Smart talks 2019 signing class, previews Sugar Bowl matchup with Longhorns
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Smart talks 2019 signing class, previews Sugar Bowl matchup with Longhorns

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Following a two-hour practice on the Woodruff Practice Fields Wednesday afternoon, head coach Kirby Smart met with media and discussed the University of Georgia’s 2019 signing class as well as previewed the upcoming Sugar Bowl against the Texas Longhorns.

Georgia signed a total of 20 recruits on Wednesday, the first day of the Early Signing Period.

The Sugar Bowl will take place New Year’s Day at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Kickoff is set for 8:45 p.m., ET, on ESPN.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On practice and Georgia’s new signing class…

“Practice has been really good the last couple days. A lot of enthusiasm the first two days of the week. We did a lot of 3rd-downs, special teams, fundamentals, good-on-good, back-to-your-basics, and the guys really competed hard. We had some good competitions out there. We went ones on twos, twos on ones, ones on ones, twos on twos; we practiced a lot of guys. It was good to get the new guys – the new four guys out there competing a little bit. And then today, we introduced something called ‘Texas,’ and started implementing some of the game plan things while also still working on good-on-good and special teams. So, guys have been great, had good energy at practice. I’m pleased with the leadership and the enthusiasm out there.

“And then the signing class, which is unique to have that and practice going on – which is extremely tough management to deal with the two things at once – it was a good day for us. We got a lot of new Bulldogs. You guys will have to tell me; I don’t know if we signed more this time than last time early, but it seemed like we signed a ton early last time, and it didn’t seem like we signed a bunch early this time. So we have a few spots left, and we still have some targets out there that we want to go after, but I think the totality of the class was it’s a good balance. You can obviously see we had to go after defensive linemen, because we need defensive linemen in our program. The good, big body types, and we’re pleased to get that done. Areas that we still have to work on, that we fell short on, are probably the defensive back, receiver and also probably some more offensive linemen, or another offensive lineman. So those are things we’re trying to add to this class to make it complete, but we’re excited about this group and very pleased with it.”

On freshman quarterback Justin Fields’ potential to transfer…

“I think he’s looking at his options. Let me say this about Justin: he’s working extremely hard. He’s competing; he’s in the meeting rooms. He’s still rolling with our twos. His information to us is ‘I’m looking at my options,’ which is what you do when you go into the portal. We all know he’s in, so that’s the extent of it, and that’s the conversation that we have had. But I am pleased with the work he’s put towards Texas and what he’s doing out there with us. He’s had a really good demeanor and good reps and good competition.”

On if Fields considering to transfer affects his role in the Sugar Bowl…

“We’re trying to figure out how to beat Texas. And we’re going to do everything we can do beat Texas. Whatever that instills for a game plan, he’s decided he wants to play in the Sugar Bowl, and I told him ‘Absolutely, I’d love for you to play in the Sugar Bowl. We want you there.’ He’s come out to work and do that and support his teammates.”

On if Fields’ potential transfer coincided with new signee Dwan Mathis…

“That had an impact. Obviously we have to recruit quarterbacks every year. You have to keep quarterbacks in your quarterback room. As you know, we were deficient in quarterback in the last couple years – we only had two on scholarship last year. Ultimately, we’d like to have four scholarship quarterbacks in our program. That is really hard to do nowadays. It’s so volatile, and they leave so often. So, we’re always working off the number of hoping to be at four, but we were very fortunate to have that young man at camp. We communicated with him; he expressed interest, and the interest was mutual. I think he’s a really good player.”

On transferring becoming a prominent reality in the college game…

“I think it’s going to be a reality, not just quarterbacks, just kids in general. If you look at the transfer rate in high schools, every high school I go in, the coaches in Florida say it’s crazy here, a kid could go to any school he wants. Coaches in Georgia say it’s getting crazy here because kids can move and go to different places, so you hear the effect of that. I think the easier it is for a kid to transfer in high school, it’s easy for him to do in college as well. It’s going to be more who adjusts to it and who handles it well. I’m not one to sit here and say whether it’s right or wrong to do it. It’s our job as coaches to deal with it. It’s the landscape that we now face. I do wish there the timing was a little better. The toughest thing is guys making decisions to do that midseason. That’s really tough. Fortunately, we didn’t have that issue. I think the time is now when the season ends, the kids want to explore their options. That’s a lot cleaner than the fourth game of the year.”

On convincing Fields to stay from a coaching standpoint…

“I don’t think there is anything you can do from that standpoint. He is not foolish enough to fall victim to that. We have been very open and honest that we would like him to stay and we want to support him and all his endeavors here. We want to support the goals he came here to accomplish. He has worked really, really hard to accomplish those during the year. This kid competed his tail off all year and played a team role throughout the year. We are very pleased with what he has done for our team throughout the year.”

On how the Mathis situation came about…

“It is a mutual thing. For us it was immediate. I mean, you would not be a very good coach if you didn’t think this would happen all year. We were anticipating this as we looked across the country at quarterbacks. What you find tough is when you are talking in hypotheticals. So, yeah I might be interested coach, if this or if that, but that is hard to do in the middle of the season. I was very animated with our staff about continuing to recruit kids from across the country because we have a possible situation with one quarterback on scholarship. We try to keep relationships developed. The one with Mathis came really fast where there was mutual interest, he had come here to camp before and he jumped on board.”

