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UGA Football Coach Kirby Smart Talks About Spring Practice And More

March 26, 2024
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ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia Bulldogs head football coach Kirby Smart spoke with media on Tuesday. They offered the following comments. 

 

Opening statement … 

“Before we get to football, I know there is a lot of interest in the Trevor (Etienne) situation from this past weekend. I first want to reiterate what I said last week about the kid. I have really enjoyed getting to know him. I think he is a great kid and a great person. We have gotten to know his family. He enjoys being coached, and he is a bright kid. We push him hard out there, and he really loves the competition. 

 

As we also know, sometimes kids don’t make the best decisions. The older you get sometimes the tougher the consequences are for your mistakes. He is not going to let this mistake define him. He is embarrassed, he is upset and he knows he has made a mistake. It is a teaching moment, and we think he gets better from it. 

In addition to our university discipline process, we have all the stuff we deal with in-house, and he will be under the same rules we have in-house as well as university discipline. Disappointed in his decision-making, but he is a good kid, and with that I will open it up for questions.”

 

On letting the legal situation play our before any discipline …

“Some of both. Some of it has to play itself out. We are still gathering information in terms of the report and things, but some things we know already as usual. Like I said, the university discipline is going to take its course as well as what he has to have consequences from his actions from the team. Both those things will play out as we gather more information.”

 

On if he has seen a player “click” in the spring and that carry over into the fall …

“I thought Carson (Beck) had a really good spring last year because he took more of the No. 1 reps than he ever had, and he had a really good fall. I fully expected that to happen with him. Dillon Bell last year had a really good spring, and I thought he had a good season. A couple of the good linebackers had great springs and then jumped forward. There are a lot of guys out there having good springs right now, but only time will tell whether that turns into a great fall.” 

 

On JaCorey Thomas and the competition …

“He is a great kid. We recruited him as a size and speed player. He has really good size, really good speed. He is fun to coach and is a great kid. He played a lot of nickel-star in high school more like a sam linebacker walk out in space. We taught him his freshman year how to play safety — that was new for him. Last year, I felt like he got to a point he could really understand our defense — know it, react. If you’ve never seen things from 10 yards and you have only played them from two to three yards, it is a big change in visual backing up. He’s gotten that pretty good and is working some with Joenel (Aguero) at star as well. I feel like he’s had a good spring this far as far as picking things up. He is competing at two positions, so he is a dual-train guy, getting more mental reps at star since he hasn’t played that, while also getting reps at safety. I am excited to see him in his first scrimmage this Saturday.”

 

On Julian Humphrey …

“If everybody understands Kamari's (Lassiter) situation last year, he could only practice 30-40 percent of the practices during the season. There was a lot of available reps for Julian. He did a great job. He worked hard. He picked things up. He had to increase his toughness. He has always been able to run. He has always been able to cover. His issues came from knowing exactly what to do in motion, things change. I thought last year he did a great job at that. He picked all that up. He played really big in our Missouri game and covered people well. He had a breakout game there. Then he has the unfortunate injury against Ole Miss. He has had a good spring practice so far. I hope that continues. He's hungry. We have good competition going on at corner. We don't look at it as two corners. We look at it as if there are four corners that can play, one of them is going to also play STAR. They will all play. The more winning football players we can have at corner, the better off our team can be."

 

On convincing multi-year guys to stay in the program …

“I think kids get confused. I think kids, a lot of times, we try to communicate with our kids really well, be up front with our kids. That is the nature of the beast. They turn on their phones and see other people doing it. It becomes a trend. It is like anything else in social media. If he is doing it then why shouldn't I be doing it? Is the grass greener on the other side? Sometimes they don't know. Sometimes they are getting reached out to by other places. Maybe they should be, but that is just the nature of the beast. Ultimately, he is here. That is the only thing I am concerned with. I don't think that is a story that is was thinking of going in then going back. It is just the day in age that we live in. The most important thing is that he chose to be here and compete. He has a great family. They have sacrificed a lot for (Julian Humphrey) to be in the position he is in. They support their son. They want him here because they know how we coach. The thing i like about (Julian's) parents is that they appreciate the toughness that we coach him with." 

