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Georgia Football

UGA Head Coach Kirby Smart: “The Biggest Opponent the Entire Year is Georgia”

August 23, 2023
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ATHENS - Kirby Smart and the UGA Football team are less than two weeks away from kicking off the 2023 season. 

On Wednesday, Smart adressed the media as well as new starting quarterback Carson Beck, Dominic Lovett and Mykel Williams. 

Smart begun the press conference by breaking the news that Branson Robinson will be out for the season. Here is everything Smart said:



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On Ernest Greene, Raylen Wilson and Branson Robinson’s health… 

“Ernest was able to go yesterday some of the time, he’s dealing with a little bit of an ankle sprain, but he worked out and ran on Monday and practiced about 50 percent of the reps yesterday. We think he’s going to be okay. Raylen is still dealing with a hyperextended knee. Branson had a significant injury yesterday. He had a non-contact ruptured patellar tendon. So, he will be out for the season. Tough, tough break for him. He was coming back from a toe injury on the other leg and he was actually not even in a contact drill, he cut, planted and ruptured the patellar tendon. He’ll make a full recovery, but he will unfortunately be out for the season, which puts us in a tough situation at back. Kendall [Milton] has actually been taking some more reps, he's been able to do some things, but he’s not at 100 percent. Andrew [Paul] is getting a ton of reps, Roderick [Robinson II] is getting a ton of reps, Cash [Jones] has been getting a ton of work. It'll be done by committee as it always has been here. I hate it for Branson because he had really worked hard. By the end of the spring, when he had the turf toe, he was battling back all offseason, he’s had a great summer and looked really good in the days leading up to this injury.”

On the differences between preparing the team for a full season and for a specific opponent…

“It’s very different in terms of what we do at practice. We do a lot more against each other while we prepare for the season, it’s a lot more about mental toughness – going in the heat, pushing through, developing the entire roster. When you start game planning for a game, it’s exactly that. You start game planning for a game. Now, we’re not to that point yet. We’re not working on our opponent, we take this week and work on several of our future opponents so that we have footage and material, where I would say 25 percent of the practice is focused on an opponent and 75 percent of the practice is focused on us. Because at the end of the day, we’re trying to get us better. By Friday, our focus will have turned to our opponent.”

On Carson Beck’s intangibles…

“He’s very bright, very intelligent. He understands situational football. He’s a product of being here three seasons now. He’s been around, so he understands the demands that we put on the quarterback, but he also understands the demands I put on situational football. There’s not a day that we go out there where we’re not working on some specific situation that we’ve been through at the end of the year. That helps, having been through that and seeing how JT [Daniels] handled it, how Stetson [Bennett] handled it, how other guys handled it. Carson is wise, intelligent and a personality that I think the team draws to, because he’s relatively quiet and doesn’t show a lot of emotion. I think that they’ve embraced him and he’s done a great job in this fall camp.”

On how Javon Bullard has handled his move to safety…

“I think that more has been made of that than it is. He played that position in high school, that’s what we recruited him as. The first tape I remember watching, he was playing the deep part of the field, I call it. The spatial awareness is important back there, the angles are critical, the decision-making is different than at nickel, but when he came here, he hadn’t played nickel. So, the questions were more about nickel or star than they were about safety. He’s gotten more reps, I think it was more about learning our terminology, and he’s picked that up. Coach Muschamp has done a great job giving him confidence, allowing him to grow, make plays and he continues to get better. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Chris [Smith] in terms of stature. He plays bigger than he probably is, he’s very intelligent and makes a lot of plays on the ball.”

On how he’s managed Carson Beck and seen him grow…

“I think that’s Carson’s question to answer more than anything. We don’t try to manage the players, we coach them. We tell them that, by choosing to come to Georgia, we’re going to coach you. We’re going to coach you, develop you, give you reps, and nothing that we’ve Carson, Gunner [Stockton] and Brock [Vandagriff] is not the case. We’re going to develop you, we’re going to give you lots of reps – we’re going to guarantee you more reps here than you can get anywhere else. And I mean meaningful reps, in terms of competitive, third down situations, challenging you, growing you. What you want to become as a quarterback, what they want to emulate in the NFL, they’re going to get to learn that here, and Carson’s seen that. He’s seen that every year. He’s been as close as he is to starting, and as far away as number two or three at times. At this point, he’s the guy that gives us the best chance. I know he’s embracing it, but I don’t think he’s looking backwards at, ‘OK, should I stay or should I go?’ I think he’s been where his feet are, he’s really grown as a player and he’s had some really good quarterback coaches to work with him.”

