Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 Spring practice
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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 Spring practice

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA

ATHENS, Ga.  University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several student-athletes, previewed the upcoming spring practice slate with media on Tuesday. 

Below are comments from Tuesday’s media availability. 

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“What a great time to be a Bulldog. The spring season is in full effect, and I think all of you guys know what a great record a lot of our spring sports are having. I want to bring a lot of attention to the women’s tennis team — ranked No. 2 in the country, just coming off an indoor national championship. What an incredible job they have done. Baseball is killing it. Gymnastics Top 10. Golf men’s team just actually won a tournament, top 15 in the country. Track is doing well as they always do, and equestrian the same way and softball as well. So I think it’s pretty incredible what all of our spring sports are doing and continue to do. And momentum is created when you build strong organizations, and that’s what we’ve got here at the University of Georgia. So when you look across the athletic department, including the football program, we want to be a team that has momentum.

I’m excited about the future of our program. We’ve kind of had a motto we’ve been saying around here for the last couple of months that if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you, and we’ve done that because we need to be challenged. We need to be focused on challenging good players, challenging players that are young, challenging players that just got here, because we’ve got a lot of all those categories.

I’m really proud of the off-season conditioning program. Coach Sinclair has done a tremendous job, and I think anytime you talk to strength coaches, they’ll always tell you how much gains they made. You’re like, well, if you’re always making gains, when do you ever have a down off season? But it was nice for us. I think for the first time we went from 32 guys that could bench press over 300 pounds to 34. So we’re two higher than we were this time last year. Power cleans the same way, from 30 guys to 32 guys that could power clean over a certain amount. And then also the same thing with squats.

We’ve had a lot of increases in our spring program. We’ve got 14 mid-year enrollees, which is extremely unique for me. I don’t know that I’ve ever been part of a program that had 14 mid-year enrollees. Unfortunately, a couple of those guys are unable to go through spring ball, with injuries. But the off-season conditioning program was great. We had really good energy, and now we’re kind of moving to that phase of spring practice. And I know the players are so excited to get out there and go practice, because there’s only so much you can do in the weight room and in conditioning and walk-throughs before you’re ready to go play with the football. And that’s what these guys love to do.

We’ve got a few guys are injuries that are going to be out this spring. I’d like to go through those, but I’m sure if I don’t hit one or there’s somebody you want to ask about, feel free to ask. But we’ve got several guys that will be out. Michail Carter had shoulder surgery, he had a labral repair. So he’ll be out. Everybody knows about Ryan Davis coming in, one of our mid-year enrollees. He had the knee injury, and he’s had surgical repair. Ryland Goede will be out. Prather Hudson had shoulder labral repair. He’ll be out. Trezman Marshall, another mid-year enrollee that’s out with the shoulder repair. Julian Rochester had a knee that he’s had repaired. He’ll be out for spring practice. Zamir is coming back, doing really well, but he won’t be doing spring practice other than doing some stuff on the side, doing some running. And he’s done a lot of off-season conditioning, but he won’t be out there or cleared to go practice.

I think that hits the guys that are like out out, like aren’t able to practice. We’ve got a few hamstring injuries; guys are nursing those, but they should be able to go in practice and should be fine for the most part with those guys. But the early enrollees have been a very impressive group from a standpoint of work ethic, and some of them can’t work. The guys that I just mentioned there’s some things they can do and can’t do, but the ones that can have really worked hard, and I think they created a lot of competition.

A couple of things we want to establish this spring. We want to increase our havoc rate on defense. That’s one of the main target areas. We want to be more disruptive, and the only way you’re going to be more disruptive is practice being disruptive. So we’ve gotta do that. We’ve gotta create more lost yardage plays, more negative situations, and that’s something we’ve really worked on. And we’ve done studies on the Top 10 teams last year in havoc, and we’re trying to do some of the things they do and we’re trying to put guys in position to do that.

Offensively, we’ve got some holes to fill, especially at the receiver spot and some at the running back spot and tight end spot. So we’re excited about the challenges. I’m really excited about seeing the new wideouts go out and compete and play, and unfortunately, there are no early guys in at that position so we’ll get to see a lot of them at fall camp, but there’s a lot of guys who’ve been here that haven’t had an opportunity to really go out and play in the forefront and being thrust in the forefront. So that’s a big position of need for us, and we’re going to get though watch those guys compete. With that, I’ll open it up for questions.”

