Smart, Bulldogs preview Austin Peay game
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Smart, Bulldogs preview Austin Peay game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, met with media members on Monday to preview the upcoming game against Austin Peay. The Bulldogs’ season-opener is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium this Saturday on ESPN.

On Monday, Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“Excited to get moving forward on Austin Peay. I have a lot of respect for Coach (Will) Healy and the job he’s done. I’ve followed his career. He’s done a tremendous job everywhere he’s been, especially offensively; and they’ve got a great unit coming back. In our estimation they’ve got eight to nine starters coming back on offense, depending on how you count a couple of wideouts, and eight guys coming back on defense, with two all-conference players that we think are really good players.

So, we are excited for the opportunity to open with these guys. He’s got a lot energy, you can tell. His players are very enthusiastic. He’s done a really good job recruiting, coming into the state of Georgia. I know the high schools I’ve been in, I’ve seen them in the local high schools more and more, and it’s kind of evidenced by the way their players have played.

I know our players are chomping at the bit to get the chance to go play somebody other than ourselves. They have practiced long and hard, and they’re excited about the opportunity to go get ready for somebody else. We’ve been working on these guys for probably the last two practices. We’ll continue in that mode as we move forward today.

But I know our guys are excited, and they’ve worked extremely hard in camp in a lot of areas. Now, this camp was different than probably the two previous because we’ve been shorted practice days a little bit just by NCAA standards. You don’t get as many practices in fall camp as you used to get. So sometimes as a coach you feel like you’re a little bit behind because you haven’t got to hit everything. So we’re still introducing a lot of things as we lead into this first game week.

We’re excited about where we are. Looking forward to seeing these guys play. I’ll open it up for questions.”

On the desire to coach when he was younger … 

“You know, I never looked at it that way. I just looked at it as kind of be where your feet are, and it takes care of the rest. I’ve always been one of the approach that if you do really well where you are and you recruit well and you coach hard and your team is fortunate to win games, you’ll get a lot of opportunities. And I’ve coached at some really good places when you think about it. I mean I learned a long time ago when you take a job, you need to have proximity to players and you need to be able to have better players, because the coaching part can be overrated. I never looked as it as when I was going to get my first opportunity to be a head coach. I just looked at it as being kind of present where my feet are. But he’s done a tremendous job. I think he’s shown a lot of leadership at a young age to go out and do what he’s done. He’s turned a program around that was consistently at the bottom to now, they’re winning games. They did a hell of a job last year, lost to one SCS team, Jacksonville State, who has got a tremendous program, and that’s in their conference, and they lost to those guys within conference and that was it.”

On who will start at quarterback and if he has a plan for any sort of QB rotation… 

“We’re not announcing a starting lineup for all the positions. Jake’s been going with ones the whole time. I think Jake would tell you the same thing and Justin would tell you the same thing. They both want to do what’s best for the team. They both want to give us a chance to win football games. They have prepared really hard; both of them have. I think the game will dictate how we get to play those guys I don’t know how that is going to come out, but there’s no like plan, this is what’s going to happen, this is when he’s going to play. We’re not into that. We’re going to kind of see how the game goes. Both of these kids have practiced their tail off and both of them have done a good job in fall camp.”

On Jake Fromm’s season a year ago and if the coaching staff wanted to reevaluate anything this fall … 

“I think it’s just kind of the mantra we go by here, that every practice is really competitive, and every job opportunity is competitive. I mean Andrew Thomas could have every right to left tackle there is, but if he doesn’t play as well as the next guy, then he’s not going to be the starter. Deandre Baker through this camp he’s actually practiced better this year than he did last year, but there were points in this camp where if he didn’t play better than Eric Stokes, then he wasn’t going to be the starter. So as far as that goes, for us it’s always that way. Guys compete; guys go out and play. It was the same way last year with Jake and Jacob. He was out there competing.