On Mykel Williams’ development over the offseason…

“Number one, he’s an extremely hard worker, but he’s not had extra work in the spring and fall because he wasn’t able to go. I guess it was a couple days in the spring, I don’t know how many practices he got in the spring before we made the decision to go ahead and have his surgery done. Once he had that, he was in the healing stages. He wasn’t able to start ramping up until about mid-July. It’s still a conditioning process for him. He has really good toughness, he has really good effort, I think the biggest thing for him right now is, can he play enough snaps, stamina-wise, without the training that some of our guys would have had over the summer? So we’re trying to increase his ability to play more snaps, because we certainly need him to play as many as he can."

On how Branson Robinson’s injury impacts his development and offensive philosophy… 

“His injury isn’t going to affect our run-to-pass ratio. We have capable backs. He was one of our better backs. When healthy last year, we thought he was coming into his own, he was learning how to pass protect, he was learning how to do this. He had a really good spring while he was going, so we were really excited about where he was headed. He was explosive, twitchy, could do some things in pass protection and running the ball that some of the other guys couldn’t do. But we’re not going to have that luxury. We have other guys that can do it, I don’t think it changes philosophically when you have Kendall Milton, Daijun Edwards, Cash Jones and Andrew Paul, who has had a good camp, although he’s coming off an ACL, and Roderick [Robinson II]. We’ve got capable backs there and we’ve got people around them to get the ball to. I don’t see that changing who we are offensively, it just probably make another injury more significant, what special teams roles do you want the backs playing, because you’ve got to be aware at what point there’s a drop off.”

On the team’s kicker and returner positions on special teams…

“Punt return will be done by committee, Ladd [McConkey] has been back there before, Mekhi Mews did a good job in the spring, has been back there, Dominic [Lovett] has done it, both at Missouri and with us since arriving, Anthony Evans, Zeed [Haynes]. So, we’ve got five or six guys working punt returns. For kick returns, Mews, Dylan Bell, Daijun Edwards, we could get Joenel [Aguero] back there, Malaki [Starks] has been back there. Kickoff returns, there’s probably six guys working for two spots, punt returns there’s probably four, five guys working for two spots. I wouldn’t say that we’ve settled on anybody at either location yet as we continue those. Field goal kicker has been a really tight race. They both have been extremely accurate, outside of the one scrimmage. We haven’t decided yet.”

On Dylan Fairchild and Micah Morris…

“Both Dylan and Micah have had tremendous spring and fall camps. Micah’s been a little dinged up, so he’s missed a few reps in and out, but he’s really significant on trap plays and pulling plays. He’s physical, he doesn’t shy away from contact, he gets movement. He needs to improve his stamina to be able play to the level of a starter consistently on every snap. Dylan’s had a great camp. Dylan’s worked at tackle and guard, and he’s done a great job, he’s really physical. I think he's kind of coming into his own, he’s one of our strongest weight room players, and you can see that taking effect with the offensive line. I look at those two guys as starters – they can play in their role with those other guys.”

On De’Nylon Morrissette…

“He’s done a really good job. He’s dealing with a little bit of a groin injury right now. He had a sport hernia on the other side, and he had a groin yesterday that started bothering him. The first couple days that he’s been out there with us, he’s done a really nice job. He’s competitive and tough. He brings something to the receiver room in terms of physicality, but we probably haven’t had the whole body of work that we’ve had with other players to judge it.”

On Dominic Lovett…

"We felt like he gave us a depth and a playmaker at positions that we needed it. We were going to lose some good wideouts last year, we lost a couple in the last couple years, and we played against him. We had seen him in high school, we knew about him in recruiting, we saw what he did to us when we played him, and just felt like he was a really good player and a good asset to the program. Once we were around him and knew what kind of person he was and his family, we thought he was a good fit and good match. He’s been a tremendous blessing. I think he’d be the first to tell you the demands and what we’re asking him to do every day at practice is taxing him more but it’s making him a, hopefully, more complete player, which is what he wanted."

On Brock Bowers’ impact…

"I think you would see that with Coach Hartley and Coach Bobo a lot. For me, it’s not so much about just Brock, it’s about our team, and how can I provide that same service to every player on the team. I think if you asked Coach Hartley that question when he was up here, he would tell you the guy challenges him every day because you’re trying to create ways to make him better. He’s certainly at his best for a long time, and longer than most players can sustain, because he’s in really great shape, he’s tough and he’s competitive. Our offensive staff is charged with finding ways to be creative to use him that maybe the defensive isn’t used to. For me personally, he’s a guy on the team that leads by example and if every player could take care of their body and work as hard as he did, we’d be in a phenomenal place."