On the grad-transfer market … 

“Yeah, I’m not really allowed to comment on the grad transfer market because nothing is done. They’re not signed. They’re not physically here yet. So we can’t comment on those guys. But the two guys we picked up late in the signing process with Brett (Seither) and George (Pickens) we certainly think are high-caliber players. We know a lot about both of them. We know George is going to fit what we did. He really was intrigued by the fact that we had the guys come out early, and he knew that he fit in our style system. And we think he’s a talented player that we’re looking forward to working with.

And Brett is a guy that really came on the radar late, was kind of a late Bloomer, had a really good senior year, really good athlete. I liked the fact that he played both ways on his tape; extremely competitive. Was able to watch him work out during the recruiting process in January, and he’s just an impressive physically competitor. And they’re both at positions of need. You wish they were here now, but the way college football works with guys getting here in early June, they’ll have two months of really good work to build up. So whether or not they’ll be able to contribute this year, I don’t know that we know that. I think we’re going to try to find that out with the guys we’ve got here on our roster right now in the spring.”

On new coordinators … 

“I don’t think you ever know exactly what you want to do. You’re always prepared as a coach. You know guys get opportunities. I’ve known for quite a while that Mel Tucker was going to do a tremendous job as a head coach. I mean he was a guy that I was able to lean on, especially early in this process. First, I’d say congratulations to Mel and Jim, but also thank them for what they helped us build thus far. They were both tremendous assets, they were really great guys, great team players and bought into the whole organization.

When it comes to Dan, Glenn sharing that responsibility with Dan being the coordinator, and Coley, who’s been a coordinator, and I’ve known James Coley for a long time and got a lot of respect for him. He worked with Jimbo for a long time, had an opportunity to go with Jimbo the year before.

And really, at the end of the day when you have coordinators on offense and you have two guys that are doing it like Jim and James did, they share a lot of that responsibility; and a lot of that responsibility will be passed down now with Dell and Cortez being involved. And I had a lot of confidence in Dan and Glenn even last year. Not everybody knows what goes on behind the scenes, and I think that’s okay that not everybody knows that. But as the head coach you’re in all these meetings, you’re in all these decisions. You know how much involved Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann are in the game planning process. Mel will tell you he leans on those guys heavily, so I have a lot of confidence in those two guys, which is why they got hired.”

On the personality difference James Coley brings to the offensive side of the ball … 

“Yeah. Look, we’ve been really successful at running the ball. That’s who we are at Georgia. We’re not going to go recreate the wheel and say, okay, now we’re going to open and be an empty spread team every down and go high tempo. You do what makes you successful, and he had a meeting with the offense yesterday, which I sat in, and he talked about balance. What is balance? People think balance means 50/50. Balance is not 50/50. Balance is being able to run the ball when you have to run the ball and being able to throw the ball when you have to throw the ball. So can you do both? Yes, you can be successful at both. That might be 70/30 one game and then 30/70 the other way the next game. So I think we’re going to be successful at that because I think that’s going to be based on having good players. But I don’t think that we’re going to say, okay, we’re throwing out everything we’ve done; we’re starting over. We’ve really had one coaching change on the offensive side of the ball, and every year when you go reinvent yourself, you say, okay, who are my best players, how are we going to get them the ball what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses, what are the things we’ve gotta really work on? And we’ve done that for almost two months now, because our signing class was pretty much done in January. We’ve been working on us and saying, okay, what can we do better, and I think James brings a lot of that to the table. They’ve gone and visited with a lot of people to get new ideas.”

On the center position …

“Trey Hill played better against Kentucky. I mean that’s the first thing that comes to mind is here’s a guy who played in a go-win-the-SEC-East type game, against a really tough defense, and he was thrown and thrust right into the limelight. So we’ll have a group. We’ll be working three guys there a lot of times. Clay will get some reps there. Jamaree will get reps there. Trey will get reps there. We’ll have a lot of guys working through there, but Trey is the guy that’s kind of been walking through and taking the most reps, and he’s got some experience already, which is valuable.”

On coach Scott Sinclair … 

“Well, I don’t know that I have a story to indicate that, but I think anytime you hire a strength coach and you give them the freedom to choose their workout plan — we talked daily during the off season of what do we need. Well, I’m taking the input from a guy who’s a master strength coach, and there’s only so many of those guys in the country, and we’re fortunate to have two here that are master strength coaches, and I think when you rely on experience and value — and you’re fortunate at the University of Georgia that you can hire people like that with great experience, that you compete with the best in the market to keep your coaches and keep your strength guys. But he does a tremendous job. He provides energy. He provides discipline. He spends more time one on one with players than probably anybody in our program with he and his staff, and I think they’ve done a tremendous job getting our guys ready, and it’s a big part of it.

