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Coach Smart and A Triad of Players Offer Comments Following Spring Practice


Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during a press conference at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ATHENS, Ga. --- University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with three players reflected on the 2021 season and the start of spring practice.

On Tuesday, Coach Smart, redshirt sophomore Warren McClendon, senior Stetson Bennett and redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo offered the following comments after practice…


Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart

On Dominick Blaylock...

"He's doing well. He's been pretty consistent. The off-season program was good for him in terms of getting confidence, changing direction, doing some things well. I think he would be the first to tell that he's still rusty, but he's so confident with the ball. He catches the ball really well. He's smart, very savvy. He's a great route runner in the slot. He's done a tremendous job there. He's back-catching punts, as well. He brings some veteran experience. Really right now anyone with experience is a veteran because we don't have many guys with a lot of experience there. He's done a tremendous job. Dom never complains. He works and handles the cards he's been dealt very well, and he's had some really tough resiliency. He has overcome it. I'm really proud of Dom

On Jamon Dumas-Johnson...

"I almost didn't know who you were talking about because he goes by 'Pop' for us. Pop has done a good job. He's getting opportunity - that's the biggest thing I would say. You could make a case that he is probably where all those guys, Quay, Channing, Nakobe, in their second year. Really, he's still in his first year if you are looking at the grand scheme of things. This is a young man who didn't play football his senior year due to COVID. He came in a little heavy. He'll be the first to tell you he was a little heavy when he got here. He had not played a season, so he was rusty and got time on special teams and times in games when we had leads. He's trying to take on a leadership role. There's a really big void - it's a common theme you'll hear. There's a void there because of all the guys that left and also the guys that are injured. I've got a lot of respect for Trezmen [Marshall] for pushing through a tough knee injury. He's been out there trying to get reps. The two freshmen, Jalon Walker and C.J. Washington are pushing through. And then (Xavien) Sorey is another guy who really almost has zero experience because he didn't get to play inside linebacker much in high school. All of those guys, collectively, have talent, but they don't have experience. The only way to get experience is time."

On Stetson Bennett returning...

"We had a couple of conversations just in passing. He reached out a couple of times and said he wanted to come back. He wanted to continue to get better. There wasn't a lot there. There weren't a lot of questions or anything. It was more he felt like he had grown as a quarterback. We showed a lot of confidence in Stetson if you didn't notice. He answered that with the way he played. He'll be the first to tell you he can still grow and get better. We have high expectations for Stetson, but we also have high standards for what we expect Stetson to do in terms of leading our offense, going to class, and doing the right thing. We are still challenging him to do those things."

On his expectations for Stetson Bennett...

"Making decisions. We were late over the middle a couple of times with balls late in the season. He'll be the first to say he didn't play perfectly. He made some really good plays for us with his feet, his legs, his decision-making, but you want to take out some of the 'bone-head' throws, some of the 'bonehead' mistakes that he sometimes makes. It's easy for him to say he hasn't had an opportunity to correct those mistakes because the guy was taking threes at this time last year. He was taking reps at the three or sparingly. He wasn't getting a lot of reps. He got a lot of work fast, and we feel like he is still showing progress. He's done some really nice things this spring, but that should be expected for a guy with his experience level."

On Stetson Bennett's growth...

"I think he can grow. He took a lot of the one reps from one-point last year moving forward. In terms of leadership, we are still working on that. We are not where we need to be in terms of leadership and guys challenging guys. I thought it was really good on Saturday in terms of leadership, and then things got a little tough out there today. Whether you call it Tuesday, two days off, I don't know. I can't say it was hot. It felt mighty good to me. We didn't have the level of practice that I was expecting. You would think whether it's the quarterback or the receiver, whoever the leaders are, that they are going to stand up and push the guys. we probably didn't get what we needed out of that today. I was a little disappointed in the practice."

On Kelee Ringo refocusing after his play in the National Championship...

"It's hard for me to answer that because first, I don't think that play won the game. I know people would beg to differ, but I would argue the offensive drive prior to that did a lot to help that. I would argue that a lot of the plays made in the red area did that. I never look at games and say one play did it because it's not that way. There were so many plays made in that game that you could point that to. What he can't do is let that play distract or deter his development. He'll be the first to tell you that he made an outstanding play, a play that will live in glory and be great, but he also had some plays in the game that weren't so good. He's got some tackling situations that he has to improve on. What makes me so proud of Kelee is that he is taking it out there to the field. He's really working on the physical part and being a better tackler. If anything, that play gives him a little more confidence to play with. Most of the year he was working on that confidence. He was a guy that some teams went after more than DK (Derion Kendrick), and he had a chance to make some plays. He's starting to get some confidence. He can let that play live in infamy, or he can decide to make a lot of those plays, go be a great player and go make money to play in the NFL and develop. I think that's the route he is taking. I know this. He's going to get a lot of encouragement from me to go do that. So far, he has done that. I push Kelee because I know he can be a really good player. He hasn't gone away from that coaching or turned his nose up. If anything, he is trying to take on a leadership role."

On depth at cornerback...

"It's a big opportunity. They (Kamari Lassiter, Nyland Green, and Daylen Everette) are taking every single rep with the ones and twos. Those guys are out there. Receiver and defensive-back, we have never in seven years been this thin. Ever been this thin. You can point a finger and blame anywhere you want, but it's the life of a college football coach now. You don't have depth. You don't have it anywhere. It's easy to leave and go places. Those guys are a little higher maintenance in terms of thinking of themselves. They expect to play right away and go. It's certainly a position of concern for us in terms of recruiting and development as a skill position."

