Georgia Football: Bulldog offense ready to reap rewards of being able to have a spring.
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Georgia offense already seeing spring rewards

“I’m not waiting until practice one to see the effects of things; I’m seeing the fruit of the labor. Guys are coming in on their own. Guys are coming in and saying, 'I want to go throw, I want to work out extra, I want to go work out on Saturday.' That’s the culture you have to have to be elite, and that’s what you’re always working toward.”
— Kirby Smart

Spring practice is two weeks away, but already Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is starting to see some positive signs.

One is the simple fact there will be a spring practice, which for the Bulldogs, gets underway on March 16.

Second, and perhaps even more meaningful, is that Smart’s already beginning to see his team buy into doing all the little things necessary to be truly elite.

“We see that we’re getting results from the things we’re putting time to. You get what you demand, you get what you invest. So we’re investing time in us. We’re investing time in connection,” Smart said. “Connection is important. It was a very strange year for everybody in college football, when you had some kids on teams that had only been on Zooms their entire time. They had no face-to-face with anybody. So the connection and the dialog—demanding the standard—has been a big topic of conversation for us.”

Players seem to be paying attention.

“You ask, how do you see that you’re getting results from that? It’s every day in the sprints, it’s every day. It’s every time something adverse happens; it’s holding guys accountable,” Smart said. “I’m not waiting until practice one to see the effects of things; I’m seeing the fruit of the labor. Guys are coming in on their own. Guys are coming in and saying, 'I want to go throw, I want to work out extra, I want to go work out on Saturday.' That’s the culture you have to have to be elite, and that’s what you’re always working toward.”

The new year of practice couldn't show a greater contrast with the last one.

Thanks to Covid-19 wiping out spring practice, it ruined whatever chance new offensive coordinator Todd Monken had of properly installing the offense, and the players having an opportunity to learn and grow as a unit.

“Last year at this time, it was just a whirlwind in terms of figuring out okay, Monken’s here, we’ve got this guy here, this guy there, and trying to install different things,” Smart said. “Now, just the pace in which we’re doing walkthroughs and being able to do things offensively has been much better. If anything, we’re trying to adjust more on defense now to what they’re doing, because they’re a little bit ahead of us, where (the defense) was a little bit ahead of them last year.”

For JT Daniels and the rest of Georgia’s quarterbacks, having a spring after missing out on the opportunity last year is huge.

Given his starts in the Bulldogs’ final four games, most expect the Southern Cal transfer to pick right up where he left off. According to Smart, if Daniels is able to repeat his success, it will be because of spring drills and the continued lessons he’ll be able to learn.

“This time last year, I don’t even have a clue what he was doing. Was he rehabbing from a knee? He’s come a long way from the volume of information, and the other quarterbacks as well,” Smart said. “Carson Beck had just gotten here at this point last year; Brock’s (Vandagriff) out there, and Stetson’s (Bennett) out there, so all those guys are learning.”

But it’s not just the quarterbacks who still have a lot to learn.

“Everybody needs spring practice. There’s nobody on our roster who doesn’t. You can even say about fifth-year guys, it’s important for them to get the spring practice they have,” Smart said. “For the quarterbacks, the continuity of the offense, that’s critical. You want to get some relationships built there. Continuity toward the end of the year began to improve. Obviously, offensively, we’ve got a lot of guys who are coming back, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have success because they are coming back.”

Yes, it’s an impressive group of offensive returnees the Bulldogs are bringing back for 2021.

With Daniels, the entire corps of running backs, and a deep group of receivers, many are predicting Georgia’s offense to really improve, perhaps becoming one of the more dynamic units in the SEC.

Don't talk about that around Smart, however.

“The more that mantra is out there—we’re going to be great—the tougher our job becomes internally to motivate. We’ve had years before where we’ve had returning quarterbacks, returning running backs, returning these guys, returning those guys, two great tackles,” he said. “Did that equate to instant success? Not necessarily. What you do, what you earn is what you do in the offseason. Nothing is given to you; there’s no entitlement, and I think JT understands that. I think the rapport with the receivers and ALL the quarterbacks is going to be extremely important in terms of developing our offense and getting timing in the passing game.

Smart reminded reporters that this is still a very young team.

“The other day we had a team run, and I asked everybody to stand up who'd not been to a spring practice at Georgia, and I venture to say it was 65-70 percent of the team that stood up,” he said. That’s a scary thing. You’re like, well, what does that matter? It shows you the youth you have and the lack of practices and experience your team has.

“We’ve got 16 mid-years, a lot of new walk-ons—nobody who was here before last year had gone through that. So when you look at all that, it kind of makes you go, wow."

Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs begin spring practice on March 16.
Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs begin spring practice on March 16. (UGA Sports Communications)