Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2021 Vanderbilt football game
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2021 Vanderbilt football game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Mackenzie Miles/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, John FitzPatrick, Christopher Smith, and Adam Anderson, spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming game at the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Georgia and South Carolina will square off at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, Sept. 25 (Buy Tickets). The game will be televised by the SEC Network at Noon ET.

Taylor Zarzour will call the play-by-play, Matt Stinchcomb will provide analysis, while Alyssa Lang will report from the sidelines.

Below is a transcript of the Vanderbilt press conference which was provided by UGA.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement… 
“I hope we can continue to do this and looking forward to having you all today. I warn you, be careful today because we’re probably having to go inside due to the rain, so it’s going to be a very confined space for us, it’s really tight out there, so you’d be on your own. I’m excited to get to work on these guys, you know, we didn’t get to play them last year with the COVID-19 kind of experience we had. Headed to Nashville where our fan base always does a tremendous job and turns out, so excited about that. We’ll have to prepare for an early preparation, because it’s very, very different when you have pregame meal at possibly 7,7:30, so that’ll be different for us. One of the things I forgot to mention is excited about the ‘Dawgs On Tour’ and the money that our pro golfers are raising—I want to give some awareness to that and those guys are challenging everybody to make pledges for the number of birdies they make—so somebody told me I need to make a pledge, so I’m pledging one dollar per birdie for those guys. You don’t think it’d be much, but somebody told me that could get anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, but those guys are giving back to the university and I think it’s great. Anybody that plays here, as an amateur, and then goes on to become a professional and be able to give back, which those pro golfers have done, I think it’s a tremendous honor for them to do that and want to help out with that.”

On Sedrick Van Pran
“Sedric is a guy who we’ve always thought was really talented and we went and recruited him out of New Orleans. He’s got a wonderful family and he’s got relatives right in the Cobb County area that have come to games. I know his family comes up and stays. So he’s an exciting—really a great kid—very, very sharp kid who processes information really well, makes decisions and protections, makes points, does a lot of good things for our team. I think his growth was fast-forwarded through Warren (Ericson) being injured He would have gone a lot with the two’s anyway, but he got thrown in with the one’s, got a lot of good work in, and grew, and got better. His accuracy with snaps has continued to improve and must continue to stay at a high rate because the number one thing to success from an offense is number one, getting the snap, and he’s done a nice job of that. He’s had a couple, you know, plays in each game that make you go ‘What were you thinking there?’ He’s got to get those out, you can’t have—you may get beat physically and then very rarely does he get beat physically, but he can’t have mental lapses or, you know, do things on your own, and I think that part he’s still a work in progress, but I love his work ethic, I love the way he practices and leads and you can tell he’s going to be the kind of guy that leads in the right direction for the future for this team.”

On Darnell Washington and Tykee Smith
“We haven’t ruled out this weekend. They are back, they were running at the end of last week, weight-bearing, like running on their own. We’ve thought all along this would be the target—this week or next—but can’t say they’re going to be clear for this game. I’ll find out a lot more today because they’re going to be able to run, do some exercises, not necessarily be in their groups, but they’re going to be running and accelerating on their own, not just underwater in what we call the ‘Ultra G,’ where they have not 100% of their weight—They’re on 100% of their weight, so Thursday, Friday, we’re moving forward, and we’ll see where they are today.”

On the depth of Georgia’s defense…
“We promote depth and really our whole special teams, we share time on offense. We play a lot of players on defense, so I mean it’s not just a defensive thing. We sell that as a team because I personally think that it helps morale. I think it helps conditioning, especially during the hot months we’re still playing in, and if you’ve got players that are good enough to play, they deserve to play. We play a lot of guys, and I don’t think that—here’s how we practice—if you’re a two and you’re not going to get enough reps, you go down on the other field and you get them. And when you’ve got players in your program texting you, ‘Coach can I get some good work against Warren McClendon or Jamaree Salyer?’ That’s when you know you got a good culture, because they’re trying to get reps against better people rather than staying down with the defense and getting three of eight, they go down to the other field and get five of eight. And you may think that’s minute, but for me, that is everything we’re about, that’s what our culture is built on—it’s built on how you go against better players so that you get better and that’s how we get depth because they practice against good people.”