 


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On how prevalent tampering is in college football …

“I don't know. I don't have a phone tap on anyone's phone. I don't have a wire. i am not the feds. I don't know. I can only tell you that when kids come in to see me, they have a plan. They either did some pre-planning or something occurred. It is really almost impossible to navigate, monitor or police. I will be honest, I don't get lost over it because the kids that stay will be the ones we coach. The ones that go will have to provide an opportunity for somebody else. That is the way I look at it. We try to do the best job we can with being honest with our kids and sell what our program has done in the past. I tell the story millions of times that everybody's path is different. When you get on your phone and hit Maps and put an address in, it shows you six different ways to get there. Everybody's path is different. Quay Walker's was very different from Nakobe Dean's. Each one is self. To each his own."

 

On Daniel Harris and Joenel Aguerro…

“Daniel and Joenel are doing a good job. Both are second year players. It used to be that it was really hard to play your first year. Your second year was your year to start getting in the rotation, maybe the two-deep or special teams. Both those guys were able to play some last year through opportunities that afforded them a lead. We got to get them in. They are both good athletes. They both sometimes have poor eye control and don't look at the right things. Joenel is very physical and is an explosive football player. Daniel is very fast and long. The sky is the limit, but they are not to the sky. They have to keep improving. I am excited about where they are. They are really good football players. If they want to stay here at Goergia and continue to get better, grow and play, they have bright futures in front of them. Each one of them is exciting players." 

 

On scheduling …

“Me personally, we’ve got one of the toughest road schedules in the country, I’d like to see it flipped where we would have the opportunity to have our fan base probably the best home schedule in Georgia history. You start changing the model, I don’t get the flip of the model. They presented us a multitude of opportunities - the most continuity is in doing this for two, let’s see what it’s like. Let’s see how things play out. Let’s see what the CFP becomes, with how many teams are going to be in the playoff. Does that designate us to go to nine? Does television have something to do with that? There’s a lot of unanswered questions and to have a little bit of continuity in knowing what you’re going to get, I’m fine with that.”

 

On KJ Bolden and how he approached recruiting him …

“They’re first spring players. They’re talented players and everything they were advertised to be in terms of being good football players. They’re both instinctive, they learn well, they both have toughness, I think both of them will contribute on special teams because they can run, hit, tackle. I’m excited about those guys. The expectation of the outside world is they’re going to set the place on fire, but we have good football players here. They’re going to compete with those guys and hopefully earn some ability to play and playing time. As far as KJ’s recruitment, I don’t see kids as committed to other places, because they’re not. They’re not signed. I just know that we recruit good football players. We evaluate every player the same whether they’re committed or not. If there’s interest and conversation from them, and there’s visits where they come to your campus, you just stay very consistent. We were consistent with KJ, the recruitment never stopped, and I told him that from the day he committed to the day he came to us, that we’re not going to stop recruiting him because we think he’s a great kid from a great family and a really, really good football player. He and Ellis have a chance to make us much better in the day and age of college football where you better have depth and players. When these guys leave, they’re going to have opportunities to play."

 

On Joseph Jonah-Ajonye …

“I don’t know how his development plays out. That would be remiss of me to sit here and tell you I know what this guy is going to become. No defensive lineman comes in here and just dominates their freshman year. We haven’t had any. I think he can provide depth, I think he can get a lot better. The good news is he’s getting a lot of work with Ty Ingram and with Dawkins out, he’s getting 40 to 50 reps a day, which is huge for his development and getting better. He’s not having to sit over there - some of the mid-years get 20 to 25 reps - he’s getting 30 to 40 reps. I think it’s going to speed up his process and hopefully provide us some depth. I’m very pleased with where he is, but he’s not going to go out there and start for us next year with some of the guys we’ve got right now."

 



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On what he has noticed about the new coaches this spring and specifically Donte Williams and Josh Crawford…

“Yeah, I noticed that [Coach Donte Williams with a helmet on during practice] too. I don’t know if that’s legal. I hope it is, since he’s got a helmet on out there like an extra player. He may need it for safety, because some of those corners may be coming after him. They both have great energy. They have great relationships with their players. They’re really good recruiters but they’re also passionate and have a lot of energy on the field. Everything that we heard about them and the things we wanted them to come into our program for, they’re here for. I’m really proud of both those guys and how they’ve transitioned thus far." 

 

On Micah Morris and the offensive line …

“Well, all of those guys are rolling. Tate's [Ratledge] been able to play some center which has opened up some guard reps. You've got Dylan [Fairchild], Micah [Morris], all of those guys competing there at guard and the two young guys playing there, so it's been a good rotation. Micah's a very veteran physical presence. He gives us a toughness and just an identity on offense of contact striking. Guys on defense know when Micah comes up on a double team or Micah pulls, he's coming with bad intentions. And, he's good to have, in terms of that group, creating an identity."

