Talking recruiting with Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart had plenty of good words to say about freshman quarterback Brock Vandagriff, currently on campus as one of the program’s 16 early enrollees.
Smart spoke about Vandagriff, as well as numerous other subjects, during a one-on-one interview Tuesday with Mike Farrell of Rivals.com.
Smart on Vandagriff, and handling five-star QBs
“Think about the five-star guys who have come out of our state. There've been quite a few who have come out of our state that are really good players, and Brock is no different,” Smart said. “He comes from an offense that’s not afraid to throw the ball, he got a lot of experience at an early age, he had tremendous success throwing the ball, and he had great wideouts. He played at a high level.”
Smart dismissed the notion that Vandagriff’s competition playing for Prince Avenue, which won the Class A Private School state championship, should be held against the talented five-star.
“When you go to the state playoffs, I don’t care what classification in the state of Georgia, and you win a state championship, you’re playing against really good teams in big-time atmospheres, and Brock is no different,” Smart said. “We think he’s mobile, he’s athletic, he can make all the throws, and he’s got a great demeanor about him. We’re excited. He was also one of the key recruiters for this class.”
That wasn’t all.
Smart also praised Vandagriff for his work in the weight room and his heavy desire to compete, which he'll do alongside JT Daniels, Stetson Bennett, and Carson Beck come spring.
“He loves the weight room; he loves to compete,” Smart said. “It’s hard for me to put a guy or put a tag on him, because he’s a little bit different than all those guys. You can’t say he’s just a pocket guy, because he's mobile. He moves around, makes good decisions, and slings the ball around really well.”
Vandagriff joins Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, Justin Fields, and Daniels as former five-star quarterbacks signed by Smart in his five years as head coach.
Keeping three of the above all on the roster at once proved to be an impossible task. But Smart has only one regret, specifically as it pertains to Fields, who transferred to Ohio State shortly after Georgia’s loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl three seasons ago.
“It was a tough situation, but given the opportunity to sign Justin, I'd do it 10 out of 10 times because of how talented he is,” Smart said. “I respect that. I also respect at the time, we felt we were playing the guy who gave us the best chance to win right then. That guy took Alabama in the (2018) SEC Championship to the wire, and he played well enough to win. We probably didn’t play well enough defensively that game, so you don’t second-guess that.
“You second-guess what other ways we could have created an opportunity for Justin to stay and know that he was going to get the opportunity. So, it was a tough situation, but I respect Justin and the decision he made, and the decision to play Jake while he was here in the second year to play those games.”
Although fans may disagree, Smart said that’s a problem he’ll take every week. Having too many talented quarterbacks certainly beats the alternative.
“You take that problem, but you’ve got to do a good job of managing it with your staff, your team, and everybody in your organization,” Smart said. “I think we handled it the right way, and I don’t fault Justin for the decisions he made, because he’s had a good career.”
Offensive line class impressing
Five-star Amarius Mims may be the lynchpin of Smart’s 2021 offensive line class, but Smart was equally enthused about the other three members of this year’s group.
“It’s a line-of-scrimmage league. You say that more and more, it’s a skill player league,” Smart said. “But when you don’t have an opportunity to throw to those skilled players, Mac Jones, JT Daniels, those guys wouldn’t be standing upright if they didn’t have a great offensive line in front of them.”
Early enrollee Micah Morris, who's recovering from Labrum surgery, is certainly one Smart believes can become just that.
“Micah Morris is a guy from Camden we really liked. We think he’s going to develop into a very good player. Not only that: he’s really smart. Defensive lines have gotten so smart, so you’ve got to have bright guys,” Smart said. “Amarius does a great job there, and Dylan (Fairchild) has been wonderful for us.”
Smart also has high hopes for Jared Wilson, who Smart compared to former Bulldog Solomon Kindley, currently with the Miami Dolphins.
“Jared was a guy we targeted a long time ago and we thought was really physical. Guards in the SEC have to be able to block 3-technques, and the NFL comes to the SEC to get 3-techniques because they’re your biggest, most physical pass rushers,” Smart said. “So the Solomon Kindley types—Deonte (Brown) at Alabama—you’ve got to have guys that can eat space, and that’s something where we think Jared does a very good job.”
Breaking down the freshmen linebackers
"Excited" was a word you heard a lot from Smart during the interview. That included his thoughts on linebackers Chaz Chambliss, Xavian Sorey, and Smael Mondon.
“Chaz was an early addition, and he’s here working out now,” Smart said. “He’s such a hard worker. I think any time you fill guys in your program and have these high-character, hard-working guys, they improve your overall team.”