On JT Daniels
“I think JT (Daniels) came out of the game pretty clean. They had the one sack but he was down before he got hit. I’ll know more today as far as his health. I would think he’s progressed along and doing a nice job in terms of his health. And that always goes back to how they practice, and how the guys practice. I think he certainly showed that he was healthy enough to play and he played with a high efficiency. Still a couple decisions there that he’s got to make better decisions with the ball but you cant argue with how he played on third down. He was efficient with the ball, made good decisions. The one pick was late. He did some good things. So again, it’ll be based on day to day, how he practices and how guys practice in practice because practice matters.”

On giving up long pass plays…
“My level of concern is the same it was the first day we went out to practice. You don’t give up long pass plays and win games. And those same pass plays were prevalent in Clemson, they were just P.I.’s. So it’s something that you have to work on and people think that you have to play somebody else to solve those problems. You have to have good technique and you have to play with proper technique and you have to relieve some of that pressure with scheme but I’m a big believer in getting better at what you do. So, every time they throw that ball down the field it’s an opportunity for us to catch it.  The week before Kelee Ringo went up and caught that ball and you go, ‘well you do that a couple times how many of those will you see? And if I’m playing our defense and I’m struggling to run the ball, what’s your answer going to be?’ I’m not going to continue to just run it. I’m going to find ways to try and get one-on-one matchups and throw the ball. We say it all the time. That ball is just as much yours as it is theirs. We’ve got to do a good job of not letting people get behind us. And that starts with a lot of technique. It’s not a scheme thing. It’s not a one-person thing. It’s playing your technique and better than the guy across from you.

On Brock Bowers
“I think it’s just based on who the tight end is. Did ‘spread’ make the tight end position more prevalent? Not necessarily because there’s teams that do the same plays with a running back that we do with Brock (Bowers). There are teams we play that do the same plays we do with Brock that they do with a receiver. I can’t comment, because in the NFL there’s been more tight ends drafted in recent drafts, but it has nothing to do with the word ‘spread’. It has to do with a guy that’s a viable blocker that has replaced the fullback in traditional offense and he can also play on special teams. He can run, he can catch, he can run after catch. He can block maybe a little, maybe a lot, depending on who it is.”

On the TE position…
“The tight end position has evolved in the NFL therefore it has trickled down to high school and college offenses. But it’s really about who the guy is, right? It’s not like everybody wants to just say ‘well the tight ends are being used more’. Well, if you got a tight end that runs 4.5 (40-yard dash), then you know he presents a viable option. It’s a threat in the passing game. If he’s physical and tough enough to block and block on the perimeter, you give me any player that 235 pounds and can run 4.5’s we’ll find a way to use him. I think that has a lot to do with his (Bowers) skill set.”

On Clark Leah…
“I think he does a tremendous job. Number one, he’s an alumnus of the school, he takes a lot of pride in the school just like I do here. He’s been tremendously successful in his career, he’s really smart. We’ve met with him and spent time with him as a coach, he knows and understands football and is trying to build a culture there to be competitive in the SEC. That starts on the road recruiting, which he hasn’t gotten a chance to do and it comes with buying in to the culture he creates as a coach. I know he’ll do a good job with that. The one thing that you consistently see when you play at Vanderbilt, it’s always been a tough, physical game. They’ve been that way when James Franklin was there and when Derek (Mason) was there, it’s going to be no different. These guys are going to play hard, physical football. We don’t get into measuring ourselves against the opponent, we measure ourselves against ourselves and we’re going to do that every single day in practice.”

On Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith
“Experience, they both have that. Those guys paid the price of experience in years past and they’ve got confidence and experience now. When you play in this system, you play under coach (Dan) Lanning and he’s coaching you every day, telling you the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of formations, stances, everything he can tell you. It helps you as a player and they both are reaping the benefits of having been in the program.”

