What Was Said: Kirby Smart excited to see another week of improvement

On3 imageby:Palmer Thombs04/02/24

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ATHENS, Ga. — It was a busy week in Athens for Georgia Football since the last time Kirby Smart spoke. The Bulldogs passed the halfway point of spring practice and held their first scrimmage. With just two weeks to go, there’s plenty for the head coach to discuss.

DawgsHQ was on the scene to hear what Smart and a trio of Georgia players had to say on Tuesday. Here’s what they shared…

Kirby Smart on his thoughts from the first scrimmage…

“Yeah, I thought the first scrimmage was a really good energy level, intensity — like, intent to go prepare to scrimmage. It was not a lethargic, like, ho hum [scrimmage]. The players had good intentions, good energy. Sometimes it’s a different time start for the scrimmage than our typical practice times of 2:30, 3:30, so I always worry about us starting fast and having good energy. We had that. We’ve got a lot to work on. Really sloppy in terms of substitutions, getting guys on and off the field, communication, signals. There’s just a lot of new people in the organization, whether it’s players new, midyears new, portal guys new, coaches new. It was not as clean as most of our first scrimmages. Some guys did well, some guys didn’t do too well. A lot of anxiety for the midyears. From scrimmage one to scrimmage two starting really yesterday but today, we’re moving toward how much can we improve from scrimmage one to scrimmage two. You usually see immense improvement in guys that just got here because they’re not as nervous, it was their first practice in the stadium. So I’m hoping to see some of that growth this week and into Saturday.”

Smart on the defensive line’s play in the scrimmage and how they’ve performed this spring…

“I thought they did a really good job of having, like, energy and enthusiasm. We affected the quarterback. We had some disruptive sacks. We did not probably play the run probably as well as I’d like to, as high as my expectation is in terms of making goals of 3.3 or less [yards] per carry. We’ve had much more dominant scrimmages from a defensive line than we had Saturday. We had some guys nicked up and banged up, but I was pleased with the tenacity and the way both groups of lines of scrimmages approached it.”

Smart on how NIL has impacted the way that Georgia recruits quarterbacks…

“I don’t know if I fully understand the question. How does NIL tie to quarterback recruiting? I don’t know that it’s changed. I mean, we go about recruiting quarterbacks by evaluating quarterbacks. You know, we watch them play high school, we bring them over here and have them throw for us. We watch their games, which is by far and away the most critical thing we can have. 

But, I mean, it would probably be a bigger picture of why are we singling out quarterbacks because NIL has impacted the recruitment of every player in terms of where does that rank on their scale. It’s one of the first questions of, ‘Is that number one priority? Is that two, three, four, five, six?’ Do you list it that way because you actually feel that way or you just think it’s the right answer. You know, it used to be every kid came in and said, ‘Well, the most important thing to me is my education.’ Well, I don’t know many universities you get a bad education at. You know, they don’t hand out bad educations, so is that truly what people were coming to school for 10, 15, 20 years ago? Is it truly what they’re coming to school for now with NIL?

I’m dancing around the question because I don’t really understand why specifically it’s about quarterbacks. Our recruitment of quarterbacks or any position hasn’t changed what we look at because of NIL. It might change what their motivating factor is certainly, but not what we look for in terms of criteria. I want a self-starter. I want a guy that’s committed to the program, who’s selfless. I want all of the same things: size, speed. I want all those same things. It’s more be more selective over a kid you pick and choose from that the NIL is not the number one narrative.”

Kirby Smart on what he’s seen from Arian Smith now that he’s the oldest of the receivers…

“Good and bad. I think we’ve made a concerted effort to spend more time on developing Arian. I think when he decided to come back, I said, ‘Look, I want there to be a purpose with you coming back. Like, where are the areas of growth?’ We’ve done some things during special team period. He’s been a really dominant special teams player, and he knows that. He loves that. He embraces that. That’s like where he made his first name is being a dominant special teams player. So we’ve taken some of those times that he’s invested four years in special teams work, and we’ve allowed him to really grow as a wideout. I think it’s helped him do that. He’s had some plays that I think he’d be the first to tell you he wished he had back — intermediate routes and deep routes — and he’s had some big plays, too. I’m pleased with where Arian is. I hope he keeps getting better and keeps growing and trying to be an explosive playmaker for us.”

Smart on Georgia’s run defense…

“Yeah, I’m not down. I don’t know where this is coming from. Maybe there’s a narrative out there that I don’t know about. I have no idea what you guys are reading, saying or seeing. I’m not down on our run defense. we are not as good as we are that year but we’re better than we have been a lot of other years. The scales of that in terms of that. I wouldn’t trade our group for any group in the country in terms of defensive line groups and a collective whole. We’ve got a group that can get the job done. They’re going against one of the best three or four offensive lines they’ll go against all season each and every day. Iron sharpens iron and we’re getting better by who we go against. 