As far as what was extraordinary about Jake Fromm last year, I think he did a really good job of handling a burden from the Notre Dame game on that he wasn’t expecting. It wasn’t like he went into the season expecting to be the guy. Yet it turned on him really quick. And if it weren’t for some really fast ball snaps and some plays where we went no huddle that he made some plays in that first game, he was able to gain confidence. Second game Notre Dame, probably struggled a little bit. You know, it was first start, on the road, at Notre Dame. You can imagine. I think what he did really well last year was handle our team. I mean here you got two backs that are elite backs. You’ve got a team that’s surrounded with a pretty experienced defense. He did what we asked him to do, and I think that’s important, and the quarterback position is making decisions, and that’s what quarterbacks are usually judged on is how methodical, how many good decisions can you make versus bad decisions that hurt your team and you’re trying to — you talk about it all the time, they’re trying to make completions. A good short completion is better than a long, deep, out-of-bounds one, and we drive that home with the wide receivers and the quarterbacks to stay ahead of the chains. I think both these quarterbacks have done a good job of managing that situation.”

On the passing game and if Georgia will pass more this season than in years past … 

“I don’t know that you would assume we’re going to throw the ball more. I don’t know if you all realized, but the last scrimmage was really — that’s kind of where we were. We needed to defend the pass on defense, and we needed to pass the ball on offense. That had nothing to do with our offensive system. Our offensive system is built around getting the ball to the best play makers. I think any good offensive coach will tell you what is your objective; No. 1, score points. How do you score points? Get the ball to the play makers. If you’re play makers are backs, if your play makers are tight ends, you’re trying to get touches to certain players, and sometimes defenses can dictate who you can get those touches to. The defense will dictate a lot on what we do. We’re not going in this game saying we’re throwing it a lot more. We’re not going in this game saying we’re running it a lot more. I think that would be a crazy assumption either way. I think the key for us is can we be balanced, can we get our best play makers, can we get those guys the most number of touches so that we can be successful. That’s what we’re focused on.”

On avoiding complacency this week … 

“We don’t get into teaching tools from other games. I think sometimes you do that as a coach, you get into negativity. What we try to emphasize is the truth. And we have a lot of respect for this team like we did App State last year. I compare this team in a lot of ways to App State in that they’re coming off a very strong winning streak from last year. And we show our guys the tape. They’ve got three or four transfers that are from major college programs. They’ve got good football players. We tell our guys all the time we play to a standard. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing Florida, Austin Peay, South Carolina; we play to a standard, and our standard is to go out and dominate the opponent, physically, mentally, wear them down. And that’s what we try to do, and that way if you have that message, you’re not changing the message every week. The message is very consistent, that when we go out to practice, we’re trying to be the best team in the country so that when we get in the game we can dominate people physically and not really worry about the scoreboard or who we’re playing.”

On getting injured players back before Saturday’s game…
“Yeah, specifically, I don’t know who all you’re asking about, so if you ask, I’ll answer, but Terry (Godwin) is still questionable. We don’t know if Terry is going to be back. Hope to get Terry back, but don’t know that.

Jayson (Stanley) and Kearis (Jackson) we think both are going to be able to go a little bit today, a little more than they have been, but to say they’re back for the game, I don’t know that yet. Kearis is dealing with a hamstring that he’s had a couple of days to recover from. We think he’ll be able to do a little bit today, don’t know if he’ll play in the game. And then Jayson has been dealing with a quad, and we think Jayson is going to be able to play, but we don’t know that for certain.

Tyrique (McGhee) is running now. He’s doing underwater running. He’s doing some of non-weight-bearing running stuff, but we’re hopeful to get him back for South Carolina, but we don’t know. He won’t be able to play this game.”

On the impression of newcomers, specifically Jay Hayes and Tyson Campbell…

“Jay (Hayes) has provided us much-needed depth. I think Jay gives us a lot of quickness on the front. He’s a guy that does movements well, plays good at the point of attach. He’s been an asset from an energy and effort standpoint. I compare him to (Jonathan) Ledbetter where he chases the ball, he runs the ball. He plays really hard. He’s adjusted to our system very easily. I think having been an older player, he just learns easier, and he’s going to provide us a lot of depth. He’s going to be able to play a lot of snaps.

And the other you asked was Tyson Campbell. Tyson has come in and picked things up probably more naturally for a defensive back than what I’ve been used to. The corner position is probably the easiest to play when you look at our defense, because a lot of times they’re man to man outside, but there are some checks involved, and he’s handled that well. He’s a very mature kid. He’s practiced hard. If he can stay away from the injury bug, he’s certainly going to play a lot for us.

