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Coach Smart and Players Offer Tuesday Post-Practice Comments




Following practice Tuesday, Dec. 8, head coach Kirby Smart and players Nakobe Dean and Jermaine Johnson offered the following comments. A word document of tonight’s transcript is also attached.

Head coach Kirby Smart (Full transcript)

On whether there is any good news on the injury front in terms of getting some guys back…

“Kendall [Milton] has practiced in a black jersey and done really well. I wouldn’t say he’s full speed, but I’d say he’s pretty close. Hopefully he’ll be able to play. Richard [LeCounte] has taken about 25 percent of his reps that he would normally take. He’s probably not ready. I’d say he’s the furthest from those guys. Jordan [Davis] looks good. Jordan has done a really good job of being in conditioning shape. He’s been practicing really hard and looks good.”

On whether the NCAA has given him or the other coaches guidance as far as the 85-man roster and how to approach it going into the 2021 season…

“Yes and no. I mean, the feedback is that the seniors who choose to come back for an extra year of eligibility don’t count on the 85. So, that’s a bonus. You know you’re working off your 85. You assume those guys are going to be gone, but they’ve got the flexibility to come back. That’s great. That’s the right thing to do. I think that’s super, but now try to make decisions for your organization mid-year is a different circumstance. Everything doesn’t mesh…let’s say we have five mid-years, which isn’t the case at all, but let’s say we have five mid-years that want to come. We have to have a spot for every one of them to come, so every senior who elects to stay, we don’t have a mid-year spot. So, even though [seniors] won’t count towards the 85, we don’t have a spot for [mid-years] to come. We don’t really control what seniors stay, and we’ll certainly give them the flexibility, but if we have more mid-years that want to come than seniors who want to leave, we have a problem. I don’t think that all the things mesh real well, especially if you’re a program that has a shot at a lot of mid-years. What’s different about this year? Kids aren’t in high school, so why should [they] stay for [their] second semester? We’re looking at—and I don’t know about other schools, maybe they’re the same way—[but] we’re looking at the possibility of anywhere from 14 to 20 mid-year enrollees. Let’s say we have 20 mid-year enrollees who want to come—we don’t have 20 spots. Yet, the seniors won’t count next year, but they’re eating spots right now. It just doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make perfect sense, so it’s a dilemma that we have to deal with. You also have programs that have juniors, so you don’t know juniors who haven’t declared yet, but yet we’re having a signing date before the juniors declare. We’ve been saying for a while that the timing just isn’t accurate, and it really causes some mismanagement, and the people who suffer are the high school kids who may be told one thing and then someone say, ‘Well, I thought you could be here, but maybe you can’t be here.’ It just depends on the number of spots you have.”

On how the NCAA’s communication has been with the institutions in regard to above…

“I don’t think they’re making it up as they go along. They told us the kids would have the ability to come back, but every coach has to manage that himself. They’ve been in communication in terms of the seniors being given another year of eligibility. That’s why, to them, it doesn’t matter because the seniors don’t count. They’re not factoring in that [seniors] do count for spring, and it removes a spot. Look, I’d love every senior back. Seniors are the most valuable parts of your team. I’d love to have every one of them back, but not knowing is what’s tough.”

On what the most impressive thing has been about his team’s adherence to the COVID-19 protocols...

“I guess the most impressive thing has been the negative tests and the fact that we haven’t had a lot of positives, like you said, knock on wood. Ron Courson has reminded me many times you’re only as good as your last test, and it can change so quickly. Number one, we have a really good facility. Number two, we’ve got unbelievable staff here who do an unbelievable job of cleaning it and keeping it clean. I’m not saying other places don’t, and that’s why they have their problem, but I think our community has done a really good job, and we’ve done a really good job inside our building. Credit goes to our players, too, because they’ve obviously done a pretty good job of taking care of each other and not exposing each other.”

On Richard LeCounte’s spirits throughout his recovery…

“I think he likes being back out there. He wants to get out there for more reps, but it’s hard because for every rep you give him, that’s somebody else who doesn’t get one, and you don’t get to prepare a younger player. If he was ready to play, we’d want to give him all the reps, but he’s got to work himself back. He’s still not 100 percent, and I love that he’s pushing through that, because a lot of times, you have a talented player who’s uncomfortable going back and not being his old self. Well, he’s never going to be his old self until he pushes through these kind of growing pains he’s got to get through to get back. He’s pushing his way back, but I just don’t think he’s going to be ready this week.”

