Fans hankering for junior Branden Smith to make that next step in his development as a football player for Georgia might not have longer to wait.
For the second time in three days, Georgia head coach Mark Richt took the time in his post-practice session with reporters to offer up some kudos for the Atlanta native, who continues to stand out for his performance in preseason camp.
"Branden Smith continues to impress me. He's practicing with a greater focus than I've ever seen him practice with," Richt said after practice Monday. "He's practicing with a confidence that I haven't seen before, plus he's a lot more physical. He's not a big man so it's hard to be totally dominant, but he's playing physical with an edge that he has not practiced with before."
Richt first brought up Smith's name Saturday after picking off five passes during competitive drills, stating that former Washington High standout "looks like a different player."
Smith said he has to agree.
"I think I am a different player," Smith said after the Bulldogs' first day in full pads. "I'm being more physical out there, I'm running faster, I'm stronger; I really do think I'm a different player. I love it."
There's a lot Smith still wants to prove to himself.
As a sophomore, the 5-foot-11, 176-pounder played in nine games (all starts) but missed four contests due to a pair of concussions which limited his play.
"It was kind of frustrating with the concussions because I was trying to get on the field," Smith said. "I know they wanted me to be safe, but I just wanted to play. But live and learn. I'm all ready for this year."
Based on his play thus far, Smith would appear to be the favorite to claim the starting cornerback job opposite senior Brandon Boykin.
But earning the starting nod against Boise State is not Smith's only goal.
He also anticipates his share of snaps on offense and special teams as well.
"I hope I have a good package in there, a good percentage of plays to help the team win," Smith said. "But I definitely want to get cornerback down. But even if I don't start, I'm going to still going to compete and get on as many special teams as I can because I want us to win games."
Smith said he's still competing with Boykin to be the Bulldogs' main punt and kickoff return man.
"It's a competition back there, me and Boykin, TK (Tavarres King) and some freshmen. It's a competition and that's what I like," he said. "Whoever gets the position, I'm not going to give it up easy. I'm working hard to get back there again and help the team win, but if I don't get it, I'll just work harder to get it back."
Defense wins the day
After a disappointing showing on Sunday, Georgia's first day in full pads was apparently a good day for the Bulldog defense.
Georgia went through what Richt called "a competition day," meaning points were assigned to each drill. The defense emerged the victor.
"I thought it was a pretty darn good first day in pads," Richt said. "In full pads, you're able to compete. The defense won a close, spirited competition. ... There were some plays made. When you compete, you get after it and you try to win. And that's OK because it gets the blood flowing."
Senior defensive end DeAngelo Tyson said he was impressed with what he saw from his teammates.
"We have a good defense and good players on defense," said Tyson, who had 36 tackles playing nose last season. "I thought it was a good practice today on both sides of the ball. When you keep score like that, it makes it more exciting and you've got even more motivation and focus. I was pleased with the energy today. I saw guys on defense running to the ball and making plays."
The Bulldogs resume practice on Tuesday with the first of this week's two 2-a-days.
Gillard getting serious
Although his freshmen teammates are making an early mark, junior Mike Gilliard appears to have taken the lead to become Christian Robinson's top backup at Mike linebacker.
"Mike is one of those guys who got very serious about doing it the Georgia way," Richt said. "You can just see a tremendous difference in his body language, his stature and his focus. I've seen a lot of good from him."
Gilliard's face took the brunt of Monday's first practice in full pads as he reported to his session with reporters sporting a swollen lower lip.
"Today, me, Christian and Alec Ogletree were on a 3-on-3 and the back, as I was knocking him back his elbow hit my lip and my chin strap went up," Gilliard said, shaking his head. "But I knocked him back like three yards."
Bulldogs on the "Energy Bus"
Part of the Bulldogs' required reading has been a book called "The Energy Bus" which was recommended to Richt by Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith.
Written by author Jon Gordon, the book examines "10 rule to fuel your life, work and team with positive energy."
"Coach Smith had read and incorporated it with his team and when he came to speak at our summer clinic he was talking about a positive attitude and he said when guys are not positive they call them Energy Vampires," Richt said. "We look for guys who want to be positive. We don't need any Energy Vampires."
But the Bulldogs have apparently taken it a step forward.
Inside the team lockeroom, players have set up an Energy Vampire board, where pictures of teammates who occasionally fit this description are superimposed for the entire team to see.
"Anybody can end up on the Energy Vampire board. It could be me, it could be anybody," Richt said. "But if a player wants to call another player out he has to go through me before he gets on the board. I don't want them to try and take it over and make stuff up. It has to be legit."
This and that
During early session warm-up drills, Richard Samuel, Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome were running 1-2-3.
Brandon Boykin (hamstring), Derek Owens (unknown injury), Cornelius Washington (hamstring) and Jakar Hamilton (hamstring) were once again held out to nurse their respective injuries. Richt said he doesn't believe any of the players' injuries to be that serious, adding that hamstrings typically take between 7 and 10 days to heal.
Redshirt sophomore running back Brandon Harton sat out Monday's practice after suffering a mild concussion on Sunday.
Richt said that redshirt sophomore Chase Vasser is the top backup at Sam linebacker behind Jarvis Jones.
Richt said that freshman Nick Marshall will probably not see any time as an offensive player - at least not yet. "There is so much for him to learn. I don't think we're going to try because every second we'd pull him away from defense, we'd set him back and right now we want him to learn what's over there," Richt said. "Once things settle down we could put in some simple things, but even then, I'm just not sure we're ready to do that."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]