I don’t really do the comparison thing. I’m not really going to compare them to Devonte, Jordan and Jalen who were all here at different times. There were years with those three and there were years one of those three was here. It has varied every year. 

I’m pleased with where we are. We have to get better and we have players on our defensive line that can get better. The worst feeling as a coach is when you don’t have players that you can get better. There are coaches all across the country right now that don’t have one 300-pounder. We have several. We just got to continue to get them better and execute at a higher level. It’s not about them sometimes, it’s about the guy behind them, making sure he sticks his nose in the right place too. 

Smart on Gunner Stockton…

“Gunner has done a good job. I’ve seen growth in Gunner. I thought he had a couple of mistakes in the scrimmage but he also played with much more consistency. I’ve seen this progression with Gunner that like, he’s getting better each and every practice. The bowl practices were great for him. The ability to play in that bowl game was awesome for him. He’s gotten better. He’s getting a feel for our system. He’s a really good athlete. He has, every now and then, a mistake you can’t have at that position. The good thing is, you can ask him after the play, and I always ask him what did you see, what was the coverage? He gives the right answer. So he’s seeing the right things. But he’s got to continue to develop and grow. That’s a hard position to play. He’s still trying to master that position.”

Kirby Smart on Ryan Puglisi…

“Ryan is dealing with a little bit of a knee injury. It’s not a significant injury. He’s had it before, since high school. It has been bothering him. He’s been able to throw. He hasn’t been able to go out and be mobile and run. His knee has been bothering him. We’re hopeful to get him back today, if not today then probably Thursday. He’s had to miss out on some reps. He’s been in to everything, all the walk-throughs and mental stuff.” 

Smart on scrimmage highlight plays from skill players…

“I kind of look at it like, what scrimmage did we have that a skill player didn’t make a player? And what scrimmage did we have that a defensive player didn’t make a play? You guys just hear about it and then a big deal is made. I don’t look at it that way. Arian (Smith) had an explosive play, but we also had a bust on defense. Was it Arian, or was it the defense? Dillon Bell had a great catch, but Dillon Bell’s had great catches all over the place. I don’t get into it like, ‘These couple guys blew it out of the water, oh gosh expectations are so great.’ I look at it as, ‘The defense sometimes messed up, we had some sacks.’ Did we have sacks because we have great pass rushers or because the back didn’t block the blitzer? Or we busted and slid the wrong way and cut a guy free. If a guy has a dominant performance, I’m more than happy to mention it. He beat every rep. But we didn’t have anybody do that, have a dominant performance. Guys got lucky and fell into plays. As coaches, we don’t look into those and see that as progress. Sometimes that’s taking advantage of what’s given to you, and we had a lot of those opportunities Saturday because we had a lot of busts. There was nobody that I can say – even Rod (Robinson), I thought Rod had a lot more yards left out there than he had. We didn’t have one explosive run the entire scrimmage. If you don’t have explosive runs, you’re either not blocking downfield well or you’re not making people miss and that’s been an M.O. for us. Last year it was kind of the same way.”

Smart on Dominic Lovett…

“So far this spring, I would say Dom’s had a very good spring. He’s so much more confident in the offense. I think Carson has a lot of confidence in him. They’re on the same wave length. There’s been some days that Dom’s been really dominant out there. You could say, ‘Is that because Tykee and Bull (Bullard) aren’t out there covering him so he’s making more plays? Or is that just Dom’s more comfortable in the offense and he’s winning at a higher rate?’ He’s had a good spring. He’s got more confidence, and he’s playing with confidence. I think Carson feels really comfortable with him. I’m pleased with where he’s at. His physical toughness continues to improve. This time last year, we were constantly on him about what he was doing without the ball. He makes a conscious effort to do better at that now, and we need him to.”

Kirby Smart on chemistry of Carson Beck and WRs group…

“It’s a work in progress. It’s not where it needs to be. I would say that he’s really comfortable with the guys he’s thrown to the most, and we’re trying to force the issue with the guys he hasn’t. Some of their reps come with the ones, some of their reps come with the twos. Right now, it’s not just getting them comfortable with Carson, it’s getting them comfortable with the offense. I put them where Rara and Dom were last year, and Rara and Dom this time last year were probably ahead of where those three guys are in terms of growth and implementation into the offense. They’ve got to continue to grow and get better. As they do that, they’ll get more opportunities with Carson.”

