Coach Smart and players gear up for season-opener in Charlotte, NC
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Coach Smart and players gear up for season-opener in Charlotte, NC

Ameer Speed
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga.University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with two players, previewed Saturday’s season opener against Clemson. The Bulldogs and Tigers kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET in Charlotte, N.C.

On Tuesday, Coach Smart, and seniors Ameer Speed and Quay Walker offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the progress of Warren Ericson and the special team’s status… 

“Warren Ericson is doing awesome. We’re fired up about Warren Ericson. He’s been able to practice the last two weeks, and he’s done an excellent job. As far as punt return and kick return, we didn’t get to go outside today, and we were going to get to do some live kicks today to finalize that. Probably Kenny, Kearis, Ladd, those are the guys in the running for PK. So, those three guys primarily, and Cook had worked back there and Zamir. Every one of those guys, kickoff return, will be one of the backs. Punt will be Ladd, Kearis, DK, Burton, but really those guys have all kind of been neck and neck, and it will probably just be Kearis. But to be honest, he hasn’t gone through everything in this camp, so he’s had some time where he wasn’t out there, and he’s been out there now for I guess the last two weeks. So, we certainly feel very comfortable.”

On the secondary… 

“We typically play the best corners. So, we don’t rotate at corner unless we feel like A. There is a conditioning issue, B. There is a matchup issue, but your best guy has got to be out there at all times. In all my years coaching, the conditioning has not been a factor for our corners, unless maybe he is coming off an injury or coming back from something where stamina doesn’t allow him to play the whole game. We’ve had years where we rotated in because we thought the guys we beaten, but it’ll all go game-by-game. What are the matchups? What is he good at? What are they good at? Those kinds of things… The tempo doesn’t allow you to play any more guys. We’ll play typically like we always do, we’ll have four DBs on the field some, we’ll have five DBs on the field some, we’ll have six DBs on the field some, and then we have packages with seven. So, we’ll carry the same packages that we’ve always carried. There’s no difference for us, we’re just not as deep. But that doesn’t prevent us from doing our packages.”

On matching up with Clemson’s receivers… 

“That is definitely a strong group. They are big, they are physical, they do a very good job going up and getting the ball. They are really good 50-50 ball guys.  We’ve seen a lot of them on tape, you know, Justyn has been a great player for a long time, and he is coming back, so I know they are excited to get him back. They are a match-up problem. In some ways, we are bigger at corner than we have ever been, too. But we’ve got three guys who are 200 pounds rotating through there. We’ve had really fast, really long guys, but uniquely we’ve got three or four guys who we plan on playing now who are all 200 pounders. Now their guys are 210, 220. So, if anything concerns you, it’s 50-50 balls, blocking on the perimeter. That’s critical, to be able to block on the perimeter, and you don’t go against guys that size. We put our guys up against tight-ends just to try to simulate what we think they’ll see in a game, the size of those guys. Getting on and off blocks is critical in every football game, but it’s really critical to this game because we know the spread element of them, the perimeter screens, the ball out quick. You have to be able to tackle and get off blocks. Those big guys make that hard to do.”

On the expectation put on Georgia this year… 

“Well, it has to be. If it’s not coming, then what are we doing? So, I don’t look at it from the perspective of winning. I look at it from the perspective of what’s important now, what are we doing now? And I know the people in this organization, the administration, the people in the state, the people that love Georgia, and the energy and enthusiasm they have, it’s just always been long overdue, right? I don’t care if you won one years ago, it’s overdue. So, for me, that’s the end game, that’s the goal. That’s what you’re always trying to work towards. It doesn’t make it a successful season or a failure if you don’t. I just don’t look at things that way. I don’t let that control my thought process in my life. But I certainly pursue excellence, and that’s what excellence is.”

On personnel decisions for Clemson matchup…

“There are decisions like that every week.  We have young, talented players (I’m not going to say that we don’t have older, talented players – that’s not fair – they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t talented.)  But you may have more talent in a spot or more experience in a spot – you are weighing those two options of where does the experience of the lesser talented player versus the talented and less-experienced, where does that balance hit? There are some different scenarios on there.  It’s early in the season, we haven’t had a game, so we haven’t found out a lot.  We tried to find out in the spring game that we had a lot of mid-years play.  We tried to find out in pre-season camp in two scrimmages, but it’s hard to measure what this game is going to be like for a kid that hasn’t maybe played.  Maybe he was on the team last year and, I am trying to think of an example, he didn’t have a large role and now his role has to increase.  And then you have to weigh the option of another guy.  We’ve got several situations like that – it might be on the offensive line in some cases, it’s that way in the secondary. Experience is just so valuable in those positions – I’m talking about the back end; I’m talking about the offensive line.  Because one mistake on the back end and it’s a touchdown.  One mistake on the front line and you may have a sack fumble, or you may have a turnover.  That’s not always the case at receiver – we chose to do that with Jermaine last year and it helped us in the long run, but it probably hurt us at some points and caused some mistakes, but we are forced to make those decisions and they/re not always easy decisions. Sometimes they change in the middle of the game.”

On the team’s readiness to play…

“I am pleased with the preparation. I’m ready to play a game, our kids are ready to play a game.  We need to play a game. We need to play a game to get better.  I don’t know that we are going to get better continuing to practice against each other, the walkthroughs, to teach. There’s no more time for that. We have a couple more days and we start to prep these days; we’ve got a lot we can improve on for that, but we need to go play. We are not where we need to be. Number one, we are not healthy to the point we need to be. But we also aren’t as good as we need to be. We’ve got some young, talented players that don’t have the experience. You know how they’re going to get it? They’re going to go play. At this point, we’ve got to go play. I am sure they’re no different. With the exception of their defense, they got everybody back, they’ve got young guys who are going to have to go play.”

