Kirby Smart discusses UGA scrimmage, upcoming season

Sports

ATHENS, Ga. – Head Coach Kirby Smart met with the media via Zoom Saturday afternoon and offered the following comments regarding today’s scrimmage and the upcoming 2021 season.

Opening Statement…

“Scrimmage one in the books, I was proud of the effort of our guys because it has been a stretch of six, seven, eight practices in a row with one day off in between. I thought it was really hot early out there and the guys came through with good energy. We had some good competitive drives. We did some kicking situations as live as we can-similar to how we do our spring game, it was good. We got a lightning strike within a six-mile radius. I thought Ron (Courson) and his staff did an amazing job, the football operations staff with Josh Lee as well. We jumped on the buses and got back over, got in the indoor and we were started within 12 minutes of leaving the other field. That was important in terms of not having to warm up again and do all of those things. We were able to complete our scrimmage inside. I thought the guys really competed hard, we had some good competitive drives,  a lot of situations, a lot of situational football. We have a long way to go. We are beat up a little bit at wide out, we have some injuries so we don’t have all of our guys out there- we have a lot of guys injured all around, but this time of year I think everyone does. But the most important thing for us is to get some reps tomorrow, get healed up, and we will get back to work on Monday.”

On the offensive line…

“Without seeing the film the only thing I will say in the third down protection periods I thought they did a nice job with the pocket. We were not exactly efficient on third down with our goal being to convert, we were converting at a lot higher rate than we did today. But the pocket was good. We rolled guys in and out of there with Warren Erickson being out we worked Jamaree (Salyer) and (Sedrick) Van Pran both in at the ones at center, that allowed us to work other tackles. Brodrick (Jones) has worked at tackle with Jamaree bumping inside. (Xavier) Truss has been able to work some at tackle and guard. Amarius (Mims) has been able to work some at tackle alongside Warren McClendon. Center is one of those positions you can’t play with, you can play with a lot of different positions on the offensive line but you better have a center because the play doesn’t get started without that. Laske (Austin Blaske) has worked there, Jared Wilson has even worked some, but primarily it has been Jamaree and Van Pran to work to get Warren back. I thought that we ran the ball and made some holes in there. I thought we protected consistently. But we did not make a lot of plays in the passing game that I would like to make.”

On Warren Erickson…

“Warren, I feel good about him. He is actually a classic, he is behind the play, mimicking the snap, making his points, making his calls, looking at the defense from 30-yards back, taking every single rep and practicing on air. He has a cast, it is his snapping hand that he has his cast on but he actually has the ability to snap with his right or left hand. So he is really working on being able to snap with his right. He is going to be cleared to get within the next week or so, it will just be a matter of playing with a cast. We have had people play with that injury, but we have never had a center with a snapping hand play with that injury, so that will be the key. He may work some at guard with that injury present.”

On the secondary…

“We didn’t get as stressed as we do sometimes out there, we did not have as many miss-matches with some of those guys out like Kearis (Jackson) and (Jermaine) Burton being down right now. It probably wasn’t as much skill, but they competed hard and they played hard. For a first scrimmage I thought we tackled ok, we got a long way to go tackling but most first scrimmages my bar is not really high because we have not tackled live, we had to tackle live and I thought they did some decent things. We have some experience at the star and safety position but we don’t have a lot of experience at the corner position. “

On how the weather affects his team…

“Yeah, perfect to me would not be that hot because we don’t typically play in it. I like out of your first 15 or 20 practices, what we call camp type practices. I want to be in the heat for several of those. But, I have never had a game that had to be played in that type of weather. I think I referenced to the players two or three years ago at South Carolina I thought it was really hot. The Deadre Baker and Debo Samuel game, in the second half, I mean it was scolding hot and I thought we were the more conditioned team. I think that helps if you play in that. But, it is also unrealistic because we are playing 22 players from Georgia every play, we are playing special teams back-to-back every play, and so sometimes you can’t really measure a guy on how good he is in that kind of heat. I mean AD (Adoni) Mitchell he is playing every snap and in a game he would be rotating- so it is hard to measure someone in that kind of heat. It definitely challenges our mental  and physical toughness. It did today for a little bit, probably the last 20 or 30 minutes before the weather cooled because of wind and the breeze with the weather rolling in so it was not near as bad.”

On Arik Gilbert…

“Arik is dealing with some personal issues. We love him. We are thinking about him. We are trying to help him. When you think about a medical staff like Ron Courson has, he has so much experience in dealing with these issues. Our thoughts and prayers are with him as he is dealing with these personal issues, and we hope to get him back soon.”