I’ve always worried this practice because we’re coming off spring break, so it’s always like, well, we do all that buildup to get ready, and then you’ve got a week off and then you’ve gotta come back and get ready to go practice. So we’ll have to kind of push these guys to get them back into the playing shape they need to be in, but his staff has done a great job.”

On potential of Kearis Jackson and the confidence Smart has in Jake Fromm … 

“Yeah, I think this is going to be a common thing you guys are going to ask me a thousand times about the receivers over the next whatever number of days this is. I think Kearis is a guy that’s going to have to come out and compete, and he’s going to get plenty of opportunities, because when you look at the production gone, who’s going to replace that production? Well, the first in line are the guys that are here right now, not necessarily the three or four guys that are coming in. So I’m extremely excited about Kearis’s work ethic. He was a guy that was really in the rotation last year and then all of a sudden had a hamstring at camp and it kind of held him back. But I’m excited to see what he does and there’s a lot of other wideouts I could say these guys are going to go out there and have — we’re going to find out what they’re about. We’re going to see if they can go out and compete and go against the best and make plays. But excited about Jake, the growth he’s been able to give us. He’s really been a tremendous help for the other two quarterbacks that are here, and obviously we’ve got a lot of confidence in Jake and our offensive system and his understanding of running the thing.”

On leadership … 

“Yeah, I’ve never felt great about leadership at this point in time. I didn’t feel great two years ago, I didn’t feel great last year. I think you can’t find true leadership, and you can’t manipulate it. You can’t make it happen. It happens through adversity, and you have to create the adversity. So in the off season we try to create adversity, hey, something happened. We had a turnover, we gotta go back out here and do this on some kind of conditioning drill. But you never really get to do that until adversity strikes, which adversity, the first time it really happens is in spring ball, when you’re out there scrimmaging and something goes wrong, and they hit a play, how are you going to respond? You get tired of practicing, day practice eight or nine or ten, who’s going to respond and who’s going to lead? I think we’ve worked really hard on that, but I think that has to reveal itself. I don’t think you can appoint leadership. Now, we’ve got guys who’ve played a lot of games around here. That doesn’t make them a good leader. We’ve gotta have guys that are willing to step up and do the things they have to do to demand to others, and usually when you have that, you have a pretty good team.”

On who is leading the field as a leader at this point .. 

“Yeah, we’ve got several guys, I think, that are good leaders that aren’t afraid to speak up, but I’m not interested in naming them. I want them to earn it. I want them to go out there and continue to do it. I don’t think you appoint that. I don’t think that’s something that’s given. It’s something that’s earned.”

On who gets the reps behind Jake Fromm … 

“Yeah, the two quarterbacks are going to get the reps behind him. Dwan Mathis and Stetson Bennett are both going to get a ton of reps. To say most, I don’t know that we could say most. They’ll get the same amount behind him. But those two guys will be working, as well as John Seter, who is one of our walk-ons. He’ll get reps as well.”

On if he was surprised that four players declared for the NFL Draft…
“I don’t know if surprised would be the right word. Certainly very thrilled for the future of their careers. We’re looking forward to see how they do. They have a huge day tomorrow, so they’ll be doing their Pro Days here. I’ve followed each one of them, communicated with each one of them, and we as a coaching staff and really organization are pulling really hard for those guys. The best thing that could happen for us is for each one of those guys to be drafted as high as possible, and for our program, and we’re looking forward to having a hell of a draft because we have the potential to have a lot of guys drafted. So the better those guys do tomorrow, the better the chance is of that.”

On the injury update of James Cook and David Marshall…
“Yeah, James will be fine. He’s cleared. He’s good to go. He got injured early in the bowl practice, was unable to play in the bowl game. He had an ankle injury similar to the one Tua (Tagovailoa) had. It was a little bit worse than Tua’s, but they did a great job over in Birmingham, the special surgery they put together to help him. It’s really a bad version of a high ankle sprain. But the new surgery they’re doing has worked great on him. He’s been able to run in the off-season conditioning program. He’s been cleared. He’s done 7-on-7’s. He’s going to be out there, ready to go today. So we’re pleased with where he is.