In Sorey, Smart sees someone with unlimited potential, as well as a player who ultimately could become one of the most versatile linebackers on the team.
“Xavian is a guy we were able to get late, had always targeted. I was fortunate, a long time ago—pre-Covid—to go to a basketball game and was so impressed with his athleticism and his size. Then, he went down to IMG and got to grow in their system,” Smart said. “He can play inside and outside, which today is so important to have that versatility and be able and go rush on the edge, but also have the instincts to go inside, to stack and key and diagnose these plays that people are running.”
Mondon gives the Bulldogs another fast, athletic performer, the kind you need against the offensive talent one sees weekly in the SEC.
“Smael is a guy who's also been consistent,” Smart said. “He’s a really good athlete, and nowadays, when you’ve got to go and play an athlete like James Cook or Alvin Kamara out in space, you better have athletes who can play in space and can run. He can do those things.”
Young cornerbacks will have to play
If there’s one area on defense that Smart is concerned about the most, it’s cornerback, where the Bulldogs have to replace Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell, both of whom left early for the NFL.
Although there’s talent with the likes of Kelee Ringo and Jalen Kimber, this is a position, where, ready or not, incoming freshmen like Nyland Green are going to have to be ready to go.
“They’re going to have to impact early, whether they can or they can’t,” Smart said. “I can’t say whether they can or they can’t, because they haven’t really been in our system. They’re talented athletes or they wouldn’t be coming to the University of Georgia and the SEC.”
Smart has his fingers crossed.
“Corner is our biggest need—bigger than, say, necessarily safety,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out if these guys can play, because we’re in big-time need at corner as we start out this season.
“It’s going to be much more about their demeanor, how well they learn, and their composure. Because you’re not going to play defensive back in the SEC without going through some trials and tribulations. With freshmen, it’s more about the mental part than it is about the physical, and these guys are going to have to embrace that.”
Smart on whether its easy to recruit to Georgia: “It’s good knowing you have the opportunity, that you can get your foot in the door with every kid in the country. What that means is, I better make good decisions on, No. 1, who I should show the attention to, who I recruit, who I invest my time in. Because the top players in the country are always going to have interest in a top five program. So your foot’s in the door, but you’ve got to be really good in your evaluation process—who's going to equal success, and who are going to be the guys who come out ahead. The hardest job in Georgia is identifying those guys. You look across all of college football, when you say, who are the top players in the country Georgia has, our state produces so many of these great players across the country, that the selection process and evaluation is so important.”
Smart on whether it's a good thing to have a top-rated class: “I'd always argue the positives. It’s good. Does it come with a little extra pressure? Obviously, for us as coaches, I really don’t get into the numbers. I know people don’t believe that. If you’re in the top five, there are such minor differences in these classes when it comes to the rankings of them. We all know the rankings come out when your record reflects it. I think it’s exciting when you get the opportunity to be one of those top five classes, but the difference between one, two, and three is they’re not giving out trophies for that.”
Smart on the impact of the transfer portal: “I'd start by saying it really hasn’t changed what we do, because given the opportunity to sign a high-quality, really good football player with great grades, great character out of high school, I’m picking that 10 out of 10 times—I want to go that route if I can.”
“What the transfer portal has done is give you an option, where, if you strike out, if you don’t do well, or if you have a dire need, you can go get a better player, an upgrade at a position if you don’t have that.
"Now, you have to have the initials (initial counter spots) to do that. That’s the hard part. You have to ask yourself, do you have the initials to do it, or do I decide that this young man will be better in Year 2 or 3 than a guy who is in the transfer portal.
“So, it really hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is, okay, it’s after signing day, we’re done, what do we have left and what do we need? That need base is really what we look in the transfer portal for.”
Smart on expectations at Georgia for a national championship: “I just do the best job I can. I hire the best staff I can. I’m at a wonderful university. You just don’t listen to outside noise. It’s no different than a lot of other schools. When you take Alabama out of it, who has won enough national championships to make everybody happy? I don’t know anybody that’s kept their fan base happy in terms of that.
“I know it’s all about at-bats, and if you keep getting at-bats, you’re eventually going to hit the home run, you’re going to hit the double, and you’re going to hit the triple. You’ve just got to get the at-bats.
"It’s probably tougher than never before in terms of the SEC and the way the playoff model is set up.
“You’ve got to get at-bats, and the way to get at-bats is to get in the College Football Playoffs.
"In the SEC right now, that’s challenging; that’s tough. You’ve got to play really good football, be consistent throughout the year, then you’ve got to be in the top four and see where it goes from there.”