• DAWG NEWS DAILY

Coach Smart and Trio of Players Comment On Scrimmage and Spring Practice



ATHENS, Ga. --- University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with a trio of players discussed Saturday’s scrimmage and spring practice.

On Tuesday, Coach Smart, senior Jack Podlesny, junior Jalen Carter and redshirt sophomore Ladd McConkey the following comments after practice...

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the linebackers…

“We’re just really young (at the linebacker position). You say stand out—I mean, there’s nobody that stands out—not compared to who just left that room. There are guys filling a role and there’s a difference—there’s a standard at Georgia when you play inside linebacker and outside linebacker and we’re probably not playing to that standard right now. But it’s not because they’re not trying hard enough and it’s not because they’re not passionate enough, it’s because they don’t have the experience or the reps. We’re catching up on that every day as fast as we can. (Xavian) Sorey (Jr.)’s taken a lot of reps, but he’s got a long way to go. Jalon Walker’s taken a lot of reps—he’s got a long way to go. Trezmen (Marshall) is injured, so he’s on a pitch count—on a number of reps—and he’s able to go some with the ones and help us out. At outside linebacker with Chaz (Chambliss) and (MJ Sherman), they’ve gotten a lot of work with Nolan (Smith) and (Robert) Beal (Jr.) there.”

On Jackson Meeks’ progression…

“Jackson (Meeks) is growing, he’s getting better. I don’t know if he’s been here two years—maybe he has—it seems like he’s been here for a shorter time than that. He’s got to get to where he can help us on special teams, he’s got to be who he is. He’s really physical, strong… He had some balls he probably should have caught the other day and he’ll be the first to tell you that. But, he also made a couple of plays, so when that happens I just look for more consistency and contribution on special teams.”

On Buster Faulkner's role with the program…

“No. 1, he brings a great recruiting value and an in-state presence that a lot of high school coaches in the state respect. He’s done a tremendous job as an offensive coordinator at several places and has a really good knowledge of our system. He’s grown as a coach within our organization and has been a tremendous help to our coaches because that’s what he does—coaches the coaches. He also establishes relationships in recruiting. He spends time when he can support our quarterbacks and supporting that position, and he supports Coach Monken. I think the one thing that he’s been really good at is he’s kind of known his role and he’s done his role really well. He’s been a big asset to me because he’s coached at a lot of places.”

On his thoughts on the scrimmage…

“I really liked the effort. I told the players this, I thought that like most scrimmages we have a lot of loafs the first time and it’s sloppy, but I really liked the effort. Like the special teams, we’ve challenged them to not have loads on special teams- we probably had a few- but we’ve had some really special extra efforts. The gunners, the holdups, they had great battles; and, a lot of times people think that’s a playoff but not our guys. We had high speeds on our GPS in our special teams units- so I was very pleased with that. We didn’t tackle well, which when you don’t tackle live a lot - we try to prevent a lot of injuries - we don’t tackle live a lot until we go over to the stadium. So, we probably didn’t tackle as well as I would like. Didn’t execute really well on third down on defense. There’s a lot to be cleaned up, but I was pleased with the effort and that to me is number one. If you don’t have effort you don’t have a chance. And we did have good effort, there were some big collisions, two or three really good physical hits on both sides of the ball. So, I like the fact that the players were into it; they were energized. People were on the sidelines cheering. It was not a ho-hum type day.”

On what he has learned about his team this spring…

“We have a long way to go in some position groups to get where we need to get. What I’ve been very pleased with thus far is I don’t feel like we’ve had poor practice. We’ve had really good energy. A lot of really good teaching and learning, which, especially in the positions that we’re young at, that’s what you need. You need to teach, learn, get them reps. It’s so valuable to get young players reps in the spring. They learn from mistakes. They have to make a mistake a certain amount of times to get it, and we’re going through those growing pains right now. You know we’re sitting there going through them. I have been very pleased with that part of the spring, but we’re just not where we need to be. We don’t have enough depth at some positions, but the guys are fighting. There are a lot of injured guys, and I’m talking about guys that are not injured because of spring ball, they’re not in spring ball. So, we’re trying to find innovative creative ways to keep them involved. Scripts on the practice field. Walk-throughs for them; give them reps. Give a hurt guy reps against a hurt guy because there’s a good chance they don’t hurt each other. We’re just trying to be creative.”