David Marshall coming off the Lisfranc injury he had last year. He will be cleared, but not completely cleared. You won’t see him out there today. He just had his screws taken out. He’ll be back before the end of spring, just not sure exactly which day.”

On who will emerge from the tight-end room…
“Well, we had a chance to replace a really good player in Isaac Nauta. I think Charlie (Woerner) is ready to step up. He’s been a great leader. Charlie does an unbelievable job on our special teams, really athletic, and I think John Fitzpatrick had a good off-season. So we’re going to find out what he can do. We have some guys working at that position we’re going to look at, and we have guys coming in that we think are going to help us at that position as well.

The same thing is always there for the tight ends. Jake (Fromm) has a comfortable relationship with Charlie. He feels good with him. We have to find the best 11 players to put on the field, whether that’s two tight ends, one tight end or no tight ends. That’s going to be dictated off the help of other players as well as the growth of the tight ends on offense.”

On the recovery of Zamir White…

“I don’t know that I can answer how much. That’s going to come into fall camp. I think anytime you have a noncontact ACL and then you have a second one, you have to be careful because we’re talking about two different knees and really completely noncontact injury. So when that happens, makes you wonder, hey, is the kid going to be able to progress this time as fast as he did last time. So for us he’s going to be able to do some — he’s running. He’s running really well. He’s doing a lot of straight-line stuff. He’s just not going to be involved in the scrimmaging and contact part. So ultimately how do I know he’s going to contribute to the team? I don’t know that. I’m not going to know that until probably early fall camp. I’m very pleased with his work ethic. He knows that’s his future. If he takes care of his knee, he rehabs hard, he does everything we ask him to do — I think Ron (Courson) is one of the best in the country at dealing with this, when you look at the significant injuries he’s dealt with with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, especially at that position, so he has somebody really good to rely on in regards to that. Zamir has managed that really well.

On if on-the-field fights and recruiting fights with Alabama have damaged his relationship with Nick Saban…
“(Laughs). Absolutely not. I don’t have any issue or any problem with any relationship with Nick. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it’s done anything but grown for more respect since we’ve played them twice. Every time I see Coach Saban, we have a great relationship. We’re not texting and calling each other buddy, buddy, but I’m not doing that with anybody. So that’s not to be of mention. I have a lot of respect for him. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, and there’s no problem with our relationship.”

On his history and any previous relationship with Defensive Backs Coach Charlton Warren…
“I did not know Charlton. We played against him when he was at North Carolina, and we were here in our first game. I didn’t personally know him; had heard a lot of good things about him. I know there were some coaches there at Tennessee that were going to try to retain him at one time, but Butch (Jones) got let go. I’d just heard things in the profession, talked to a lot of different people about him, and once you do the research, he really stood out as a guy that we thought would bring a lot of discipline and great demeanor to our secondary. He was the guy that I wanted to pick and think a lot of him.”

On opening the 2019 schedule with an SEC opponent and Notre Dame coming to town and then the possibility of moving the Auburn game in 2020….
“Well, I’ll start with that one, only because I don’t think you can realistically judge any schedule until you see it in its totality. So we haven’t seen the SEC schedule for 2020, and to be honest with you, I am a lot more worried about 2019 than I am 2020. So that’s our focus here, and that’s the main thing we’re concerned with.

As far as opening with a really good Vanderbilt team, I think it gives you that ability to have the first game of the year mean something, to be excited about it. To say, okay, we’re going to go out there and get to play an SEC opponent, it gives your off season, especially your last two or three weeks of camp, a lot more excitement. And then obviously the two home games we’re excited about. We love home-and-homes. That’s something we want to be able to do is bring great programs to Athens and have games played here in Athens, which are important to me and the schedule. Thank you.”

#20 J.R. Reed | Sr | DB

On if this year feels different for you being a third year starter… 

“I definitely feel old. I feel old because all the kids now are born in 2000 or 2001, which is younger than my sister so I definitely feel old. I also feel old because my baby cousin is in college now, she is a freshman.” 

On your role on this team as a third year starter… 

“I have to take my role more seriously. It is just a different role than I have had in the past. You know, when I first got here I was old but still young because I hadn’t seen much playing time on the field. Then last year, I was an older guy so this year it is really just me and Tyrique McGhee for the older guys that are back there.” 