On team leadership…
“It’s up and down. There are days it could be better, there’s some days it’s really good and it’s a work in progress. In terms of player led leadership events and conversations, it’s never as good as I want it to be. It’s never as bad as the worst it’s been, so that’s a hard measuring stick. It’s day-to-day and it’s something we are constantly trying to grow. You develop leaders, you develop them on what you do in the off season, how much time you spend on investing in them as a staff, and individually basis with each player, letting them know what’s important you get that in return on investment with the time they spend with the team and when they lead the team when you’re not around. We’re probably not where we need to be in that regard, but it’s something we’ll always work on.”

On Adam Anderson on special teams…
“Adam has always done a tremendous job on special teams. He’s perfect for special teams, 6-foot-4, 230, 235 pounds, runs fast, what more could you want than a fast, big guy on special teams? He’s always taken a lot of pride in that. Adam has reasserted himself on this team who cares. He used to miss academics, now he doesn’t miss academics. He used to miss treatment, now he doesn’t. You watch the growth of a player, and I’ve seen it since being here, year one, they don’t have a clue. Year two, they’re still trying to figure it out to year three and that’s how you’re supposed to do it. He’s in that year where he understands what he’s supposed to do, and I understand why it’s important to do it that way. He’s done that on special teams and defense, he doesn’t play so many snaps on defense that he can’t play special teams. That’s part of the value on playing players on offense and defense, not every snap is that you get the value back on special teams.”

On the DGD fund…
“It does not surprise me at all. People know how great the University of Georgia is and to have players that feel like, ‘hey here is my opportunity to use my platform to get people to give to the DGD Fund so that I can in turn give back to the charity or organization that I take pride in.’ I think it says a lot about those guys that they are not trying to put money in their pocket, they’re trying to benefit some organization that is greater than themselves and they are doing it through the Georgia name. I don’t know anywhere in college football that guys are doing that. They are not trying to benefit themselves, they are trying to benefit others. Anytime you do that I think you should be recognized.”

On Dominick Blalock and Kearis Jackson
“Well Dom (Dominick Blaylock) is dealing with a little bit of a hamstring. He had it last week, he was really close we thought he was actually ahead of Kearis in terms of return. Then he had a little hamstring thing bother him…I guess it was early last week. He will be out there trying to go again today. Just one of those things when you haven’t been back in increased volume you have to be careful. Kearis did a good job in the game. He had two catches, he did a great job. He had one smart intelligent play to declare down when catching the ball because the clock was going to run. If you can’t go score get down because we have a timeout and he was very aware of the situation and he is just a good player. You know what Ladd McConkey is doing a great job too. Those guys understand that we have guys playing well and as you work your way back you outwork and outplay the guy in front of you. Kearis is still not 100 percent, I mean he is out there playing at 90 or 95 percent and continues to get better.”

On Nolan Smith
“He had two really big plays and he continues to play with great effort. He practices really hard and he does things the right way in terms of physical toughness – not afraid of contact – and continues to grow and get better. I still think he can show some improvement in his run defense, in the way he strikes and plays blockers, technique and things. But, he’s a great closer, he’s a great recognition guy of plays coming, and he’s a great pass rusher.”

On good on good at practice…
“We do more now than we’ve done in the past, but I’ll be honest with you, the portal effect for us has been more at the skill positions – for whatever reason – so the two skill positions, we’re down numbers in. We’re deficient at receiver and we’re deficient at DB in terms of what we need to practice against each other with scout teams. So, what happens is you say, ‘what’s the best way to get good on good reps? You have to go against each other.’ We used to have three or four guys on the scout team, you know, we would have a Matt Landers, a Kearis Jackson, we’d have guys down there that were really good players going against them, and now we’re not able to do that because of our depth and our injuries. So, we’ve chosen to take a route of going good on good more than we have in the past. We still do scout periods, and I still applaud and reward players who give great efforts on scout teams, but our trenches on the scout teams are better than our skills on our scout teams.”