On furthering your quarterback pool at Georgia…

“I mean we are always looking to improve our roster. If there is opportunity to get quarterbacks in here, we certainly want to do that. You look at what Jake has left, you look at the possibility of Justin staying, you look at the possibility of who we have signed and you are trying to stay around four, that is our goal.”

On adding a strong presence to the defensive side of the ball…

“We didn’t look at it like that was what we were trying to do. We got to the point where some of it was best available. We were going to take that best available player in some slots and certainly some of those guys we got at the end and are still hoping to get in the next couple of weeks, if we think they are an impact player we are probably going to take them regardless of the depth at that position. It wasn’t slanted to be heavy defense for any reason, there are still plenty offensive players on the board we want to get.”

On getting the #1 rated running back…

“We are excited about Kenny. Kenny gives us something that we don’t have. We have said all year we needed a 225, we thought we were missing that. Running back is a unique position. Look at what Swift did as a freshman. Look at what Chubb did as a freshman. Look at what Sony and Gurley and all these guys did as freshmen. It is a position where you can go out and sign really good players. We know we have the possibility of three guys leaving next year, If Holyfield stays. We are going to have an opportunity to go out and sign the best backs in the country next year. We have great backs coming back in our program and we have great young backs. Kenny is going to be a 220-pound guy, that is a bruiser and very athletic out of the backfield. I am excited about what he can do.”

On keeping the relationship open with QB Dawn Mathis…

“We liked his athleticism and his arm motion, he’s got a really strong whip. He can pop the ball. … There was a period of time where there wasn’t any communication, but it did fire back up quickly. But to be honest, there was a lot of communication with a lot of other quarterbacks across the country. When you talk about the University of Georgia and the potential to be the only scholarship guy besides Jake Fromm, there was communication with a lot of guys. But he was the one who seemed the most interested and we also liked the most and we thought he brought the most to the table for us.”

On tight end Ryland Goede…

“We’re excited about Ryland. He’s extremely tough, athletic. The guy makes a ton of plays, a really good baseball player, he’s talented. You know he’s injured as well which is tough because of the situation we’re in at tight end. That’s where I would be saying is the biggest concern because we’ve got Isaac [Nauta] sitting there, that we don’t know what he’s going to do yet, he hasn’t decided. … That’s the situation we want to be able to improve our roster, we’ve got to look within our roster and see if there’s anybody else that can play that position. But he’s a very talented player that we expect to be back for Fall and help us.”

On junior college signees when looking for immediate help like defensive line…

“We signed Jermaine [Johnson], he’s the only defensive lineman from junior college but I don’t look at Jermaine as a defensive lineman, I look at him as a pass rusher. We certainly feel like we’ve dropped off in our speed on the edge from the Lorenzo’s and Davin’s and Leonard Floyd’s of the years. To be able to get Jeramine and Nolan [Smith], I don’t know that there’s two better pass rushers in a signing class anywhere in the country when it comes to speed. Jermain can run. Nolan can run. These guys have to help us disrupt the quaretbacks, which we struggled with this year.”

On bringing in highly-rated inside linebackers and what the staff looks for in that position…

“The biggest issue at inside backer is we’re losing about 800 snaps; that a lot of snaps. So, who’s going to replace those 800 snaps. When you look at the two guys we signed, one has an ACL and one is probably going to have a shoulder surgery. So, when you add that up, we’re signing guys but they’re not going to be available immediately. Now, should they be back for the season, yea; but it’s tough first season off of an ACL. It’s hard. I’ve watch kids for years struggle with that. Nakobe [Dean] is coming in as the only healthy guy that’s able to practice right away and should be able to come in and compete. … The inside linebacker position is a unique position now where it’s you have to be extremely athletic. You have to be able to run and play in space and we think those guys can do that.”

On Nakobe Dean… 

“He is really athletic. He is past athletic. He is intelligent. He is high character. You look at the intangibles this guy has. He has a great family. The first thing that his family said was, ’Safety. Academics. Football.’ They wanted him to go to a safe, good campus, wholesome campus. They know Georgia is that. They believe in Georgia. They know the program we have. They really bought into Athens. And then the academics, he wants to be an engineering student. Where better to be an engineering student than the University of Georgia, and our engineering department has done a tremendous job at carving out how he can do it. We just had a young man graduate, Jackson Harris, with an engineering degree. Nakobe is a kid that we would call him on the phone and he would say, ‘Coach, I’m sorry I can’t talk tonight. I have to go work on my schoolwork. I have to maintain my 4.0.’ I mean how many kids are going to say that? He does that a lot. He buys into the intangibles and we are excited for what he brings to the table, like a lot of these guys.”

On Texas’ run defense and transitioning on a SEC offense…

“Their defense is really good and physical. I think people have misconstrued. All Todd [Orlando] was saying was they run the ball in that league too. Oklahoma ran the ball on us last year, and did a good job doing it. So, I don’t think he was saying that, ‘We don’t have the capacity to run the ball.’ He was saying that there are run teams in their conference that they have to play against, and you look across the board and they are right. They do have run-teams in that conference. There is a perception that the ball is thrown every single snap out there and that is not the case. There is a lot of spread plays, but they do run the ball. They are not in tight formations, but they do a tremendous job defensively. They have some really quick defensive linemen. We have studied and mirrored some of the things they do defensively, and we think Todd Orlando is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.”


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