On Will Muschamp’s roll with special teams…

“If you remember, we never really had just one special teams guy. (Scott) Cochran had the title, but that was not the way that it was anyway. Todd Hartley did punt, and he continues to do that. He has helped out and stepped up more in the other phases. It is really a total team effort. It always is. It was last year. In the composite special teams rankings that we keep, which are our own methods, we were number one in the SEC in special teams, everything included. It was not all Coach Cochran. It was a lot of people doing it by committee. That is kind of the same way that it is. Coach Muschamp is going to reside over the other units. We have a special person on our staff that was unbelievable last year. ULL (The University of Louisiana at Lafayette) was one of the best teams in the country at the return unit. Robbie Discher, the hire that we made in the offseason, coaches the coaches. He is there for Muschamp with ideas. Muschamp has always been very involved in special teams. People think that because you are a head coach, you are not a special teams coach. You are probably more in special teams as the head coach than you are when you are the special teams coach. I know that Will ran his program very similar to how we run ours, and he was involved in special teams. I was very involved. He brings a lot of energy to the meetings. I think that the players respect him and the job that he has done. So far, I have been really excited and reinvigorated because there is a new voice, and a lot of people are up there talking. They are hearing different voices every day, and the players are really competing.”

On JT Daniels’ and the offensive performance in today’s scrimmage…

“I will have to watch it to really see. He is not playing with a full deck. He does not have all of the weapons out there. Fitz (John Fitzpatrick) was actually out, too. Fitz has got a foot sprain, so we did not have all of the arsenal there. JT understands that. He understands that we are going through the process of making good decisions. I am really pleased with where JT is with his leadership and commanding the offense. I think he would admit that he could have had a better day than he did today, and he knows that. That is not all on him. That is on everybody including me, the offensive staff and all of the guys to keep improving. That is why we do this. We do this to find out where we are, and then we will move from there.”

On developing the offensive line…

“I am going to be honest. I feel good about all of those guys. Two-deep, we have guys that have played. (Xavier) Truss got some really good experience against Cincinnati. Jamaree (Salyer) has played a whole year at tackle. He has bounced in at guard. He is now playing center. I do not think that you will go anywhere in the country that does not have moving parts. If you do not move anybody, and someone gets hurt, do you just play the number two? He might not be the best player. We have made a big-time effort to play guys at multiple positions. Everybody says, ‘You have to get continuity.’ I want to get continuity, but I know that, the SEC and the rigors of it, there are going to be injuries. We have had them. Owen Condon is down right now. He was playing tackle and guard, and he is not out there right now. He has had a good camp. He is bright. He has versatility. I am pleased with where our guys are, but we have to get better. We are going to play one of the best fronts in the country in the first game, so our guys really have to lock in and compete.”

On Warren Erickson’s snapping style…

“They call that amphibious or ambidextrous; I cannot remember. I am just kidding. My mom would be disappointed in me. I do not know that, but if he does not snap it really well with the right, he will not be at center, because it is going to be hard for him to snap it with his left. I am not saying that he can snap with his right hand right now. It is something that he is working really hard on. The guy got surgery, and the next morning he was up snapping with his right hand. He has got time to really work hard at that. He is also going to work at guard like we talked about… What is the difference between amphibious and ambidextrous? I am just kidding. I really do know the difference.”

On mental health…

“It is critical. I think that we all deal with issues and problems within our own households and our own families. Those are personal things. We are a family here, and our players have really embraced that. Our players have really embraced the love, the affection and the struggles that he is going through. We love him. We love his family. We love his kids. We are going to be there to support him and them just like they are one of us. That does not change. This team is very well connected and very open. We have very intentional conversations at our night meetings, and that is something that we have talked about across the board.”

On the highlights from the scrimmage…

 “Special teams highlights… Pod was pretty consistent. I’m not sure exactly. I think he hit two 45 yard field goals. He was very accurate there. I thought Zirkel, in the indoor hit a good field goal. I don’t know the length, it was pretty long. He hit it and made a field goal from distance, I thought our kickoffs had good hang times. Camarda hit an excellent punt that pouched and backed up around the goal line. He’s got to continue to work on his consistency. Some of his best punts out punt the coverage. You talk about distance and hang time, but sometimes he just out kicks the coverage. We’ve got to have elite gunners. We lost two of the best gunners in the world last year in (Eric) Stokes and Tyson (Campbell), and we’ve got to replace those guys for Camarda.”

“Offensively, I thought Kenny (McIntosh) hit a couple wheel routes. Kenny did a nice job out of the back field, made people miss. Justin Robinson made a nice play down the field. We had a couple interceptions. Some were on tipped balls. I thought Jamon Dumas-Johnson made a great play on a pick. He has flashed in camp. You know this kid did not play his senior year, they canceled football and he didn’t get to play. I keep watching him, and I’m like man who is No. 10. Man who is that. He flashes and makes plays. He and Smael (Mondon) are just so hard working and tough and strike people. I feel like we have to real good young players at linebacker. They’re going to be real good players, but nobody really stuck out or anything like that. There weren’t really a lot of turnovers in the scrimmage, but there weren’t a lot of big plays either.”

