Wednesday News and Notes from UGA
With so much focus on the quarterbacks, there is another player at a different position about whom fans have wondered: When will he get additional work?
Freshman running back Kendall Milton appears to be on the verge of getting exactly that.
“He’s earning some playing time,” head coach Kirby Smart said Wednesday during the SEC teleconference. “You saw that the last game—he played earlier than he's been playing, and he makes really good cuts; he has good vision. Every opportunity he's gotten, he’s taken advantage of and grown with it.”
The numbers are beginning to show.
Last week at Alabama, Milton saw early action against the Crimson Tide, rushing six times for 44 yards, including a run of 24 yards, Georgia’s longest by a running back through four games.
The California native will head into next week’s game at Kentucky as the team’s second-leading rusher with 21 carries for 134 yards, including a team-best 6.4 yards per rush.
Milton’s toughness is also opening eyes. His ability to break tackles the way he did against Alabama is another trait that appears to be convincing Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken that he is capable of handling a heavier load.
According to SEC Stat Cast, he entered last week third in the SEC averaging 4.33 yards after contact.
“I’m pleased with what he’s doing,” Smart said. “He’s physical, he’s a downhill runner; I think he’s trying to protect the ball better, and that’s something that all freshmen have to get used to. Obviously the protections in the pass game are something he’s improving upon as well. But I’ve been proud of him.”
Smart suggested that Milton might have already received more reps than he has if not for a pair of hamstring issues that hampered him during fall camp.
“It’s really unfortunate that he hasn’t been able to contribute more, because he had two hamstrings; he had one early in camp, and when we came back, he pulled it again,” Smart said. “He’s such an intense worker. A couple of times, we had to slow him down, because we felt like that was why the hamstring bothered him. We tried to do walkthroughs, and he was going full speed and pulled it.”
Smart said Milton is also working to earn other ways to get on the field, particularly with special teams.
“We’ve asked him to do some things on special teams that he’s never done; he’s learning it really quickly, between punt return and kickoff return,” Smart said. “He’s learning how to compete in those drills, and it’s carried over to his confidence at running back.”
More on JT Daniels
Smart might have hoped he would make it through the SEC teleconference without a question about quarterback JT Daniels.
It was not to be.
With the very last question during Smart’s 10-minute session, he was asked to give his take on the transfer from Southern Cal.
"JT is go going out and working each day,” Smart said. “I think his mobility is getting better as time goes on. He''s moving around, taking a lot of reps, and growing. He's competing, just like D'Wan (Mathis) is, and Carson (Beck) is."
Smart’s comment was somewhat interesting.
Considering he didn't mention Stetson Bennett, it would seem that the junior’s role as starter heading into next week’s game at Kentucky remains intact.
However, the fact that Daniels is now receiving reps with the No. 2 offense is certainly an indication that his right knee is bringing him closer to the standard set forth by offensive coordinator Todd Monken, and that he's now in a better spot for playing time than he was two weeks ago.
Lessons learned from Alabama game
Smart was asked Wednesday what he learned from last weekend’s loss to Alabama.
He had a lot to say.
“We have glaring issues. There are things we need to work on in terms of defensive penalties and defensive, explosive plays,” Smart said. “And then offensively, it can’t get into a boat race where we’re trying to outscore people; we’ve got to play our brand of football and allow and help Stetson and the people around him. That’s probably the number one thing.”
Although Smart acknowledged his Bulldogs did not play their best game, Alabama had something to do with that.
“We definitely didn’t play our best game, but at the same time, we were playing our best opponent; the best level of competition we’ve gone up against was certainly there,” Smart said. “But that’s how you get better, you know. You've got to go out, compete, and play, and we actually did some things better than we’ve done in other games. We’re just doing it against a lot better competition, and we have to improve this week. I’ve really been pleased with the attitude and approach of the guys thus far.”
…Earlier, Smart had this to say on Tuesday’s practice.
“We got some good work done yesterday. We had a really good practice with some energy and enthusiasm, especially for an off-week. I thought it was great. I thought the kids really competed,” Smart said. “We haven’t been able to rep a lot of our younger players, with not playing a non-conference schedule. So we've got some extra reps for our twos and threes, and tried to work on some specific things for our ones to give each kid a goal, an objective for the week that they can improve on, and we’ll go back out there today and try to get better.”