Coach Smart, Players Preview Fall Camp
University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several student-athletes, offered the following comments to open up the 2021 fall camp. Head Coach Kirby Smart On if he struggles remembering names... "We have really stressed and emphasized connection. From spring ball, we had 16 midyears. There are not a lot of new additions, when you add in three or four scholarship guys and some new preferred walk-on guys, it is probably the smallest new group that we have ever had. Even though it is new, we have had them all summer. We get a lot of time with them in the summer, so we get to spend more time with them now than we ever have." On JT Daniel's confidence and how he has evolved... "I have really not seen a lot of difference in his confidence. I think, to play the quarterback position, you have to be a confident person, in and of itself. He probably has more confidence, for good reason, from actual experience in the SEC, having played, than he had prior. He did not lack confidence in his arm, his mind or any of that when he first got here. If anything, he probably lacked some confidence in his knee and trusting that. Confidence has not been something that he lacks in. I think his mental growth and maybe his confidence in his relationships with receivers and tight ends has improved. His relationships with the players, just sheer connection, has improved, which has improved confidence. He feels much more confident that he can demand excellence when he knows somebody personally, rather than having been on zoom with the team for three months this time last year. He did not have that relationship. He is in a much better position to be confident." On how 'back-to-normal' the team is... "We are above 90% [vaccinations]. Ron [Courson] and his staff have done a tremendous job making sure that guys feel comfortable getting the vaccination. We feel really comfortable with where we are. My goal is always to be 100%, because I think that it is the safest thing for our players. In terms of 'back-to-normal,' I would not say it is back-to-normal, because it is not exactly normal. There are spikes going on across the country, in our state, in our hospitals systems across the Southeastern Conference. It is scary. We are being extremely smart, making good decisions with our players. Where we can adopt things that carry over from last year, we do that. With the vaccination rates that we have, we feel confident that we are able to get a little closer at times in some meeting rooms, but we are trying to be smart about that. I think Ron and the updates that he gives us daily in staff meetings has helped us navigate that, but you are only as good as your last COVID test. For us, we are trying to maintain a healthy status." On an update on players and injuries... "We are kind of in the same spot we were in when I talked to you guys at media days about it. Dom [Blaylock] is still not cleared 100%. He is walking through. He is jogging through, but he is not out there in a competitive environment. Kearis [Jackson] is still the same. He is recovering. He is doing a job pushing himself to get back. He has a very good understanding of our offense and knows what we want. He is very involved in walkthroughs in practice, but he is not able to go full speed. MJ Sherman had a shoulder injury. He is cleared just like Nakobe. Marcus Rosemy is good. He has been doing everything. He had a slight ankle sprain around media days, but he is back from that and doing great. Micah [Morris] is back and has been doing everything." On Oklahoma and Texas, what he expects and how it will affect the conference... "I hate to do this to you… I am just so focused on this year; I can promise you that I have not wasted one second of thought on that. You know what I mean? I know that they are coming. I am happy that they are coming. I think it will make our conference that much stronger because they are two of the most top-ten winningest programs in college football. So, when you add that to what is already a pretty stacked conference, I think it makes for a pretty special group and will make the SEC that much more powerful. I can assure you every minute of my day is spent on this team right now; I am not even really thinking about it." On scheduling this opener [and future ones] and how much of it is a marque opener to get the team excited... "It is really availability to be honest with you. It was never about wanting it to be the first game, it's better to be the third game, or that it's better to be the second game-I mean in all honesty and strategically it is availability. Like, how do we get in one of those games? Does it have to be the first one? Not necessarily. Why does it usually fall there? Because that is the furthest you can get away from your conference. The rigors of your conference schedule- you would prefer to not have that back-to-back. But a lot of people say that the opening game affects your off-season workouts. I don't disagree with that, but I also don't think we are going to work out a little less or any less intense regardless of who we are playing. So, to me, the number thing in those games is availability. How do we make it happen? What dates work for them? What dates work for us? Obviously, no one is playing conference schedules from the jump so… we wanted to schedule them and that is where they worked outed to be." On NIL and recruiting… "Yeah, we are not allowed to set up NIL deals per the laws that we are governed by and none of the schools in the SEC are, so we don't get involved with it. We ask our players to disclose what deals they have and what they are doing. We have educated them on how to go about good deals and how to avoid bad deals. We spent a lot of time on focusing on what you can control and how you play dictates a lot of you NIL deals. As far as us navigating it within recruiting it comes up and people ask but there is not a lot that we can control, I don't get into it much." On if he has the group at wide receiver to make an evolution similar to Alabama and LSU... "Well, I don't know if I am saying this right, but I think Alabama had four first-rounders. I know they had them in separate years, but I don't know if have four first rounders at wide-out if that is what you are asking? I know LSU had two first round recovers on the team that we played. Maybe it wasn't two, maybe it was just one I am not sure when [Justin] Jefferson went. I do know they had a first round back, first round receiver, and first overall quarterback. I don't know how ours compare to that because you can only know that after the fact, you can't compare it to before the fact. I do know that having skill players that can light up the scoreboard and score points is certainly critical. I think that we have been able to close the gap in that if the standard was Alabama or LSU in terms of offenses, we have probably closed that gap. But I don't know if we have four first rounders." On how they balance the opener... "There's no true balance for us, it's what we believe in. We believe camp should be physical, tough and a time when you can work on your connections, strengthen habits that you want to have as football players, men and students at Georgia. We want to be on time for things and handle things