On the evolution of perimeter blocking in college football…

“I don’t know if it just snapped – it evolved. For a long time on the perimeter – you never brought the DBs to the inside run, you just let the linebackers and safeties and O-line and back and tight ends have it out while corners and DBs just played one-on-one.  Slowly, but surely the RPOs, the perimeters, the plays that have two plays, sometimes have three plays, the quarterback can run it, he can throw it, or they can throw a single back to the X. So, you have a play to the field, a play to the boundary, and a play to the middle and you’ve got to have everyone to defend it. It’s just very unique how football has grown, and it makes all offenses hard to defend. I can’t get a year on that, but every year every offensive coordinator gets a new wrinkle.”

On Dominick Blaylock’s rehab…

“Dominick has done an incredible job with rehab.  He has worked really hard.  It has been a tough year for him. When you think about going through what he went through.  He had fought all the way back, re-tears the same ACL and now it’s over a year since the time he tore it and it’s been twelve months. He’s gaining confidence in it. Today he was running routes, he was on the scout team and did everything against the defense so we could get an even better look. He’s done everything. You say, ‘why can’t he go play?’ Well, he’s still gaining confidence and is getting his stamina back. It’s being able to get him a cumulative number of reps – he hasn’t been able to rep with our one and two offenses because he hasn’t been ready. Now he’s building confidence, I thought he made a couple plays out there today that were good plays and really challenged our first and second defense. I can’t tell you when he’s going to be out there because I don’t know, but he’s close.”

On the team’s energy and needing to play…

“I think it’s great. No, they need to play because it’s time to play. We don’t practice this game, we practice playing. There’s nobody that’s signed up for football to go practice for life and never play a game, right? So, like, they want to go play a game, there’s no vibe or energy that says that they’re tired of practice. If anything, our energy is ramped up with exposure to Clemson. They get excited about it when they hear about it. We are trying to keep the reigns on that and build that to a crescendo for the game and not have it built in practice, but certainly, they’ve enjoyed getting after it and they enjoy practicing for them (Clemson). They are just excited for a game and so am I.”

On the running back room as a whole…. 

“Excited. I think I feel about our running room probably like they feel about their defense, you know, you’ve got all these guys back that have played a substantial amount of time. You got James (Cook), Zamir (White), and Kenny (Macintosh) like he’s an old player now, and Kendall (Milton) getting to play and like Daijun (Edwards), I mean there’s just a lot of backs that have done a lot of good things. It’s not that you wish you had more of them, you just wish you had more positions with the same experience that that position group has. It certainly will be the position group where our team has the most experience and confidence.”

On Jordan Davis’s improvements as a pass rusher and achieving a 3rd down role…. 

“In roles, yes, he is a 3rd down player in certain roles. He certainly is elite at pocket push, he’s elite power, one of the strongest kids I have ever been around. He helps you the way that he’s able to run games and things because he’s just different. There’s just nobody quite like him in terms of the volume and the reps. He has a 3rd down role for us, yes, but his primary role is first and second down obviously. He’s worked really hard to improve his quickness and that’s been one of the areas that he knows that when he’s in there that there’s less run game in between those “A” gaps with him in there. It’s all about if he can affect the perimeter and cover down and do things and that’s what we’ve tried to work really hard on.”

On the importance of strain during a game…. 

“No, I definitely think strain is important. I’ve stressed that you can be out strained and it’s critical to any game. I think it measures somebody’s heart and courage and toughness to strain a little longer than the other guy. Are you going to hold your block a little longer? Are you going to fight a little harder? Everybody wants to win, but will you out-strain the guy across from you in every one-on-one battle? That’s what we’ve challenged our guys to do this week, not just do it during Saturday. Build where you can’t help, but do it because it’s your habit, you do it every day in practice. We talked a lot about strain and Vince is a guy that strains really well.

#9 | Ameer Speed | Sr. | DB

On the size of Clemson wideouts…

“They have a very big and physical set of wideouts, so we are looking forward to that.  We are planning on using our size and ability to just match and play these receivers the best we can.”

On Clemson wide receiver core…

“Me being a big DB, I’ve always loved going against bigger receivers.  Being a big DB, we like matching up with bigger people.  Them being big and physical and us having big and physical corners too will make it a fun game.”

On secondary…

“As a group, I feel like we are ready.  We’ve been working and grinding and preparing ourselves to be the best we can be this season.  I feel like the hard work in practice and dedication will all pay off in due time.”

#7 | Quay Walker | Sr. | ILB

On injury concerns this preseason… 

“I haven’t any injury at all, I’ve been practicing like everybody else. 100% just like everybody else, just working and trying to get better leading up to the game.”

On Clemson’s run game… 

“It’s just a normal game, pretty much for an inside linebacker. It may be more to do with the tasks that I have to do. Coming to Charlotte this week, going against Clemson, but I just have to have my eyes in the right place and everything else will play out for itself.”

On the impact of Jordan Davis in the front seven… 

“He plays a huge factor, I would say, just how big he is and how he can get off blocks and all of that. Especially for me, he makes things way easier for me by him just lining up in front of me. So, whenever JD is in front of me, I don’t have too much to worry about, to be honest.”


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