On Jalen Carter...

"Jalen is a good football player. I think he has taken a role in Tray's (Scott) room of trying to set an example for others. Devonte and Jordan, and really Travon in that same room, did as fine of a job, along with Julian. They set a standard of work ethic, and you want whoever, Jalen, Zion (Logue), to control that. Jalen is definitely talented, and you have to push. You have to be willing to push yourself and give great effort in practice because that is what set Devonte Wyatt apart. He was not that player when he got here. He was not that talented of a player when he got here. He worked himself and lost weight. He got stronger and quicker. He wasn't the player in year one or two that he was in year three, four, or five. Jalen started off as a very talented player as a freshman and sophomore, but we would like to get more out of him."

On new coaching hires…

“I think they’re trying to figure out where they’re going right now. We have a lot of drills and a lot of things going on at practice. So, they’re still getting their feet wet. They’ve had four days to do that, to figure out where they’re going, how we do it, what the expectation is. What I like about all of them are their enthusiastic and good leaders. I want their players to take on the personality of the coaches. There have certainly been great energy out of those coaches. We have to get a little more energy out of our players when things get tough at practice. But, that’s the responsibility of the coaches. I’m very proud and pleased with what those guys have done.”

On replacing Travon Walker with Mykel Williams…

“It’s too early to tell. You guys put so much expectation on these guys. I’m just trying to get Mykel to know what a six technique is and a nine technique is, just like I did with Travon when he first got here. So, he doesn’t have to be Travon Walker. That is not what he has to do. We’re not going to replace Travon Walker; we don’t have another Travon Walker. Those guys are once-in-a-lifetime players when they’re that size and that speed. So, we’re going to coach the guys we have and we’re going to teach them to play really hard and really physical. Not have the expectation to be compared to someone else, because I don’t like those comparisons.”

On his daily routine…

“I look at every day as independent of the other. I feel like a broken record because the only thing that changes is your team. You have different players, you have different coaches, you have different demands. I go with the theory of ‘W.I.N.’ what is important now. When I get up in the morning I say, ‘Ok what is the most important thing today. I have to call this mother. I have to call this player. I have to talk to this kid. I have to make sure these coaches know what we are doing in this situation. I have to decide how we are going in practice.’ I just really live day-by-day. I don’t look at it as routine or monotonous because I am trying to do it differently. I am trying to change it up, cycle players, just develop young men and I don’t think that is routine. I don't think you get into a routine. I think when you get into a routine sometimes you get complacent and complacency will be the killer of us all.”

On Coach Fran Brown…

“I think he is very charismatic. You have to really spend time with Fran to get to know Fran. Fran has done a tremendous job at establishing relationships. It was very evident that when you talk to people that have worked on a staff with him about his charisma. I was very pleased with how hard he works, his relationships with the players, he is relentless on the road recruiting. I mean the guy communicates so well and pushes so hard, I think he is going to be a really good coach. I think he is a rising star in this profession because of the energy he puts into it. He is very coachable. He does what you ask of him and he doesn’t know he asks, that is important. It is just as important to ask when you don’t know as it is to know. He has been really good thus far in that area.”

#70 | Warren McClendon | OL | RSo.

On Coach Stacy Searels…

“Basically (Stacy Searles) just wanted to keep the tradition of the Georgia offensive line as being physical and tough, playing hard, and being the best unit on the field. That was his main message, he wanted to keep that going. He didn’t want there to be a drop-off from Coach (Matt) Luke to him.”

On becoming a leader…

“I’m definitely trying to be a leader. You know, going into my fourth year, it’s time for me to step up and try to be a leader and be more vocal. I’m not a very talkative guy, so just stepping up and being more talkative, leading by example, and helping out the younger guys.”

#13 | Stetson Bennett | QB | Sr.

On the difference between this season and last…

“You’d like to say that you always prepare to be the guy and you always work the same that you would. We’re all human and you’re kind’ve like ‘jeez sometimes it seems like I’m not going to play at all,’ but now, as you said, somebody comes in that’s better than me they're going to start, it’s the University of Georgia. There is a lot more of being hands-on with the routes and the way you want the guys to run the routes. How you feel comfortable with them, a lot more reps than we had last year. So I guess just individual conversations about what I’m seeing and what they’re seeing, so we get to know how to play football better together.”

On the period following the national championship…

“I mean it was a whirlwind. It seemed there for about two weeks, we hadn’t won one in 42 years, so, I mean the world exploded there for a second. We hadn’t experienced anything like that before. We got two weeks off because I think it’s NCAA rules, after you finish playing you have two weeks. So we were a little bit further behind, because usually, typically in the past, except for 2017, we would end on January 1st or December 31, so that two-week period would start before school started. This year it started right when school started. So we were what, 10 days, 11 days behind on like walkthroughs and football stuff? So, once we started back, there was a little bit more urgency because we had lost a week and a half from prior years between then and spring ball. We had like a week and a half less reps to get ready for spring ball. So, there was an urgency to get the new guys, the new enrollees, back in, and the old guys who hadn’t done anything for two weeks, get them back ready to go for spring ball.”

#5 | Kelee Ringo | DB | RFr.

On William Poole and Christopher Smith returning…

“We had a pretty good secondary last year. And of course, as you were saying, those two players had a big impact on that. Having two older guys and two leaders being able to come back for the next year is something that's going to help us.” \

On the National Championship Pick-6…

“It was a pretty good feeling honestly. Going throughout the entire game, a lot of plays were made to put us in that situation. I’m just happy to be able to play with my team and just do great things at the right time when we’re able to. So, that helped us come out on top.”