On improving Covid trends on campus…
“Our team has done much better since our last spike, but that’s day-to-day. It’s on a continuum, right. As soon as you say that you’ll get a text in a few minutes saying someone isn’t feeling well. My big thing is to not assume anything and take as little risk as possible in terms of our team and our exposures. I don’t actually know how it’s doing on campus though.”

On the advantage of having Will Muschamp
“He has added experience and value. There is no price tag you can put on being a previous head coach at two schools in the SEC, being a defensive coordinator, and winning national championships. Going to coach at Auburn and coaching all over. There is no price tag you can put on the value that he adds in terms of that. That’s experience gained on our staff. That’s relationships with players. He does a tremendous job of keeping our players confident and improving their skillset. not to mention what he brings to the table in terms of recruiting. He can fill a lot of roles and he’s a talent coach. He’s very loyal. I appreciate all that he does.”

On Rian Davis
“He has a quad injury. He is going to be out for the season. An unfortunate injury. On Monday last week, he injured his quad and had to have surgery, so he’s going to be out. He’s battled through some hamstring injuries early in camp and is a guy that has had some bumps and bruises. He was doing really well up until the time he got injured. He started on punt return and was in the top four rotation at inside backer then he got injured. So it will be Spring for him.”

On the run game…
“I thought we had a really good run game plan going into the game. Really you can say every run. The thing we emphasized going into the week was IDs, communication, and pad level. That improved tremendously. We had two times where we just didn’t block the right people or we didn’t block somebody. Those cannot happen. Those moments where it’s like ‘Oh my God, we didn’t even block the guy.’ You take those out and it’s really good, but to rush for what we rushed for, and get our hats on the right people. I think we’re going to have to continue to work really hard on creating movement, displacement, and being creative in our run game. Our guys ran the ball the well. They (South Carolina) have a good defensive line. Good players, a lot of players that we recruited. We’ve faced better defensive lines, but they have a good defensive line. I thought our guys did a better job with pad level and a better job with IDs and Communication, but nowhere near where it needs to be.

#86 John FitzPatrick | Jr. | TE

On run game…
“I was very involved. I was blocking for Zamir and James… After the UAB game, you look at the score and you’re like wow, but after watching the film there were so many things that we needed to work on. For me, there were things I need to work on. We used the week of practice for South Carolina to work on those things, whether it was foot work or pad level. We were ready.”

On early kickoff games…
“I love noon games because you just get up and play. It’s the most important game because it’s the next game and were ready for it.”

#29 Christopher Smith | Sr. | DB

On Adam Anderson
“Special teams is obviously a big emphasis for our team. We feel like if we can get ahead on special teams we can win a game. You know Adam is obviously a tremendous athlete. He can move fast, he is big and strong, he has all the qualities to be a great special teams player. The emphasis that Coach Smart and the rest of our coaches put on special teams has really helped us build and grow throughout the special teams process. Everyone on the team, not just Adam, me and including a lot of the older and younger guys, really recognized how important special teams is for us to be able to win.”

On good-on-good in practice…
“It definitely helps us out a lot. Going against the athletes that we have in our offense it makes the game a little bit easier when you are going against the athletes that we have. It definitely helps us out a lot. I love getting good-on-good periods, even our scout team knows that they give us good looks in and out every week, that is a really big help for us.”

#19 Adam Anderson | SR. | OLB

On who has impressed him on defense…
“Nolan Smith. My brother. Part of my wolfpack. Just seeing him come in every day with a hot motor. He’s young and has so much going for himself. Having that same person in your room. Knowing his why, knowing what he wants to do, and knowing that after school what he wants to do this. Knowing everything. Knowing he’s doing it for his mother as well. That just keeps you going. Keeps your drive alive.”

On being a five star…
“Honestly you can be a five star, four star, three star. Stars don’t mean anything when it comes to the field. Can you produce? Can you actually learn the plays? Can you learn from the meeting room and put it on the field? Jordan Davis was a three star. Look at him now. Strong as an ox. Fast. You can’t tell me that’s not five star credit. Stars don’t mean anything around here.”

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