 

On if NIL has anything to do with prevalence of fast driving …

"Yeah, I think everybody in the country shares ideas. We talked about it at SEC meetings, we talk about it all the time across the country when I meet with other staffs, you know, 'What do you do in special teams? What do you do on offense and defense? What do you do off the field?' I think that's one of the areas that we've really tried to target, and I think we do it better than anybody in the country. I can only speak for my university, but I think we do it better than anybody in the country in terms of education, speakers. To your point about the NIL, we've done studies and looked, we have more kids with vehicles now than we probably ever have. I can't really say to the style of vehicles, but you can probably make an easy assumption that with more money they have an opportunity to have nicer cars. But, just the number of players with vehicles is higher, but that's not any excuse for the ability to speed, it just means we have more opportunities to have traffic citations, which we don't want."

 

On Earnest Greene …

“His stamina and work ethic in practice has improved each and every practice. I mean, he came in as a freshman, talented, had an injury, couldn't play. He came back and struggled to get through practices sometimes in the spring and in the fall last year. He got better at that. He had better stamina; he covers down better now. He plays with a little more effort. There are times where I still think he gets maxed up with guys. Mykel [Williams] goes with him, Damon [Wilson Jr.] goes with him, Jalon [Walker] goes with him. Those are great battles for him to get better. The top SEC pass rushers he's going to have to go up against? That's great competition for him. He prides himself on being an elite offensive tackle, and he works that way. How did he pay for a redshirt freshman? He played pretty good, considering he held up and did good things at probably the hardest position to play in all of college football. I want him to be better this year. I want him to be even better than his was last year with how he leads and practices."

 

On guys playing behind Nazir Stackhouse and Warren Brinson …

“It's great, as long as age doesn't prevent growth. There's opportunities for younger plays to come in and grow and get better. With those guys, we've got to be smart about number one, how we practice them, the reps they take, do they stunt growth. if they stunt growth then maybe we don't get better for the next year. I certainly didn't sit on this podium last year this time thinking those two guys would be back. So, the fact they were was a luxury in terms of depth, but we still have to get better. If they stay the same, they did no good coming back. We've had multiple talks about how easy it is to get comfortable and complacent in these years, but they both have a purpose. Are they going to have a chip on their shoulder, or are they just going to sit around and collect? I hope they get better. I hope they grow. I hope they have intentions of moving up, improving their draft status and getting their degrees. Both of them are on track to do that."

 

On college football kickoff changes …

“Interesting. I saw that. Somebody texted me that, I didn't see it. That came up in our meetings because we meet with the NFL personnel. They come in and give us a state of the union 'this is where we are' and then we share with them 'well, this is where we are.' We're sharing stats from our game, and don't quote me exactly on this, but it was around 80 percent of their kickoffs going for touchbacks. A lot of the NFL people and personnel felt that special teams were becoming irrelevant in their game because the punters are elite in hangtime and distance. Kickers are elite kicking off. If that's not part of the game, then why are we doing it? How do we do it, make it part of the game, but also make it safer? I don't know our percentages in college football. I would guess around 75 percent touchback. It's slowly getting taken out of our game. There's coaches that concede and just going to fair catch. I don't know what came out today, you all probably know better than I do. I did see a picture about how they are lining them up. They discussed that with us, and that's going to create less violent blows. The way I understood it, it's also going to be a reward for you returning it or a punishment for you kicking it out of the endzone. It's going to promote you kicking the ball in the field of play because it you kick the ball out the endzone, now the ball comes further out. They felt like you can't develop players in the NFL anymore without special teams. They feel like young players develop: Charlie Woerner, Nakobe Dean, their first years, they played ten times more snaps on special teams than they did at their position. Those snaps are now irrelevant because of a fair catch or a touchback. If you want to develop your roster, you need special teams to develop it, and we feel the same way. I develop my roster on special teams, the guys last year that started on the units will probably start at a position this year. You need those plays to be a part of it, but you need it to be safe. The highest injury rate has been kickoff-kickoff return and punt-punt return. A lot of that soft tissue, you would think collisions, but it's more sprint so you pull. Also, the collisions on kickoff-kickoff returns. I think the NFL is the model, they know what they want, they know what they are trying to do, and they are going to get it right. Then hopefully, we can start to look into it ourselves if the kickoff is not part of our game."

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