On how the team responded to the media training with Maria Taylor…

“Our guys do a great job with any speaker we have. We’ve covered probably five or six different topics without players by way of guest speakers, and they certainly like hearing guest speakers more than me. Especially Maria Taylor. Maria came in and did a tremendous job. She represents her university in so many positive ways.  She is able to draw on her experiences. She is just an incredible ambassador for the University of Georgia. I know they loved it. They got a lot of small group time and team time. She got to speak a little bit about NIL, but  that’s not her expertise.  She is more into helping our guys represent the University of Georgia the right way.”

On where he feels his team is the strongest and what the team needs to work on the most…

“Well our strongest area right now is connection. I know that is not what you want to hear, but that’s what I’m most proud of. The relationships, how they feel about each other, and being very intentional about the time we spend  to know what we’re fighting for. The area we can work on the most, it’s hard to pick one, I mean depth at several positions. I feel really good about the first 22 and a lot of different looks, but I don’t feel great about the depth of our team, and getting more players to play winning football so we can get to where we need to go.”

On if he ever feels ahead of schedule…

“Yeah, I never feel that way. I certainly don’t come from some of the years that we’ve had recently. There were some years we had there with (Jake) Fromm, Andrew (Thomas), D’Adre Swift and all that crowd. You could say well we feel like we’re ahead. We’ve got a lot of guys that know what to do, but we weren’t defensively. We had to go into the defensive space. I would have said this year if we were perfectly healthy that we would have been ahead offensively than we were defensively,  but some of the injuries have forced some guys up. Like what Adonai Mitchell has had to do this fall camp and spring, to what Jermaine Burton was going through last year. I thought that Coach Monken made a good decision to throw Jermaine out there and make him go play early. Even in the Arkansas game. It was tough. We went through some growing pains. He missed some things, didn’t get some signals, got called offsides, but it paid off in the end because he got a lot more confidence. We’re trying to go through some of those same growing pains with a lot of those young guys at wide out, but I never feel ahead. I certainly don’t think you feel ahead as a head coach. I do think there is a time where you can dial back the reigns, and get other guys ready and be smart for other guys that have played two or three years.”

On how the secondary improved this week…

“I’ll start with DK (Derion Kendrick). DK had one of his best friends pass away, and he’s practiced every practice with us, but today we excused him to go to a funeral. He’ll be back tonight, so he was not out there today. He’s done a good job to be honest with you. He’s been very consistent, very intelligent. He comes from a good program. They play multiple coverages in their secondary. He’s learned… you know there was a concern that can he learn our stuff fast enough, but that’s not a concern. He’s very intelligent. He understands it. He plays big, bigger than he is. He’s physical. Kelee (Ringo) has done some good things. He’s made some plays out on the perimeter. He’s got elite speed. He continues to grow. People forget Kelee has not played tackle  football in really over two years because in the spring he missed so much  time with injuries. Now he’s gone all the way through this time at camp, gotten one scrimmage under his belt and he continues to work hard. He gets better with every rep. Jailen Kimber is dealing with a shoulder injury. He’s banged up.  He was unable to go today. LC (Lovasea Carroll) and Nyland (Green) are both in a growth process of learning. I think they are going to be good players. They are getting a lot of reps. Kamari Lassiter is a guy that didn’t get to play in the spring, he wasn’t hear, but he’s  really been a surprise highlight of camp. He’s intentional. He’s smart. He cares about special teams. He learns the first time you tell him. Just another evidence that if you go get smart students that can run, they can play. I think he is going to be a really good football players. At star, (Latavious) Brini and Tykee (Smith) have split that time. I would say that both those guys  are neck and neck. If you remember last year we had (Mark) Webb and Tyrique Stevenson that both played that star position in the same games. These guys are very similar not necessarily in their skill set, but similar in that we may play them that way. That gives Brini the opportunity to go play back at safety and provide us some depth.  He played safety in a couple games last year and  was able to play really well. “

On the status of Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson…

“Jermaine got a sprained ankle in either the first or second practice. It was just a sprained ankle, and it was a tough one for him. He has worked hard. He has been in rehab. He is running in a straight line, he is cutting, he is doing walkthroughs, and he is getting all of the reps. He has just not been able to go 100%. Kearis, as you are aware of, we made a decision to scope his knee a while back. We knew it would be slow coming back into camp, but Kearis is doing things. He did 7-on-7. He is catching punts. He is out there going in a black shirt. We will work with him more this week, and we hope to do the same with Jermaine. He should be back with a quick turnover.”

COURTESY UGA ATHLETICS

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