On Demetris Robertson being ready for game action now and down the road this season…
“He’s definitely ready for game action. I don’t know that he’s in the shape that he would tell you he needs to be in, but we’re not talking about the guy playing 70, 80 snaps either. Where he’s been a blessing for us is he’s been extremely competitive in the special teams department, which I didn’t know if he had played a lot of special teams during his career. I know he played a little bit of defense in high school. But he plays with toughness. He’s helped us on punt. He’s helped us on punt return. He’s helped us on kickoff return, and then he’s also been a quality wide-out for us. With these knickknack injuries we’ve had with the wide receivers, he’s a guy that’s pushed through and done a really good job for us.

I feel like over the last two weeks he’s gotten his legs back under him. So you see some of the juice that he had from the beginning, but he’s probably still not where he needs to be as far as from an off-season conditioning standpoint.”

On what he hopes the team learns in Saturday’s game…
“Well, No. 1 thing is they have a lot of elements of the option. Their quarterback does a great job. Both quarterbacks do a great job running the ball. And they have perimeter runs. They have inside runs. They have arch schemes, they have deer schemes; they have power schemes, gap schemes. They have a kind of a plethora of offensive sets in motions, and they do a very good job offensively of trying to keep you off balance.

I think we have a good physical front. I’m not saying they’re going to come in and dominate and be able to run the ball every down on us, but I think what they can do is get explosive plays, because they affect you on the perimeter. If you don’t play the option right, which is not something that we practice against every day, it can become a problem for you. So we’ve worked really hard at understanding some scheme blocking stuff we may get play actions off of it, you have to have really good eye discipline. That’s why they score so many points because teams get in trouble and don’t look at the right thing, and when you’re dealing with a young secondary, sometimes that can happen to you.”

On the transitions at inside linebacker…

“Monty (Rice) has done a good job this camp. Monty is a wee bit younger than those guys you mentioned when you throw Juwan (Taylor) in there with Natrez (Patrick) and Tae (Crowder). But Monty is a high-effort guy. Every time we scrimmage or play games or spring game, he seems to put up good numbers. He has to do it more consistently in practice, and he has to play with a lot better body position in practice, but Monty is as hard of worker as there is on this team. I’ve been so pleased with the effort he gives, and he cares about the team a lot.

When you talk about Natrez and Tae, both of those guys rotate, so whether they’re in there together or whether they’re in there with Monty or Juwan, really of those four guys, they’ve kind of all been sharing time. Conditioning is important to them. Those guys alternate. They have a lot of similar qualities among the four of them. None of them really stand out as a different kind of linebacker. So we’re able to play those four guys.

They have a good understanding of the defense when you talk about those four players. What they don’t have a lot of is experience. Monty and Juwan got a little bit last year. Natrez has a little bit of the history, but he didn’t get to play towards the end of last year, so of those four guys it’ll continue to be by committee at the linebacker position.”

On Justin Fields’ decision-making developing from spring camp to now…

“You think about when you start out in college and you really should be a senior in high school, and you walk into a system that you’ve never heard or done and you go through spring practice. I was very pleased when he went through spring practice what he was able to pick up and command. He did a great job this summer of coming in, studying, understanding things, knowing where protections are, knowing where he’s got to read certain things at second level. He does a really good job with the academic element of the quarterback position. That usually transcends into good decision making, because if you know where you’re supposed to go with the ball and you know when the first option is not there and you can get to the second and third, you’re starting to pick things up.

He’s done a good job in this camp of being able to move on and make the decisions you gotta make at quarterback to make winning decisions. That’s why we’re very confident in Justin and what he’s been able to do. I’m very pleased with where he’s at. Now, he has to continue to improve. So does Jake. They’ve both got to get better because for us to go where we want to go we may have to put more burden on those two guys. But right now they’re making good decisions; they understand the offense, and for the first time they have a limited game plan where it’s not the whole play book which we did in camp.”