On if any early enrollees caught his eye on Saturday…

“Hard to really single anybody out. Nobody really, if I do y’all will anoint them. Like y’all are going to do anyway. Y’all take word of mouth; there’s stuff written about guys in the scrimmage that are so far from the truth, but whatever. I mean, I think those guys are coming along. I can’t sit here and say that anyone, not midyear-wise, stood out. It was a little bit of anxiety for those guys because it was the first time in the stadium and the first time going live. We built it up just for that reason because they, sure enough, are going to have anxiety in the fall when we play Oregon. We want to build that up, simulate that, and see how they respond to it. The more times you get to that crescendo, the less negative effect it has. So, I thought those guys battled through, made some mistakes, and hopefully we’ll see a jump this week.”

On Ladd McConkey this spring…

“He is much more confident, he makes a lot of plays, he made a lot of plays in the scrimmage the other day. He is tough. He is allusive. He plays really hard. He is what you want in your program. Every play he gives you everything he’s got. There is a level of consistency with Ladd that you know that you will get his very best every day. If anything you have to be careful how hard you work him because he will do exactly what you tell him to do. He will run himself till his tongue hangs out and he loses his juice. He is certainly better with juice.

On the areas he wants to see Jalen Carter improve…

“Just consistency. I think he and I have talked about stamina. He has flash plays and he is really athletic…Just playing with consistent effort. The talent is oozing, it is a matter of can he play every play with maximum intensity and be able to sustain. He was in a three-man weave triangle last year and it was easy to sub him because you weren’t having a big drop-off on the field. We need him to play more snaps this year. We need him to be on the field, we need him to be active, and we need him to play first, second, and third in a row. Not first and second and then some thirds. Can he do that? Can he go through off-season workouts and put himself in a position like Travon (Walker). Devonte ( Walker) worked so hard in practice but Devonte could play any number of snaps and be fresh, we have to get Jalen to be able to do that. And lead set an example for the other players.”

On the consistency that another spring with Todd Monken brings…

“A plan. I think a big part of the offense is having an identity, believing in who you are, don’t try and force your players into that, being strong where you are strong and improving your weaknesses. But he knows what he wants to do, he knows package plays that work well together. Be who you are. If your strength is at wide-out, if your strength is at O-line, if your strength is at tight-end, if your strength is at running back, if your strength is at quarterback then use it. I think he has done a good job of bringing consistency in those areas and accountability to that side of the ball.

On what he is looking for Ladd McConkey to improve in his second year…

“Make more explosive plays. Take care of his body. In the summer, lift and put more muscle mass on. He is in really good shape usually but it is more of a matter of protecting himself because you can get beat up because he is not a really big guy. The more he can protect himself and grows and be explosive and run after the catch is what we need out of Ladd. Being able to be a really good perimeter blocker when we are throwing the balls to the outside, he has to work on. But he is going to be explosive and a playmaker.”

On Stetson Bennett and the other quarterbacks…

“All of those guys have done a tremendous job. Stetson has taken some really good quality reps here in the scrimmage. He has been really consistent here in the spring and he has been really comfortable. When things break down, he doesn’t have to go make a play like he used to think he had to. He makes a good throw or he runs the ball and those are two positive things that Stetson has done. He has been really consistent this spring doing that. He does not have the snafus that we used to have just because he tried to force the ball-he hasn’t done that. The other two guys have gotten a lot of work with the ones and twos. I am really pleased with both of those guys are. It is just amazing how far they have come from this time last year to right now. It is like, ‘oh my gosh!’ Brock (Vandergriff) probably even further because he was a little younger. Carson (Beck) did get that COVID spring. They are both really in their second spring but they have come so far. I love getting to watch them play with both of those groups because you see their strengths when they get to go with those groups. They are in a really good position at that position and each one of them has developed.”

