Thursday news and notes
Offense ahead of the game
So much has changed for Georgia’s offense—considering there was no spring practice last year—that head coach Kirby Smart did not know where to begin.
“I don’t know how to measure that. They’re light years ahead of where they were. We didn’t have this last year, so I can’t even answer that question, because we didn't even have anything,” Smart said after practice Thursday. “We didn’t know who we were; we had no identity. We didn’t even know who JT Daniels was. We were a lot different offensively. They’re doing things that last year they weren’t doing until maybe halfway through the season, and now we’re doing lots of them.”
Smart almost sounded giddy detailing the advantages of having spring as opposed to not.
Last year, players such as wide receiver Jermaine Burton had to wait until July to start learning the intricacies of playing the position. He’s now able to learn two.
“We’ve got a lot of young wideouts that are "swimming." We’ve got some experienced wideouts that are still swimming, because they’re trying to learn multiple positions. Last year we weren’t able to be very versatile, because Jermaine Burton was trying to learn one position,” Smart said. “Now, we’re training Jermaine Burton to learn both sides. He was the Z last year; he needs to be the Z and the X. There’s so many little things where they're so much further ahead as far as knowledge.”
That’s typically not the case.
Under Smart, it’s usually the defense that holds the early edge. This year, the returning numbers on offense have helped to flip the script. "Since I’ve been here, it seems like we’ve had a really experienced defense a couple of times, and a really experienced offensive maybe that one time (Jake) Fromm was a junior, so it’s pretty unique to have that much experience on offense,” Smart said. “It’s showed for two days; we’ve been behind defensively and been ahead offensively.”
Smart said having Daniels back certainly helps matters.
Per the Georgia coach, the former Southern Cal transfer, along with the other quarterbacks, have done an excellent job organizing extra workouts with the receivers.
“He does a good job with those guys, but there’s been several Saturdays I’ve stopped in prior to spring practice starting, and they’re in there throwing, doing things on their own. They just like to go in there and throw. We didn’t have a lot of sessions; we wanted to get away from football,” Smart said. “The NCAA's given us a lot of latitude with 10 hours now. instead of eight hours a week. We get a lot of football time with our players to work, walk-through, and they choose to go throw on their own. Those wideouts really enjoy it, embrace it. I know Carson (Beck), Brock (Vandagriff) and JT and Stetson (Bennett)—all those guys have been out there to throw on their own.
“But JT, he’s a really good leader. I think with the fact he’s come back, and he’s had a little more time—he never had a chance to really get to know these guys. He showed up, we’re in Covid, he wasn’t playing, then he was playing, then the year was over. So, he’s just now kind of embracing the relationship with those guys.”
Ringo physically cleared, but still has a lot of learning to do.
Although he’s still getting up to speed, the good news regarding redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo is he’s cleared to play.
Ringo, who was expected to play as a true freshmen, saw those dreams ended due to labrum surgery. He did dress for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, but he didn't see any action.
"He's cleared to go and fortunate for us now, not fortunate then," said Smart, "he was able to get the repair done to get recovery time. But to think you're going to sit out and not go out there and go against a guy running 21, 22 miles an hour and just walk out there and go? Just because you're fast, that's not the case.”
Fortunately, Smart said Ringo is eager and anxious to learn.
“He's got a lot to learn in our system, and you know what? He's not shying away from it. I think there's been a lot of hype around Kelee, and I think for his sake, he has to work,” Smart said. “He has to decide that 'I'm going to work really hard, and I'm going to live up to my expectations and not everybody else's.”
One of the bigger lessons Smart wants Ringo to learn is to not be afraid to fail.
“Because the position he's playing, it's like a .300 batting average. You fail seven out of 10, and you're a Hall of Famer in baseball. It's hard out there. It's tough. You saw it with Tyson (Campbell) and (Eric) Stokes this year,” Smart said. “They'll be high draft picks, and they had some tough competition. He's finding that out day to day, all our corners are. So, I'm proud of how Kelee took on this year because a lot of guys get injured, and they check out. He never checked out. He checked in. He sat in the front of the meeting. He answered questions every day, but he's not where he needs to be."
Smart not putting any extra pressure on Smith
Smart was asked if there was extra pressure on junior Nolan Smith, considering he’s the player expected to replace the production lost from Azeez Ojulari.
“I’m looking for everybody on the defense to improve. We have to create pass rush. We have to create havoc. We have to do those same things. I thought last year was probably one of our best years ever, in terms of sack production and Dan (Lanning) has done a good job of making that a priority by the way he schemes the defense and the way he calls the defense,” Smart said. “We had productive rusher but a lot of that was what he called and trying to scheme to get guys one-on-one.”
Smart did single out junior Travon Walker, who already played a lot, but will now assume many of the reps left by the graduation of Malik Herring.
“Travon is the guy who has to have a big year for us. Not only is he replacing Malik, but in a lot of ways he’s replacing Azeez,” Smart said. “I think everybody just assumes with Azeez being gone that it’s Nolan’s job. It’s not like that for us. Sixty to 70 percent of the snaps, Travon is Azeez, and Nolan is Azeez. It’s just one’s left and one’s right. Both of those guys play defensive end a lot.”
Smart says Muschamp providing comfort
Smart said Will Muschamp has been a welcome addition since joining the program as a defensive analyst.
"He's probably the guy I lean on the most in terms of coaching the coaches and drill selection and, 'Hey, how did you do this? How did y'all do this? Did y'all do this period first? That period first?’” Smart said. “We’re always trying to find new ways to make our program better. I like, a lot, having him out there. I like having him in the meetings, because it's not the skillset of coaching.”
Smart also likes being able to bounce ideas off as it pertains to the specific drills the Bulldogs run daily.
“He's certainly a competent coach and confident, but it's a lot more, for me, I know he's done things a lot of different ways,” Smart said. “When you're out there in-between drills, or a drill is going on, you walk over there and say, 'Hey, how did y'all do this? Is there a better way? What do you think about this?' It's helpful. It certainly breeds confidence, and it gives you more ways to do things."
Smart pleased with effort
There’s not a lot that Smart can tell about his team in helmets and shorts. However, he can say the effort has been good.
“I thought it went well. They always seem to start with a lot of energy. We don’t have the pads on yet, so it’s kind of Combine Olympics out there. It’s about who runs the fastest, who looks the prettiest, although they don’t like to hit anybody, and they tend to look the best out there.”
The Bulldogs will don the full pads for the first time this Saturday. Smart said he’ll start to have a better idea about his team then.
“That’s when you start to take on a little bit more of a demeanor and see a little more character of our team. I’ve been really pleased with the spirit and the energy of practice, but I don’t know when I haven’t been the first two days,” Smart said. “It’s coach-speak, I guess, but we had better weather today than I expected, so we have to go out for some of the practice; we probably could have gone out the whole practice. But we had most of it prepared to go inside, but I want to get out as much as we can, because this is the time of the year we need to. But guys practiced hard; it’s just hard to measure football in shorts.”