Kirby Smart discusses Georgia's 2021 Pro Day
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Kirby Smart discusses Georgia’s 2021 Pro Day

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

The Georgia Bulldogs held their 2021 Pro Day inside the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday.

Following the event, UGA football head coach Kirby Smart discussed the results and the future professional prospects of Bulldog players. The following transcript of Smart’s comments was provide by UGA:

On what Erik Stokes can bring to an NFL secondary…

“Speed, speed and more speed is the first thing he can bring. But he’s a high-character young man who has done so much for our program. People talk about the value he has on the field and the speed and the plays he’s had, but for all those things he’s great at, he’s an a lot better person than anything else. He’s a guy who goes and works at the Boys & Girls Club. He reads to young kids across Athens. He’s a big brother to a sister who I know means a lot to him. He’s meant a lot to our organization and he’ll mean a lot to the next organization he goes to, both on and off the field.”

On what it was like for him and his staff to see a healthy Richard LeCounte performing today given all he has overcome over the last year…

“I was happy for all the guys. I know you’re asking specifically about Richard, and it was great to see him get back out there and have fun. I think what you love bout Richard is his personality. I had a bunch of NFL goes come over and tell me they were able to see his personality come out, not only during the workout, but in the interviews they were able to do un front of everybody. Probably the biggest compliment I got all day was when a couple GMs came over and just said, “This group did a tremendous job walking up in front of us,” and Richard was one of those guys who got to walk up and get in front of them. To get up and answer questions in front of 70 to 80 of your peers—that’s pretty intimidating, and I thought they did a great job.”

On whether data and metrics such as GPS numbers are useful and whether those numbers are shared with NFL teams…

“They’re useful for us. We don’t typically share that information out, so unless they’re squeezing it out or something is leaking it, we don’t give that information out. We tend to share information that will only help our players. In some cases, it would help. In some cases, they may be consecutive practices in a row, so we don’t share all that out. It certainly helps us, because it tells us when we need to pick it up and when we need to cut back volume wise.”

On what NFL teams are getting with a guy like Ben Cleveland..

“Big Ben! They’re getting the man, the myth, the legend himself. Ben Cleveland is first of all, a great person, just like the rest of these guys. I’ve known Ben since the ninth grade. The legend of Big Ben has been up in Toccoa, Georgia. He has a tremendous family. He’s played a lot of football here. He’s practiced a lot of football here. He’s been around here a long time, and anybody who picks Ben—it’s just hard to find size, and there’s just a certain criteria for size—and  he meets all that criteria. It’s hard to move, get around, and it’s a passing league, so when he pass probes, he’s a hard man to get past and does a great job of that. I’m excited to see what he does.”

On whether there is a currently a player who has jumped into a leadership role after losing so many leaders…

“We’ve got several guys that are returning that I think are tremendous leaders. Zamir [White] jumps out the way he sets the tone. He and James Cook both set an example. Jamaree [Salyer] and [Justin] Shaffer, Warren Ericson. They’re all doing a tremendous job on the offensive side of the ball. On the defensive side, Nakobe [Dean] is out there leading every day. He does a great job holding them accountable. Travon Walker has done that. Jordan [Davis] and Devonte [Wyatt] coming back helps tremendously. In the secondary, Chris [Smith] and Lewis [Cine] have played a lot of football, especially with Richard’s [LeCounte] injury. Those guys are helping lead in the back end.”

On what it was like to see the first group of guys he recruited experience Pro Day…

“It was great. I got to talk to those guys are a group, and I think every guy working out, we recruited with the exception of Kendall Baker, who was out working out after some injuries he’s had. That group is special to me, because they’ve all come at different times, but they’re all leaving together. They’re all ours. I’m proud of them. They’ve worked really hard for today and also getting closer to graduating, some of them have already graduated. A guy like Trey Hill, it’s so rare to graduate within three years and have the ability to come out early. I’m excited for all those guys. I know it’s a big day for them. It’s always one of the biggest days of your life and looking back on it, we want to make sure that we’ve given them everything they needed to prepare for today.”

On how special it was to see his guys he recruited participate in this Pro Day…

“It just meant a lot. A lot of those guys were a part of our first class, some were second class, but all are special to our staff. They’ve been great to Georgia and I’ve told them, ‘look, I don’t know when your career is going to end, for some of you it’s just beginning today. Some of you it will carry on for a long time and for some of you it won’t. The most important thing I want them to know is that they aren’t just great football players but they’re great people, they’re great leaders and we want to help them so they can be successful the rest of their life without football.”

On what he tells the guys while they are at Georgia to make them great people…

“The core values for us are to come here, graduate and become something bigger than yourself. It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about the NFL. We may inherit a young man that all his ambitions are to go to the NFL. We hope by the time he leaves; he understands the importance of a career outside of football and he understands how to develop as a football player. We always say, you’re trying to develop three careers while you’re here. Football is just one of those. We want them to be better men by choosing Georgia and I pride myself on the whole person, more than just the whole player. We failed these young men, if we didn’t do more than just coach them in football. That’s big for me. Today is about the measurements and the football but the mental stuff is so important to these NFL teams now and so many come in and talk about our guys’ ability to communicate and we try to force that on them so when they leave, they’re prepared.”