On Amarius Mims and the offensive line…

"Mims was a starter last year in my opinion. He repped as a starter, all camp he played as a one, he’s flipped flopped and played both sides, he played in really big football games as a starter, so having him back is like having a returning starter back. Earnest [Greene] was unable to go at this time last year otherwise he would have probably been in that conversation. He would have gotten some playing time, but he had a pretty significant injury this time last year and he’s done a great job coming back from that. We’re probably not in the same location in terms of depth. Obviously [Austin] Blaske and Earnest have been competing for that spot, and Blaske’s played really well. He’s had more struggles this fall camp than he has any other time, in terms of the heat because it’s been so different. Those three guys will provide depth. Xavier Truss has repped out there and played and then Monroe [Freeling] gets out there and gets reps. We’re like everybody else in the country. You’re constantly in need of tackles, so we’ve tried to rotate guys and make sure that we have a fourth, fifth, and sixth answer, should we need that."

On Malaki Starks’ development…

"The next stages are more leadership, more vocal, which is not natural for him. He’s a quiet, intelligent, very consistent kid. I think it’s important for a guy like himself that never had to go through the struggle of fighting to earn things. He came in and he was talented, and we needed him. If we had had two returning starters and he couldn’t beat one of them out, then he wouldn’t have been in that position. He would’ve had to struggle through what some of our other players struggle through, but he didn’t get that. The struggle for him is, how do I consistently work to get better and not be happy with where I am, and he’s not wired that way. He’s a hard worker, he’s very conscientious, he comes from a great home, and I don’t think that will happen, but we as coaches owe it to him to make sure he gets better each and every day."

On avoiding entitlement on the team…

"I worry about complacency every day. There’s not a day that I go out on the field that I don’t worry about it, but you look for it and you look for signs of it. It’s like a fire, you try to stomp it out, you don’t allow it to happen if you can help it. What prevents that from happening? Competition is the first way. The second way is acknowledging it and confronting it. The third way is mentally making sure they understand that you’re not going to get the same team week in and week out that you might have gotten had you not won two. We try to visually paint a picture for our players to see that and we tell them the biggest threat and opponent we have the entire year is Georgia. I think they respect that. We spend a lot of time trying to cover that and we do that regardless of what we did the previous year. It’s all about what we do, and not really what our opponents do, and that’s how you avoid the complacency factor."

On the team speaking about negative expectations…

"If I ever thought we were going 7-5, they need to check me into a psychiatric ward. I never thought that, I never said that, I never expressed that. That’s never been a thing. I saw something where a player said that on the field or something, but these players read more stuff on Twitter and social media than I do. I think there was a level of disrespect before maybe one game or two games but not a season. I don’t think that works when you’re Georgia. I just don’t think that works. What works is: what are we doing this week against this opponent to be better than them. A lot of times we may be lined up and be favored or be better than them, so then what are we doing to ourselves to make sure that we’re trying to beat everybody in the country and not somebody. I’m a lot more passionate and adamant about what we’re doing over what we’re selling, what the outside world might say, or what this narrative of the world against us is saying. I think we may have had that once or twice last year, but that’s not something that we’re painting the whole time. We’re certainly not trying to paint that this year. We’re focused on, ‘Better never rests.’ We’re focused on being the best we can. A lot of people doubted us throughout the season. You go back and watch some of the games before we played a team that was ranked higher than us. That may have been the case for one game, but not necessarily the whole season."

On the team’s retention rate…

"I don’t know. If you did it based on practice, they’d probably want to leave because they have tough physical practices. The first question is what you bring into your program. If you’re bringing in kids that like hard and want to develop, and they truly all say that in recruiting, but if you actually get the ones that want to develop and want to grow and get better, they embrace hard. They embrace the challenge of being physical at practice and doing that. As far as our retention, it’s investment. The same thing you do in anything else, if you invest in your organization, your people, your employees, your players in this case, guess what? They’re usually going to want to stay because they have a sense of wanting to do well and servicing each other. I promise you we spend a lot of time on how we can improve our freshman, how we can improve our sophomores, and we get return on that investment towards the junior and senior year. I’m not talking about improving them with a drill, I’m talking about improving them mentally and physically so that they can go out there and succeed in tough environments. We’ve been able to keep a lot of those guys because we spent a lot of time with them."



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