On whether the one-time exemption transfer rule is still set to take effect August 2021 and how much that plays into his and his coaching staff’s thinking going forward…

“We’ve known that for a while, that that’s sitting out there. We understand that the kids are going to be able. They really always have been able to, since the portal; they’re really kind of free to go. I think that everybody’s understanding is that the one-time transfer rule is going to hit, it’s just a matter of when. If that goes into effect August, then the kids who would have left in January would then possibly be eligible. There’s still a lot to be done on that in terms of [whether] that includes interconference? If it was a one-time thing, then I don’t know what direction that’s headed in our conference. Certainly everybody has their opinion and [SEC Commissioner Greg] Sankey made a decision on that in terms of allowing guys to play, but what’s that going to be moving forward in terms of inside our conference versus just all across the country?”

On how defensive coordinator Dan Lanning addresses adversity with the defense…

“He hits it head on. He addresses it like any great coach would. As a young coordinator, you go through that, and you own up to things that you could do better, and you confront and demand things that the players could do better. We’re never going to be a program or staff that points blame at players. That’s not what we’re about. We go back to work, and we try to find a better way to do it. That’s what [Lanning] has done. He’s really good at what he does. He’s a great motivator, He’s a great leader. We’ve got a really great defensive staff here, so it’s not just Dan. We have about seven or eight guys over there who work really hard at getting information, building relationships with players, motivating players, finding new ideas [and] new schemes other people are doing. Dan benefits from that staff, but he’s the face and leader of that group. He stands in front of them, and he takes ownership when he needs to take ownership, and he challenges when he needs to challenge.”

On whether eye control is the common thread in games in which Georgia hasn’t played up to its standard…

“I would say that for the Florida game. Eye control was very lacking. I’m not going to say that was the case in the Alabama game. It wasn’t really eye control. There were only one or two plays there. A lot of it was tackling and really good plays by them where you’ve got guys covering and they make plays. Consistently, I would say that it’s been different things, but the lack of eye control probably showed up most in the Florida game.”

On an update on Trey Hill and if Van Fran and Ericson are ready to step in at center…

“Yeah, both of those guys are working there and doing a good job. Trey [Hill] has a meniscus that he was going to have to have repaired after the season, and then I guess last week at some time he injured his other meniscus—so he went ahead and got both of them cleaned up, and he is good. He’s already off a scooter and moving around. We are really hoping he can bounce back. It was more of a cleanup than a surgery, so we are hopeful to get him back at some point. The other guys are working really hard and doing a good job out there.”

On Jermaine Johnson and whether he is the kind of player Smart and his staff want to recruit out of the junior college ranks…

“Anytime you go through the junior college ranks, you want to get a phenomenal player that can impact your team immediately. He had an injury early in camp when he first got here. He had a high ankle sprain, and it really slowed him down in terms of developing and getting better. He has a lot of natural talents. He’s extremely athletic, fast. He plays the sand backer position really well. The fact that he can set edges and play man-to-man and rush the passer. I think he’s just starting to come into his own. He’s gotten really comfortable with our calls, our games, our pass-rush stuff. He’s rushed more this year. You know last year, he and Adam [Anderson] were spying more times than they were rushing. Now, they’re rushing more on the hole, and he’s doing a nice job of that. We are very pleased with his growth. He’s really a tremendous leader at practice. He practices really hard, and he takes coaching really well.”

On what Missouri’s offense has been doing that has been them so effective lately…

“The quarterback [Connor Bazelak] is really accurate. He throws a really catchable ball. I’ve been extremely impressed with this guy’s composure, poise, and he’s going to be there for a while. He’s young. He knows coverages—as soon as he sees a coverage he knows where to go with the ball. He throws a really good deep ball. When you play contested, pressed man all over the field—he makes throws and they make 50-50 catches. When you play a zone and you spot drop all over, he knows where to go with the ball and he completes it. He’s got a really good balance run game to go with it. Part of being a quarterback is being good decision makers. Eliah [Drinkwitz] and them do a great job of run-pass conflicts where there is a rocket guy where he can hand it to or throw it to, and then he can hand it off. If you’re not in the perfect call then they can get you here or they can get you there. They are tough to defend. He’s going to be great for our league because when you look at what he does, there are going to be people copy catting what he does to add that to their offense because his history at App[alachian] State was that, his story at NC State was that. He was really good at creating offense.”

On his thoughts on Missouri’s two consecutive off-weeks then coming back to play and if he sees it as beneficial…

“It’s all about how you take it and how you manage it. The head guy is out so I don’t know how much they practice. I have no idea if they did a mini-camp or practiced or just walked through the guys they had. Part of the reason you can’t play a game is you have guys out. I think it certainly helps the youth on their team. When you have a new offensive-system, time helps—I know that from ours. The more time you get guys experience it helps you operate more efficiently. We are so much more efficient now than we were the beginning of the year.”

