as a leader and understand and develop and make right decisions at every position. So I think that’s the most important thing for us. Are we headed in team-goal oriented decisions, and are you working as hard as you possibly can to out-compete the other guys?

We’ve got a ton of competition in this camp. You look across the board, when you sit there and say, we don’t really have a depth chart. You guys have a depth chart, but we don’t have a depth chart because every guy is getting the same rep. Our ones, twos, threes, fours are going to get the same number of reps at practice, and we’re going to evaluate them and say who’s doing the best job of competing to the standard we want, and then we’ll make decisions from there who plays.”

On the new locker room and the impact it has on current players and recruiting … 

“The new locker room at the stadium? The impact on the team has been minimal. We haven’t been over there. We don’t dress and do things over there at the stadium, so that’s not a big deal for us. We’ve had events over there. I certainly think it’s a first-class facility, best in the country when it comes to hosting student-athletes and prospective student athletes on game day events. Our stadium is one of our feature showpieces, so to be able to enjoy that environment and have a great place to host them – downstairs our locker room is obviously where our players go and use on game days, it gives them a tremendous place to be able to get dressed and get ready for a game. So I’m excited about that.

On the secondary … 

“Tray [Bishop] is going to practice today, and things are still in the hands of the court right now, so we’re going through the due diligence that requires. At the secondary position, we’ve got a lot of guys working. We’ve moved Tyrique McGhee around, who we think is one of our best four or five defensive backs, so he’s played some corner, he’s played some nickel, some star. We’ll work him at safety some.

Richard LeCounte will continue to work at safety. [Latavious] Brini is going to be working at safety. We’ve got a lot of young guys working at corner with Ameer Speed working out there, and Mark Webb is going to be working, Tyson Campbell is going to be working at corner, Chris Smith, Deandre [Baker] obviously, but we’ve got a lot of guys in the secondary that have got to get experience. They had a lot of practice experience, but we lost a lot of consecutive starts.

We’ve got some guys that we think can play that are going to have to go out and grow up, and that’s going to be one of the main areas that we’re focused on developing depth, but also developing who’s going to start because besides Baker and [J.R.] Reed. There’s not really anybody out there that’s started – Tyrique maybe had a few, but we’re going to find out a lot about the secondary in this camp. We’ve got to find guys that can tackle.

On the offense and special teams … 

“Yeah, I think when you lose certain people, you may not think of them as a deficiency, like punting and kicking. When you lose the punter, it changes the dynamic of how you do things, so we might have the best coverage unit in the country. Might be better at covering kicks than we were last year, but if the punter doesn’t punt it to the same effective nature or distance and hang, it can change your whole outlook. It’s not a matter of how much we work on it. We had a tremendous year in special teams last year, and we’re trying to say – how can we get better, how can we further ourselves in regards to that?

And I think offensively there’s tons of areas to improve. We’ve got to have more explosive plays. We’ve got to be able to throw the ball explosively. We’ve got to find out if these young backs can protect the quarterback and can protect the ball. We’ve got some guys on the O-line – we had a first-round pick leave the offensive line [Isaiah Wynn] – so that guy opened a lot of holes. So finding people to replace them, and also the right guys to be in the right spots behind them so that we got the right depth chart in case somebody gets injured. Offensive line is very unique. You’ve got five guys, but if this guy goes down, it may take four people moving to get the right guy on the field. So that’s what you have camp for, and we expect it to be a tough, physical camp, and I’m excited to go work.”

#18 Isaac Nauta | Jr. | TE 

 On comfortability with the young players…

“There will still be a little bit of getting to know the team, because camp is starting and the pads are coming on. This is when you really weed out what people are made out of – when the pads come out and the hitting starts. All those young guys though really had a great summer. I’ve been really pleased with how the young players have worked and bought in. That is what the culture has been set at, and that is how it’s going to work. The summer has been great, and I’m excited to see what will happen in the next few weeks in camp.”

On James Coley moving over to a new position, and Jim Chaney rotating to overseeing tight ends…

“As far as the tight end room goes, it is definitely a lot more involved in the offense, because he (Chaney) is around all the time. We are able to learn more conceptually now since he is the offensive guru. Just having him around to go more in depth on what the offense entails is more exciting for us, because we feel like we are getting a better understanding of it, and it opens its up for us. As far as Coley, he had a lot more heads in the receiver room than he has now in the quarterback room. He has done a great job. He is also a guy that has been an offensive coordinator, so he knows the schemes and concepts well. I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of both of them, and have become a better player.”

On the Zamir White recovery and rest of running backs…

“It reminded me of Nick (Chubb) on how he attacked it. Zamir is the same type of guy too – quieter and just went to work and got his knee right. He got healthy quick, he looks really good. He is a very versatile back and a hard runner. I think he will create a lot of competition in the backfield, which is good, because it makes everyone better. We have a full stable of backs and all those guys can play. Even James Cook now joining in the mix. We have a great backfield and they will all compete this camp. I’m excited to see what they can do.”

#15 D’Andre Walker | Sr. | OLB

On the two quarterbacks…

“There’s competition everywhere, I see a lot of it. I feel like those guys, they both see the battle for that position.”

On approaching the 2018-19 season…

“I feel like we have to capitalize on the smaller things. Keep working harder and making sure we can get back to those big games.”

On blocking out the noise…

“I never really did hear it. I think as a team we never really paid attention [to it]. We just went out to practice every day and worked.”

#8 Riley Ridley  | Jr. | WR

On his brother…

“I feel like I’m a more physical guy, I like to attack. My brother is more of a route-runner, I feel like I’m more physical. We’re both explosive. I wouldn’t say he’s not explosive or I’m not explosive but I feel like anywhere on the field, that we are where we can be explosive for our teams.”

On his progression from last season…

“Right now, I’m trying to study and be the man that I can for my team. Just be a leader for the young guys, help out, take a load off of some of the coaches and step it up for the team. I feel like I know what to expect even thought coach Smart keeps us on our toes. That’s what I want, I want to be competing, I want to be out on the field, I want to go through it with my brothers.”

On Jake Fromm…

“With me and Jake, right now, we’re going through a process and just learning. We’re learning, we’re practicing, we’re going hard. Hopefully in the fall we’re able to put it all together.”

#71 Andrew Thomas | So. | OL

On the depth of the offensive line…

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of talent. There’s going to be a lot of competition. … For the guys that are starting right now, it will push us and then for the defense it’s going to make them a lot better.”

On starting camp for his sophomore season…

“It’s just a lot of excitement; I guess it’s different for me this time around, I know the system. I just trying to get better and I’m excited to get things started.”

On the team meeting the standards…

“We just know that last year what made us a great team was how we came in and attacked practice every day. We practice hard, we practice physical. The game isn’t easy so that’s what we’re trying to make it this year.”

On last year’s success and the expectation heading into this season…

“I guess that’s what we set and that’s what we’re looking for, but you just work every day to get back there.” 

On rebuilding a defense that is replacing seven starters…

“I would say a lot of the young guys have learned a lot through seven-on-seven. They have a lot of talent so I’m excited to see what they’re going to do in camp.”

On the young offensive linemen…

“A lot of them are really smart and have been catching on. Most of them played two or three positions so it’s exciting to see them come in and work really hard.” 

On learning from Isaiah Wynn’s expertise on the offensive line…

“Every time we watched film you would always see Isaiah in every play doing something right and that’ what I try and mimic.”

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