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Georgia Football

Kirby Smart: JT Daniels "Hasn’t Always Worked with the No. 1 Unit" This Week

November 17, 2020
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Head coach Kirby Smart (Full transcript)
On the outside linebackers’ performance this season…
"I think always you wish for more. We want more. We’ve had better sack production than we’ve had in years past. We’ve some experience players there. We would have liked to have had, in those big games, maybe some more rush and more opportunities to cause fumbles. I think all sacks have the potential to be fumbles, and we’re always trying to disrupt the pocket. I’m really pleased with their work ethic. It’s a really good group. It’s a group that works extremely hard when you watch them out at the practice. There are great kids in that room. Robert Beal is a guy who you guys don’t get to see but, man, he works hard out at practice every day. Adam [Anderson] has done a great job. Jermaine [Johnson] has done a great job. Nolan [Smith] and Azeez [Ojulari]— they work their tails off. I certainly appreciate what they do. People don’t get to notice it, but Adam has done a really good job on kickoff return. He’s on of the key block guys who has helped that unit be a weapon for us."

On what he has seen from Monty Rice this season...
"The hardest thing is he’s injured, he’s hurting, but he’s able to go on game days. That’s probably the most important thing, is that he’s been able to function . If he didn’t think that he could play on game days, he wouldn’t be out there. I think the hardest thing is he doesn’t get the same quality of work and reps, so there can be times in a game where he might not have gotten as many reps. Then you’re going, ‘Okay, is it better to play the veteran, experienced player who might not get all the reps?’ That’s the hardest thing. I hate it for him, because he can’t practice Monday through Thursday full speed like he used to and be able to go on Saturday because of the foot injury. But this guy, he’s improving his opportunity to go in the NFL because they have guys every week in the NFL who are 90 percent or 85 percent. You see it every week; a guy goes out there and gives them what he can. He goes, because they’ve got a 53-man roster, and he might be the best player. For those guys, they’re going to think extremely highly— at least the guys I’ve talked to in the NFL— of the players who are willing to push themselves and play hurt, as long as he can’t injure himself worse, which that can’t happen right now based on his injury. It’s not going to get worse. It’s a matter of what he can play with, and he’s a really tough guy."

On his evaluation of the performance from the receivers, particularly with route-running...
“I think that’s always a matter of what game you’re talking about and what the level of competition [is], so are we measuring ourselves against the best we play? You always want to do better. Are you measuring yourself against a lesser competition? We’ve shown flashes of that, and we’ve shown an inability to hit them sometimes when they’re open. We’ve also shown some 50/50 balls that we’ve caught in the path. I know I’m not answering your question, Seth [Emerson], and I’m not trying to avoid it. It’s just hit or miss. It’s one game up, and guys are open. I will say this— Jermaine Burton has gotten better and better and better, and he continues to improve. Kearis [Jackson], in Todd [Monken’s] system, has found a niche. He’s found a nice ability to play the slot. He’s courageous. He’s not afraid to go over the middle, and we’ve found ways to hit them. Jordan [Davis] has been dealing with an injury, and Jordan certainly made some big plays for us going back to the Auburn game. We’ve just got to get more guys producing out of that position consistently, and we’ve also got to hit them when they’re open, hit the layups.”

On the players’ commitment to finishing the regular season versus the bowl…
“I think it’ll be measured when they get to the next level. Some pundit or some critic would say, ‘Well, that’s easy for you to say, They need to be worried about their NFL careers.’ Well, I’ve learned those NFL careers are not for long, and especially for guys who aren’t first-rounders. If you’ve got a bonafide first-rounder, that’s a completely different subject, but that’s not the case in the case of a lot of these opt-outs. Our kids care about each other. They want to win. They want to have a productive season and, at the end of the day, they want to improve their draft stock. How does that really look upon you that you opt out to go train and not play if you’re a first-round pick? That’s an easy decision. But when you’re not, they take thought into that. The NFL general managers, the scouts— all the people that we talk to—  100 percent think about that. That makes them think, ‘Is this the best decision for him right now? Because I want to evaluate.’ What are they going to work out for? We don’t know if there’s going to be a combine. We don’t know if there’s going to be a pro day. What we know is we play Mississippi State at 7:30 [p.m. ET] on Saturday [Nov. 21] night, and that’s an opportunity for you to go showcase what you can do against really good competition.”

On whether Eric Stokes’ touchdown against Florida was circumstantial or something focused on during practice...
"I'd love to say that we emphasize it in practice and that's why it happens. It’s typically — the defenses I’ve been around that score on defense are usually disruptive — comes from a fumble. It comes from a sack. It comes from a Monty [Rice] strip, sack, fumble. The more disruptive ou are, and the more explosive players you have, the more opportunities you have to score on defense, Both [Eric’s] circumstances came from really good coverage. The one in the Florida game was a freshman that busted a route. It’s not like it was unbelievable. The guy threw the ball to someone else, the receiver put Stokes in the way, and Stokes had to catch it and finish it. He did a really nice job of catching it and running with the ball after the catch. We certainly want to have those, [and] we practice those, but sometimes they happen just by circumstance and luck.'