On his next challenges for Stetson Bennett…

"Y'all made a big deal out of that. It's like everything is blown out of proportion. I'm challenging him to do exactly what every player is challenged to do, be the best leader, go to class and make good decisions. That's not too far-fetched for anybody, but somehow it gets spun into Stetson (Bennett's) in this doghouse or something. I didn't say any of those things, so I think it just misled and misconstrued because when I challenge somebody, I challenge somebody every day. Stetson (Bennett) is really taking on the role we've asked him to do. He's been a good leader. He's playing the best football he's played since being here, and he continues to get better. I want to see him continue to do that. I want him to continue to get reps, so he can grow. Getting those other two guys is critical too, so we do a lot of strategic work on reps to make sure those guys are getting better and getting opportunities. For scrimmage two, I want to see him continue to get better and make good decisions. Can you do it consistently? Can you make plays consistently if things break down? He made two or three plays in the scrimmage with his feet that I don't know how many guys can make where he's elusive. He's not live, so it's hard to measure that but to play within the offense, play within the systems. We're not going to go out there and run the guy 35 times and rush for 300 yards, so he has to play quarterback. He has to deal with the ball and get it to the right playmakers around him. Right now, we're not even playing with a fully loaded offensive gun, so he is having to do it with the guys we got. I think he's doing a pretty good job of that."

On Stetson Bennett’s connection with the wide receivers…

"I don't know. I never believe in that whole connection with a certain wideout. You better be connected with all of them because if they pay two-man on the one that you want to throw it to, you better get ready to throw it to the other guy. If it's man-to-man and we get a choice, then you're going to make your decision on the guy that you think can win. There are all kinds of coverages that are played, zone, man, matchup zone, that make you throw the ball to everybody, the back, the tight end. What we're trying to do is establish depth at wide receiver, so we're trying to get young players that are talented to go really far. De’Nylon Morrissette, he’s a young player that’s talented, but he has a long way to go. Same way at offensive line. We look at the offensive line, and I’m like, ‘Man! Look how far Amarius Mims has come. Man! Look how far this guy’s grown and gotten better, Devin Willock.’ I want to see the players improve and not just gel, improve your fundamentals and get better so our team can be better. We have some guys that are getting better. I’m excited about that. They’re probably not as good as you guys think they are. They might not be as good as they think they are, but they’re getting better.”

On Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton stepping into a leadership role…

“Next man up. Those guys have watched the example set by so many backs before them. Whether it’s D’Andre Swift, whether it’s James (Cook) or Zamir (White), they watched two wonderful ambassadors for the University of Georgia do it the right way. If you can’t follow that lead, then shame on you. So far, both of them have been tremendous leaders, have been positive. We’re getting them to work. We’re getting Daijun (Edwards) work. We need some depth at that position. We need some guys with some different skillsets, but I’m pleased with the work they’re doing. They’re not shying away from the work. They’re both tremendous special teams players. They have a major role on our offense when they go in the huddle, and they look those linemen in the eyes, and they challenge them to get yards. Those guys respond to Kenny (McIntosh) and Kendall (Milton).”

On Jack Podlesny…

“It’s wonderful to have a guy that’s kicked in a lot of big moments. He’s hit some big kicks in big moments. He’s a model of consistency in terms of the way he works about things. He’s going to probably take on the burden of Zirkel Urkel in terms of kickoffs because we had one of the most elite guys to probably ever play college football that’s gone. He’s going to have to step up because you guys just count that play like a dead count. For us, it probably hasn’t counted for the last two years because of the guy that we had. It’s going to count a whole lot more, so we need to step up and do that well.

#96 | Jack Podlesny | PK | Sr.

On Brett Thorson's skills...

"His mindset is completely different. I feel like, coming in as a 22-year-old, it's a bit different. He just knows he's got to get to work and that it's all business."

On his confidence coming into spring...

"I'd say confidence is high, but spring is a time where it's about improvement instead of steadiness. Just working on the technical things like I said, and staying the course is the most important

#88 | Jalen Carter | DL | Jr.

On being a leader...

"I work different ways. I started running more, practicing and all that. Those guys (Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt) motivated me to do more because they told me I could be a top-10 pick and all of that. I've done a lot that I didn't do during my freshman year. I've just been working hard."

On his mindset entering the season...

"Being a 5-star is cool and all, but I came here with a new start and a new mindset saying I have to earn everything I do. Just playing with the guys, I feel like I've done what was needed."

#84 | Ladd McConkey | WR | RSo.

On Spring practice…

“It’s been good. Spring is always a big learning experience, kind of figuring out what kind of team you’re going to be for the upcoming Fall. It’s been good. We’re playing with effort, flying around. I guess that’s really all you can ask for right now.”

On the expectations playing for Bryan McClendon…

“Coach McClendon is very demanding. He’s going to let you know what he wants you to do and how he wants you to do it, so he’s been awesome. He’s taught us so much in the short time he’s been here, so I’m grateful that we were able to get him. He’s been an awesome pickup.