On Mark Webb switching positions from receiver to defensive back…

“Mark was a kid that came in from Philly and that was a really versatile player. The first thing that he has is toughness, and ball skills. We had a very crowded wide receiver room when we got here, and we were very thin on at defensive back when he got here. So, it was an opportunity more than anything, and he embraced the idea. We had Riley ( Ridley), we had Mecole (Hardman), and had Javon (Wims), we had a lot of guys when he got here. We thought he was one of our better athletes. We knew he would be a good matchup guy because of his size and his physicality, and he proved to do that. He grew as a player, he got better as a player, he has developed a lot. As far as switching back, that is not something for me to debate really, because I didn’t get to see him develop as a receiver because we developed him as a defensive back.”

On turning his players into professional football players…

“Well, it’s not the most important thing obviously, the most important thing that I hit on is that we develop them as men of character, get a great education, and graduate. But I am also cognizant of their ambitions, and their ambitions sometimes are, most times to have an opportunity to get to the NFL. Each one of them will probably be approached and drafted differently. I just want them to feel good that they had a good experience at Georgia and that the Coach Smart staff has been there for me and has promoted me to get this opportunity to go do what I want to do. I want to be there for these guys long beyond today when they get done playing.”

On the parting words he would enlist on his players going to the NFL…

“Be prepared for adversity. Nothing comes easy. They’ll tell you that they took the big step to come here and one of the larger steps you take is from high school to the SEC level. The next highest step is going to be the SEC to the NFL. You’re going into a less than one percent of athletes, so everyone is talented. How do you take care of your body because what you got away with in college, you may not be able to get away with in the Pros because it will be hard work at the professional level. I will just tell them to enjoy it because it will not last forever. We have seen that a six-to-seven-year career in the NFL is extremely successful. So be preparing for your next career while you are there.”

 

On Eric Stokes… 

“Stokes is a really interesting story because not many people know the whole story backdrop. Coach Tucker and I had a lot of conversations about Stokes through the year. I can’t tell you that season how many times I went back and watched him in camp that year, his high school tapes where we would take the ball at running back and just out run everybody.  We just thought that there is this raw talented guy right down the road. We don’t really look at the ratings the way a lot of you guys do, no know, but we just don’t really care about the ratings. We just evaluate the tape and let the tape speak for itself. The tape said that here’s a really long person who’s really fast and a really good kid who’s only an hour away from us. He also ran the 100-meters, so there’s some verified speed there. He came in, and most kids don’t believe in redshirting and don’t want to redshirt, but he developed. Mel [Tucker] was very patient with him and taught him very well. I give Mel [Tucker] a lot of credit for teaching Eric Stokes. He used to call him “dirty red.” He was a hardnosed, get better player, and he had a long way to go, but by his redshirt freshman year, he came on, I think it was against Auburn, and played really well. He played well against Missouri and just grew. He kept getting better, and I’m proud of what stokes was able to do. He was always fast, that was never a question, but what he did was improve in a lot in a lot of areas where he wasn’t great and became a much better player.”

On Monty Rice… 

“He’s a kid who went and committed to LSU on TV or whatever his announcement was, and then 15 minutes later said, ‘Coach, I made a mistake. I want to be at Georgia. I want to be there. I want to be a Bulldog,’ and that meant a lot to us to be able to get him. He pushed through injuries this year, and I’ve never had a guy who practiced as hard as Monte [Rice] does, and it hurt him that he couldn’t practice every day this year and try and help the team and try and go out and play on Saturdays.”

On Richard LeCounte… 

“His story was very special. There were a few minutes there where I didn’t know what had happened, and that was a scary moment. It makes you realize that there is a lot more to life than football.”

On Azeez Ojulari’s ceiling and what he could bring to an NFL team…

“High character and toughness. I think when you start trying to build a defense, whether you’re in the NFL, college, or high school, it starts with what kind of toughness do you have. When you rank tough players, Azeez Ojulari is really high. He strikes well with contact. He never shies away. He doesn’t complain when you go full pads – he wants every part of it. He is a high character player off the field. He is going to be an asset in the locker room. He makes your whole team better, but he’s also talented. I am excited to see where he goes. Somebody is going to get a great young man in Azeez.”

On teams looking at Azeez Ojulari….

“As far as Azeez, every team that I talked to today, that was probably the first question I get – ‘What do you think Azeez is? Is he a SAM? Is he a DPR? What can he do outside of rushing the passer? Is he going to be able to play in space?’ There are a lot of questions there that because they’re talking about investing a lot of money in those high draft picks, so they want to get a lot of information on those guys.”

On relationship with new Falcons staff…

“As far as the Falcons go, they’ve been great. They’ve reached out and we’ve got a relationship with both of those guys now. They’ve been awesome to UGA in terms of reaching out and communicating, just like the last staff was.”

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