On what went into your decision to return and how lengthy of a process was that…

“It was 100 percent talking to my family throughout the entire process. It took me a minute to figure out what I wanted to do. I looked and weighed at the pros and cons and then I talked to Coach Smart and I told him I wanted to come back and win a national championship.” 

#94 Michael Barnett | Sr. | DT

On difference with some new defensive coaching staff…

“I think the personality is not going to change. Coach Mel [Tucker] was a good coach, but I think Coach [Glenn] Schumann and Coach [Dan] Lanning is going to do a great job. They bring energy. They are young, so they are very energetic, which excites us. We have a lot of young players, so the young players love that excitement and what not, so I think they [players] are just going to go out there and ball.”

On if there will be confusion on how responsibilities of the coaching staff will get divided out…

“I don’t think there will be any type of confusion, because each of them bring something different to the table. We look at both of them as leaders, so I don’t think there will be any confusion at all.”

On Jordan Davis’ development and growth…

“I think [Jordan] has developed well. He is learning the playbook, and is developing more confidence. I think the weight is always going to be there, but that is also what makes Jordan, Jordan – his size. You don’t see anybody that size. He is a freak of nature, so I think everything is going to be fine with Jordan and it will pan out.”

On going easy rep-wise on defensive line in practice since it is a shallow rotation…

“We aren’t going to dial back at all. I think it will just be more of a load on us. It just happens, it is the game of football. If someone gets hurt in a game, you can’t just stop the game and lower the time of the game. This is Georgia and we have to practice.”

#11 Jake Fromm | Jr. | QB

On how this year feels different personally…

“I’m definitely a lot more comfortable. You definitely know exactly what’s going on, even more than I did last year. Things have slowed down. I feel like the weight room, the whole offseason program, is just getting easier. I was talking to a lot of guys in my class and the senior class and was like, ‘am I the only one who thinks this is getting easier or is this a thing?’ I feel great. We’re not just surviving through the workouts; we’re thriving through them. We’re getting a lot better through them and just knowing what’s going on. The whole offense being able to input stuff during meetings, not just ask what or how, but ask why and really get into big detail what’s going on with football.”

On the familiarity with James Coley as Offensive Coordinator…

“A lot of similar things are going on. It’s good for both of us with learning. It’s good for me to learn some different stuff too; it keeps me on my toes. I love learning and anything about football really intrigues me so I’m excited about what’s going on in that room and I can’t wait to get better during Spring.”

On his teammates from last season declaring for the NFL Draft…

“That’s a decision they made. It was kind of tough to see the teammates we leaned on leave; but we’re excited for those guys, we’re pumped for those guys making their dreams come true. I can’t wait to see them do well at their pro day and hopefully on draft night. We’re pumped, can’t wait to see those guys, it’s going to be awesome.”

On his trip to the NFL Combine Preview in Indianapolis…

“It was awesome. The NCAA brought us in, about 20-25 of us guys. It was a lot of meeting time. Really learning about agents, the process of the transition to the NFL, how to stay eligible these last two years. It was a lot of information, a lot of financial literacy, figuring out what to do with your money when you get it, where your money goes, just a lot of information. Me and Andrew learned a lot and we’re super thankful for that experience to really understand how it happens. We got to go over to the Combine for a couple hours to see what that’s like. It’s a completely different perception about what you think is happening when you watch it on TV. You think it’s one thing and you get there and it’s super quiet, it’s cold in there, and everybody gets their rep and keep going from there. It was a great learning experience, I’m super thankful for that, and hopefully take as much information as I can and learn from it.”

#71 Andrew Thomas | Jr. | OT

On excitement of spring practice… 

“It’s a lot of excitement. We have been working out and doing a lot of running, it’s a pleasure to get back out there and do some pass-offense.”

On standards set for himself and going into this season being an All-American last season… 

“It’s the same approach to every season, just trying to be better than I was the previous year.” 

On visiting the NFL Combine and his experience and takeaways… 

“I learned a lot about the process that goes into becoming a professional athlete. I learned about the financial courtesy and stuff like that.” 

On the vibe of the offense after the coordinator change… 

“I would say, I think we will do the same a little bit. We have had a couple meetings, and we’re changing a couple things up with the playbook. We’ll see in practice today and see how it goes.” 

On how he sees the center position changing with Trey Hill…

“I think having us around and a lot of the older guys will help him adjust, and he’s starting to get a lot more confidence. He played in some games last year as center. As long as he continues to build confidence, I think he’s going to be a good player.”

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