On what it is like now that, in a way, the transfer portal offers a second chance to recruit a player that Georgia may not have gotten out of high school…

“It hasn’t changed any. What changed? Nothing changed. I was always considerate and nice when a guy didn’t come anyway. I don’t know if there was a portal when D-Rob [Demetris Robertson] came out. I can’t remember. I wasn’t mad when D-Rob didn’t come. I told him congratulations, best wishes and let us know if we can ever help him with anything. It never changed because there was a portal. The portal is just a public was of saying, ‘I’m a free agent.’ The way we recruit is the way we recruit. If they choose to go in the portal, great. If there is kids in the portal that we had relationships with, then we’re going to communicate with them if they are interested. It hasn’t changed the way we have recruited.”

On what the moments are like right after a game postponement…

“My feelings are probably are, appreciate the games you do have. Appreciate the games you did play or you are going to play because you don’t control the ones you’re not. You certainly better not take the ones you have coming up for granted because you are not guaranteed any others. Look, six months ago I don’t even think we thought we were going to have this season. In the SEC, I know, has great leadership, and its doing all they can to get every one of these games in, and if we end up hitting 90 percent, I think that’s good. To each their own.”

On what his view is on the quiet leaders like Zamir White…

“I don’t mind at all guys like that. The guys I’ve been around like that are usually the hardest workers. Azeez [Ojulari] is like that. Nakobe [Dean] is a little like. Zamir [White] is a little like that. You want to build leadership. We do a lot of character and leadership development, and we do that through outside sources, through inside sources. We try as coaches to develop that trait, that characteristic trait. You can’t force that trait on anybody. The greatest trait to have is hard work and great work ethic—which is what those guys have. If it’s quite, it’s quiet, and that is an example setter. If it gets to the point where they need to be verbal and they’re willing to do it, that’s great too.”

On what he would like to see the NCAA and SEC do about interconference transfers…

“Well, you want my honest answer on that? I can give you the stock answer which is, I am indifferent. As every coach in the SEC probably wouldn’t admit, it’s all about who they can get based on how they want that rule. If you have the guy sitting out there that is going to change your team, guess what you want? You want it to change, right? If you are playing against them you may not want it to change. It’s a selfish world out there, and every guy is trying to do what gives his team the best chance to win and it really should be based on what’s best for the players and what’s best for the longevity of our conference. Everybody in the public would say what’s best for the player, to be able to go and play interconference. Some inherent part of me says, ‘I just don’t know if my son was at a place and he was not playing, or he was disgruntled and I would want to know why it was that way.’ Then I would tell him, ‘You need to try harder. You need to do better. You need to continue to work. You need to continue to grow because something about that in this world, I think makes you a better person. Sometimes we don’t demand kids to do that, and we give them the easy way out. You know what? They can find a lot of other schools that will let them go to them. It’s a really tough situation because I don’t say that from the guys that left here—it’s not about that for me. It’s about what’s best for our conference, what’s best for our programs, what’s best for the game of football, and what’s best for the kids. That’s why you guys like to talk about it because there’s no perfect or right answer.”

#11 Jermaine Johnson | Senior | LB

On his impressions of Missouri and the challenge Georgia will face...

"We know they're a good team and on a roll right now. They've got a good thing going over there, but just like every other week we've got a game plan to practice and then go out on Saturday to execute it. As for the weather, we'll control what we can control and just go out there and play the best we can."

On the defense...

"As a unit, especially as a defense, we want to get after the quarterback. Last year we didn't get home as much as we wanted to or as much as we could have. This year, we're putting an emphasis on getting home and working on what we each need to work on. We all get excited for on another when we do that, and it makes the rest of us want to do it too. This year, the defense did a good job so far getting home to the quarterback and wreaking havoc back there, causing problems for the offense. When you have guys like we do, it just makes the defense's job a whole lot easier."

On his career and what he has accomplished...

"I came to the University of Georgia, and I would do it all the same again. I love it here, and I feel like my coaches, and I get along very well. All my family can talk about is how great the 'G' is and having it all over their clothes. They talk about how people stop them all over the country when they wear the Georgia logo, but I feel like I've done well here. Some things could have gone a little better. You can't get everything your way, but you can take advantage of your opportunities and make the most of it."

#17 Nakobe Dean | Sophomore | LB

On the team’s motivation...

"Motivation and drive come from my competitive nature. Everybody on this team is a competitor, and we like to compete."

On the cold weather expected during Saturday’s game…

"Playing in cold weather doesn't bother me at all. I feel like it's a mindset. My senior year of high school, we went to the playoffs, so we played in cold weather. Three of my last four games, we played in 36-degree weather with rain. So, I think it's all a mindset, because if you go out with the right one, you'll be good."

On the effect of games being moved and the challenges that come with it...

"It's been a very strange season. I feel like it's more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Last week, we didn't find out until Friday. It took me a little while to deescalate my mind. I didn't even know what to do that weekend, I was lost."