On the line competition in camp, particularly the offensive line…

“The offensive line competition has probably been the most heated, maybe other than receiver, that we’ve had. And I think a lot of that has to do with the recruiting and having good quality players. We actually probably have less depth. When you look at our scout team O-line, last year we had like five scholarship guys on scout team O-line. This year that’s not really the case because we have fewer linemen in general and fewer walk-on linemen. So we have a little bit of a depth issue when it comes to our scout team look, but when it comes to our first and second teams, we’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts. Not only that, a lot of them have experience because even the freshmen, both of them were here in the spring. So when you see Cade Mays and you see Trey Hill and those guys, even Warren Ericson, they’re out there in the spring, so you feel like these aren’t first-year players. They’re out there able to compete.

So I’ve been very pleased with the competition at that position. There are some holes and some things we’ve got to figure out with the offensive line – what parts are going to start where and how many snaps are they going to play. A lot of the offensive line has to do with if you lose one guy, you don’t want four people moving, and we’re trying to figure out where the moving parts go with that offensive line. As far as the defensive line, we don’t have the depth we need. We’re in constant search and need of defensive linemen. I don’t know that we’ve gotten bigger at that position. Certainly you want big, but in this day and age, you’ve got to be able to run sideline to sideline, too.”

On Lamont Gaillard’s development…

“I think that’s for somebody else to judge from a standpoint of where he is rated and those kind of things, but Lamont Gaillard is a really good leader for us. He has gotten better since we got here, but that’s probably to be expected because before we got here it’s my understanding he was a defensive line, then he switched. It’s probably a good move for him, because when we do sprints and we do shuttle drills, and we do change-of-direction drills, you watch Lamont, and he’s beating the defensive linemen. Offensive linemen don’t always beat the defensive linemen, but Lamont does.

He has great toughness. He’s able to push through pain and injury. He’s very bright. And I’ll tell you what he is, he’s really competitive. When we mess something up, if we don’t do something right on the offensive line, he gets upset. It bothers him. And he wants to command the other offensive linemen to get it right. And when he demands that, we usually have pretty good success. So I’ve been very pleased with what he’s shown in his improvement and getting better. But as far as where he stacks up, I haven’t seen enough centers in the country to know where he stacks up.”

On comparing leadership from former Bulldog left tackle and current New England Patriot Isaiah Wynn to Gaillard…

“I think Isaiah was the quiet leader last year because he didn’t do it vocally. He did it by how he practiced and his toughness, and he didn’t have to say anything. It was more like Nick. Where this year, Lamont commands respect, but so does Andrew Thomas. And Andrew does it quietly as well. He plays really hard. He plays physical. He does a lot of good things for that offensive line. He gives you really a very mature, rock-solid sophomore at that position. And then Ben [Cleveland] has spoken more lately. So I think Lamont has probably a little more help than Isaiah had when it comes to that because he’s got some guys that have a lot of playing experience. Last year we didn’t have a lot of guys with a ton of playing experience.”

On running onto the field from the west end zone this year for the first time…

“I think it’ll be different. It’s more second nature to us because we’ve practiced there more now and we’ve had a couple practice sessions where we came out from that end. So it’s more familiar for us than it will be for the fanbase. It will definitely be unique. It’ll be the first time I know of that it’s happened that way, but I think we’ll get used to it pretty quick, though.”

On Jake Fromm’s availability to the media on Monday…

“The things we do in this meeting room with the team and from a team standpoint, Jake stood in front of the team and talked. Jake does a great job if we ever ask him to break down the team afterwards, stand up in front of the room and talk to them, he commands a lot of respect. He’s one of our best leaders. I think for Jake’s sake the most important thing he could do for this camp and even spring practice was be a better player and grow and get better. And he’s done that. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. Been very pleased with that. And the fact he’s up today I think tells you a lot about his leadership qualities and who he is, and he’s managed that really well. I’m very pleased with what he’s done for our team from a stand-in-front-of-the-group, command the respect, grow us a player, picking the right plays to put in. He’s done a really good job of that. And we want that for every player on our team. We want every guy on our team to lead by example and do things the right way. And Jake’s done that since he’s been here.”

Follow up question…

“I didn’t want him to have to deal with questions regarding the other quarterback, just like I didn’t want Justin to have to deal with them asking about Jake. But both of those kids have visited frequently with us as coaches, and we’ve let both of them know where they are and communicated really well with them, and I think Jake’s handled that well. And I know he’ll handle today well because I know Jake Fromm well. He’s a very good young man.”