the right way. Fall camp is a great opportunity to strengthen that, we want to get tougher and have physical practices for what is going to be a grind of a season. We're really focused on us and camp, not really that first game. We prepare for that in the off season and then a week, nine or 10 days, out. Right now, the focus is camp and developing players, putting them in the right seat to be successful and creating some toughness on our team. The focus is us." On if he has any thoughts on the loss of regionalism in college athletics... "I gave up on regionalism a long time ago with Instagram and Twitter, with that it went away. Kids stayed closer to home in the past so there was a regional affect, but as kids have been recruited you look at the number of kids who have come to the Southeastern Conference from California, out west, Las Vegas, up north. The SEC has exploded in the recruiting area and in-turn, it has naturally expanded because more parts of the country have wanted a part of the SEC and what it offers. Through social media, networking and kids knowing kids. I mean a kid from Texas can be best friends with a kid from Georgia where 10, 15, 20 years ago that wouldn't be the case. I do think it has gone away, but it's like that in every world. Just like us being on zoom." On the running backs… "I don't think our backs are any less talented this year or last year in being able to have explosive runs. I certainly don't think that we have had this many. You have to think, 'why is that?' A lot of it has to do with the way people are playing us, how we can make them pay, if they're playing us with extra people how we can block those extra people at the second level. We've had just as many, what I call, '8-7-8' nine-yard runs, but we haven't had the explosiveness that we've had in the past. Most people would point to shear speed at the backs, but that's not the case with our guys. They're just as fast now as they were when we had the other guys, we haven't been as explosive. A lot of that is breaking tackles at the second level and being able to block down fields and get the second hit. One of the things our wideouts like Mecole [Hardman], Riley [Ridley], Jayson [Stanley], and Javon [Wims] had were second level blocks. We need to continue to do that. You need to turn and convert, but they have a route structure they must block. You have some runs where you're going to hit the safety and not hold anyone with a pass off it." On the uncertainties of being a head coach… "I agree with everything you've said. It is not the same as it was when I signed up to be a head coach, and that is relatively recent. I think it is unfortunate, but I think as our commissioner said that time is changing, and when things change you either adapt with them or you get passed by. You are not going to get a complaint out of me. I certainty enjoy the joy of coaching more than I do managing and we find ourselves now as managers much more than coaches and that is not what I got in this profession to do. I got in this profession to coach and affect people. When I start to steer away from that- like when I was coming over here for this Zoom today, I want to be getting ready for the practice, what I am going to do in my meeting, and how I am going to prepare them. You just have to deal with what you are dealt and have good time management skills so you can spend it with your players." On how he coaches a player to be more vocal... "More confident, more experience doing it. We have had I think 30-something sessions of Skull Sessions, were guys break out in small groups. We found small groups bring personality out, more guys are having an opportunity to talk because you are in smaller groups and more guys are comfortable talking because you are in smaller groups. I think you develop that through confidence and practice. We put a lot of practice into being vocal if you have the need to and holding the team and other members to a standard. We have had a lot more buy in through these small groups than we have had in the past which is good for me because I can float from meeting to meeting. Lewis [Cine] has led a lot of these meetings were he sat in front of everyone and led the meeting not the coaches, which has been really good for us." #17 Nakobe Dean | Junior | LB On the mood of the opener... "Everybody is excited. It's the first day of camp, first practice. Everybody is excited. Everybody has high energy. Everybody is ready for the season to start, and everybody is excited about what we are going to do this year." On his shoulder... "It was something that I was battling the whole season, probably since the first or second game. It was something that I knew I probably had to get looked at, so I just played on it." #86 John FitzPatrick | Junior | TE On the difference between the offense from last season... "I would say the biggest difference would be that we have that continuity. We are returning a lot of starters and a lot of great players. We brought in a great deal of freshmen. We are excited, and we are ready to make explosive plays through the pass game, through the run game. I think we are going to connect on all cylinders." On COVID-19 protocols this season compared to last season... "There has been tremendous buy-in. This team is very strong, and they all want to be together. They know the deal with vaccination, and they want to be a part of this team come the postseason, so they are going to buy in on all accounts." On the Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington and the tight end room... "Those two guys [Bowers and Washington] are doing a great job along with the rest of the tight end room. We work hard every day with Coach [Todd] Hartley and Coach [Todd] Monken. In meetings they are doing well, paying attention and staying focused. When it comes to the practice field, they are doing great in walkthroughs. On the field, 7-on-7s, they have done a tremendous job making plays, so we are really excited about them." #16 Lewis Cine | Junior | DB On Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC and what they will bring... "They bring something different. They're known for their offense, scoring a lot points and making big plays in terms of passing. That's bringing something new to the SEC because it's a very defensive conference. I feel like this is something different we're going to see." On JT Daniels... "It goes both ways. He's a competitor, he makes good plays. If we are going to make a play I'll go talk to him, so it keeps the fire going and makes practice fun." #4 James Cook | Senior | RB On how he thinks the team compares to how they were last year... "We're just focusing and working now. We know we've got a good offense, so we're just working and coming together as a team." On going out to California with JT Daniels and what that experience was like... "Just getting together and having all of the guys there. We were separated for a long time, so just being together for a few days and gaining connections." On if there are any concerns on being able to showcase his talent to get to the next level... "All I'm trying to do is win games this year. Just try to go out and win a National and SEC Championship. That comes when you do the right things. So if I get the ball, I get it. If I don't, I don't."