Smart on the offensive line…

“I can’t put them that great because I haven’t seen the other ones. I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. I’ll leave that to the gurus that have the talk shows and media stuff. I can’t sit here and say our group is a top three group in the country because I haven’t seen the others. We have a very experienced group outside of the center. We have a lot of guys who have taken snaps, but I ask you, because you’ve taken snaps, does that make you better than other people? I certainly value experience, especially in our league, but you can go backwards. You have to be careful with guys that are older because if you’re not, guys will go backwards and a younger guy beats them out. There hasn’t been a year that we were here that a younger player hasn’t surpassed an older player because they were hungrier or more driven and more motivated. I don’t see that happening with our offensive line, but I can’t rule it out. I love the fact that they’re a tight knit unit, they’re real physical, they enjoy practice, they celebrate together, they eat together and again, you hang your run game and protection of your quarterback on the offensive line which we’ve been pretty consistent at.” 

Smart on Dillon Bell and his development…

“Just that. He’s continued to develop, continues to get better. He’s still a work in progress. He played high school running back. He played 25 percent running back last year. The kid’s worked his tail off at receiver to get better, but there’s a lot of route running things he can get better at. The good thing is he’s got a quarterback the caliber of Carson to utilize his strengths, get him throws, get him 50-50 balls. I’m proud of the way he leads in practices. He’s taken on a lot more of that Rosemy, Ladd role of being the guy that’s the workhorse in that group that never complains, is really physical, practices hard, sets a standard for the others. I think him, RaRa, Arian, Dom all have taken ownership of that.”

Kirby Smart on Damon Wilson…

“He’s getting better. Have I seen the jump that I want to have? He’s right where he needs to be and is supposed to be. He’s not ahead of schedule and he’s not behind. He’s growing at a rate that I’ve seen a lot of outside backers grow, whether it was Nolan, Azeez, all these guys that have come through here. He’s gotten better each and every year. He’s improving his run strength ability, his ability to hold up against big tackles and stop the run, being violent and twitchy. He’s always been a really good rusher. He gives extremely, he gives great effort. I’m proud of those things. He’s got to become a more consistent first and second down player, which he’s doing. He’s a work in progress, but he’s growing at that. He’s going to be able to help us this year.”

Smart on the competition at left guard and right tackle…

“The guard position, I don’t look at it as left guard or right guard. We’ve got a lot of guards competing in there. When you start at guard, you start with Micah, Dylan, and Tate. Those three guys are really interchangeable parts. Daniel Calhoun has done a nice job working in there. So has Easley, so has Drew Bobo, Jared Can play there. They’ve all done a good job competing right there. Right tackle, Truss, Monroe, Meriweather. Bo’s out, so Bo hasn’t been able to go. A lot of guys, Micah’s thrown out there some, Dylan’s jumped out there and gone. We just look at it as let’s get our best five out there. The more guys we have above the line playing winning football, we typically have anywhere from eight to 10 above that line. I hope we fall in that same area at the outcome of this spring as well.”

Smart on Colbie Young…

“He’s flashed. He’s had some really, really great, spectacular plays, and then he’s disappeared at times. It’s a learning curve. He doesn’t have confidence and know the offense inside and out completely. I don’t think you can judge, you judge his skillset on one on ones when he goes against DBs. You don’t really judge his skillset in a scrimmage right now because he’s trying to figure everything out. It’s not from like a freshman standpoint, it’s from a familiarity standpoint. I’m pleased with where he is. He’s really a hard worker. Where he’s shown up is on special teams. He’s shown a commitment to special teams that I didn’t expect to see, which shows me his toughness level and his buy-in.”

Kirby Smart on his “Let Carson play” comment from the ESPN interview…

“Your offense can only be as aggressive as the players around him. It’s not all on the quarterback. When I say that about let the cat go play, that really came more from Mike and the offensive staff in terms of allowing him to play and play to his strengths. His strengths are his ability to navigate the pocket, to make throws, to change plays, and to put us in the right play. That’s his greatest strengths, and to use the weapons around him. I think he’ll continue to do that. He’s done that thus far. He makes you right a lot. He’s very hard to trick and confuse. When you’ve got a player like that, as long as he has weapons around him, he can distribute the ball. Our offense has a lot of ways, which you guys have seen in the past, we have a large volume of catchers, meaning it spreads out. We don’t necessarily have one guy with 150, but we’ve got a bunch of guys with a lot of touches. The reason we can do that is the decision-making that Carson has and the experience he has. I’m excited to see him go play. Keeping him healthy and protected is important, but also surrounding him with playmakers that can capitalize on his strengths will make us a better offense.”

Georgia Player Interviews

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