#11 Jake Fromm | So. | QB

On going through the system as a sophomore… 

“It has been a lot more understanding. You know what is going on more. You understand the offseason process. Last year, it is just kind of a like a daily basis that you just show up and you get told to do this, that, or the other and you just say okay. Now you have a general feel of what’s going to happen and the workouts and what not. It has been a lot better, and I have a better idea of what’s going on. You then can prepare for things better. I love to prepare so I didn’t don’t want to show up to anything unprepared.”

On freshman quarterback Justin Fields… 

“He’s a great player, and a great person too. We’ve had a lot of fun in the quarterback meeting room, and it is definitely fun to go out there and compete with him. He is a great competitor, and can make great plays and throws. He puts you on the edge so you always want to one-up him and make a better throw.”

On individual goals and skills he wanted to work on in the offseason… 

“I wanted to stay consistent and be a better leader. For me, I wanted to get better in the pocket and be more accurate. So I had a couple things, but you always want to go into camp with a few things you want to work on.”

On newcomers James Cook and Demetris Robertson… 

“They are really exciting. They are really explosive football players. When they get the rock in their hands, they can make it six points real quick. James (Cook) and D-Rob (Demetris Robertson) are great people and are awesome contributions to the team.”

On the offensive line group and ability to see over them… 

We definitely have some really big guys up there that are keeping me safe. As far as seeing over there, there is really no difference whether they are 6’2’’ or 6’7’’ like they are. There really is no big difference, you just find a way. It is exciting to see the interchanging parts up there. All the guys get after it and all of them are big and strong. They can run block and pass block and definitely get after it. Coach (Sam) Pittman has it figured out.”

#53 Lamont Gaillard | Sr. | C

On enjoying the leadership role…

“Of course, I enjoy the leadership role; it’s just me stepping up and it helps my game and helps others’ game and knowing I’m the oldest one and the oldest guy on the line, it helps get them prepared and I can vouch for that, I can help them anytime.”

On the competition on the offensive line…

“There’s a lot of competition at every spot on the line. Everyone’s come and bought into the system, everyone is willing to compete, everyone is willing to buy in and want to play. That’s good for young guys who want to come in and help out and help the competition.”

On opening against an FCS team compared to a more familiar opponent…

“It’s nothing different for us. We focus on ourselves even when we play a North Carolina, App State, Austin Peay, it doesn’t matter who we play, we just focus on us because we’re playing ourselves at the end of the day.”

On seeing Jake Fromm improve from last season…

“He’s definitely stepping up more as a leader and more at quarterback in his position because he’s got competition. He’s buying into it, but of course Jake’s going to be Jake and that’s all we need.”

#44 Juwan Taylor | Sr. | ILB

On how his role on the team changes from last year to this year… 

I think my role has changed in terms of becoming more of a leader this year. I have been trying to be more vocal. In terms of my game, I try to make an impact by the way that I play by playing hard, fast and relentless.”

On Monty Rice as a player and how all the ILB players fit together… 

“Monty is a great player. He is fast, very athletic and an extremely tough guy. As an overall player, he is really good.”

On the skill sets of the four ILB’s and how they compliment each other… 

“When you rotate a lot in a position, it is all about chemistry. I feel like all of us in the linebacker room have that chemistry to play together and play off of each other.”

On elements of the position battle being different in a game setting versus in practice… 

“For me, there is no difference. You practice how you play. That is what we believe here at Georgia and that is what I believe. We love our fans, but for me, I try not to focus on the outside stress. I try to just focus on what I can do to make the team better and trying to play my best game.”

#5 Julian Rochester | Jr. | DL

 On how he has personally gotten better during fall camp…

“I tried to get in a good of shape as I could, try to maintain this 295-300 weight and the best physical at a point.”

On the expectation of Jay Hayes in the first game…

“Jay is a phenomenal pass rusher, I like him in the pass rush. He plays with great effort and he loves to run to the ball so that’s going to bring a different vibe to the [defensive] line; everyone will be moving fast.”

On the overall atmosphere and spirit of the defense during fall camp…

“[D’Andre Walker and Juwan Taylor] have really taken leadership roles and try to just bring it every day in practice because we always preach we ‘practice how we play.’ Those guys really hitting very physical in practice and trying to fill in those gaps we’re missing from last year and they’ve done a really successful job of it this fall camp.”


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