On whether he has noticed more of an edge on defense this season and how NFL scouts view that…
“Yeah, I think they look at performance. They are not looking at it in order of what happened the game before and how you responded. They probably are more looking at it within a game, and how you respond to giving up plays, getting beat. How do you respond within the game, but not so much two weeks later. I haven’t noticed a difference with the defense because I am going to be honest with you—they worked really hard prior to that. There was not a complacency-factor. It wasn’t like they were out there thinking that they were going to go out there and shut people down. It was a good ethic and a good job working hard. They just didn’t play really well.”  

On how Georgia’s accuracy has improved over the last week or so…
“Hit or miss. We hit some. We miss some. We have to hit more than we miss—that’s all I can tell you. I don’t know any we hit last game other than maybe a couple of drops. We have to hit more than we miss. We do that in practice. We don’t hit them, but we hit more than we miss in practice. The competition is probably not the same either.”
 
On the importance of pass-rush this weekend against Mississippi State… *
“You have to pitch to these guys. If you have watched them right now, nobody has hardly played and rushed the passer. They rush three. I think the last four, five or six teams they have played, they rushed three 80 percent of the snaps. That’s what people are doing. That isn’t necessarily what we are going to do. We believe in rushing five, four, three, two, one, zero. By all means, I want Coach [Mike] Leach to know we might bring six, we may bring seven, we may bring three. Each team does it different ways. When you talk about effecting the passer, I assure you he is fired up when you’re rushing five or six guys because he’s got answers for that. They have man-beaters. They know what they are doing. This is not his rodeo.”
 
On the challenges player eligibility amidst COVID has presented in terms of scholarships…
“No indications per what we have been told. The only thing we have been told is we have to manage our 85. I don’t foresee it changing. It’s going to be a problem for some teams if you have a lot of kids to elect to come back, and you know that school is counting on how many initials, how many new guys are coming in—you are going to have a numbers crunch. In the SEC, you don’t have a lot of guys saying they are going to come back for their senior season. There are guys that we have had conversations with, that option is available there for guys. They haven’t told us anything about how they are going to accommodate that, like they did in some of the spring sports.”
 
On the assessment of the offensive line so far this season and Ben Cleveland...
“The work ethic they have. They have worked extremely hard. I have watched them in individual most days. They are getting after it. High tempo. Physicality. They have protected the quarterback well, and the quarterback has saved them sometimes. We have had a little more mobility at that position, and there has been time where maybe we have messed up or the quarterback messed up. The quarterback got himself out of trouble in terms of pressure, with his legs. They’ve played really hard. I have been pleased in their ability in the run game to get movement. Overall, I have been pleased at what the O-line as done. Especially, with the guys we have playing that are new. Ben [Cleveland], kind of the same statement there. Ben’s been here forever. He knows what to do. He’s a quality leader. He has played better in some games than others, but he’s been a consistent force and leader in that group.”
 
On JT Daniel’s past experience with a Mike Leach-style team and an update on Stetson Bennett...
“I don’t know because I mean he wasn’t at a Mike Leach-coached defense [team]. I don’t where that would benefit because the coordinators are not the same. He’s not playing against their offense. He’s playing against their defense. Same with Stetson [Bennett}, he was out there able to go today and do some things. He and D’Wan [Mathis] and JT and Carson [Beck] all got work.”
 
On what he has seen different from JT Daniels since he arrived...
“Well, he hasn’t always worked with the ones, so I don’t know where you would speculate that from. But, his mobility has been better.”
 
On the progress of Kenny McIntosh and Jordan Davis…
“Kenny [McIntosh] has continued to work at practice, and Jordan [Davis] continues to work at practice as well.”  
 
On how often he finds himself studying what coaches like Mike Leach have done over the progression of their coaching careers…
“We study who we have to play. This year in the offseason we did a lot of study on those guys once we knew we were playing them. It became a deal that we studied and looked into. When we go in the offseason we study other defenses to see what they do and try to learn from them. Our offense visits other offenses to try and do things, but what they do offensively is not who we are trying to be.”
 
On whether there will be any uniform changes this weekend…
“We are not sure yet. We have contemplated that, but we are not completely committed to it yet. We want to wait and see on a couple things with our leadership and some of our other senior groups.”
 
On whether Warren Brinson is cleared to play this weekend…
“He is. I mean he’s not getting a ton of work because he just got back, but he worked today with the scout team and all. He’s cleared to play, but we have some other guys in front of him right now.”
 
On how JT Daniels is approaching his development at the quarterback position…
“He is very bright. He understands things. He is very attentive in meetings. He asks a lot of really smart questions. He always ends with the X’s and O’s. He is always intrigued by the other teams’ defenses. Each week they get tests and each week of the season he takes the test and does it as good as anybody—not knowing if he is getting snaps or not. He has done a tremendous job of understanding the teams. He comes down there with us and gets scout team reps and he still knows what the other team’s defense is doing. He takes a lot of pride in that part of it.”

 
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