Smart on players to watch and battling a different disease
On paper, Georgia’s defense figures to be a huge strength for the Bulldogs’ 2020 squad.
Head coach Kirby Smart won’t disagree.
His Bulldogs return the bulk of a defense that led the SEC in three crucial categories: total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense. With its talented young players now a bit more experienced, expectations are there that this year’s squad might be even better.
But naturally, Smart has some concerns. He always does.
“I’m excited about the defensive unit. The biggest concern is the complacency, the have-we-arrived. They’ve gotten a lot of hype off the returners and what they did last year, which does nothing for this year,” Smart said during his interview on the ESPN College Football Podcast with David Pollack and Kevin Negandhi. “But, I’m excited about this defensive group, if they approach things the right way. I would have gotten a really good impression on that from spring.”
Smart has seen complacency take hold of a defensive unit before.
“I was part of a lot of defenses at Alabama that were coming off really good years, then came out in the spring and laid an egg,” Smart said. “I didn’t get to see that, I didn’t get to feel that psyche of that group—were they hungry or were they complacent? It’s a disease. It just creeps in if you’re not careful, so we can’t have that.”
Smart also touched on several young players he expects to improve.
Georgia has never been afraid to play true freshmen if they show they’re ready to compete, and last year the Bulldogs were blessed to have several do exactly that.
“I think when you look at the guys last year who were freshmen for us, who got a little taste, those will be the guys who step up the most,” Smart said. “Now, maybe not at the same pace they would have, had they had a spring game with 70, 80 thousand people in the stands, and they get to grow and get some of those butterflies out the way. There is still going to be a growth and maturation process.”
Nevertheless, Smart rattled off the names of four he believes will fit that description.
“The biggest leap you make is from year one to year two, and I’m expecting those guys, Nakobe Dean, Travon Walker, Tyrique Stevenson, Lewis Cine; there were some talented young players on that defense whom I think will step up—and offense, too,” said Smart. “But I’m excited to see those guys. And on the flip side, offensively, I’m excited to see which guys want to step up.”
Several performances jumped out during the Bulldogs’ Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.
“We got to see a little taste of it in the bowl game with Zamir (White) getting some stuff, Kenny McIntosh getting some action; I think George (Pickens) has the potential to do some good things,” Smart said. “We’ve got some good young players on the offensive side of the ball, but we’ve got to be able to use their skill set and get them involved.”
If the Bulldogs want to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs and compete for a national championship, that much is a given.
Smart made it clear: college football’s crown jewel remains the program’s ultimate prize.
“We haven’t gotten where we want to go. I think everybody understands that in this building. We try not to let the outside noise affect us,” Smart said. “We know our goals, we know our aspirations, we know the capabilities we have, and we try to maintain focus on that. So I’m not looking backwards on the things we’ve done, just like I’m not trying to look way out forward, either.”