Kirby Smart, defensive players talk 2021 SEC opener vs. South Carolina
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Kirby Smart, defensive players talk 2021 SEC opener vs. South Carolina

Travon Walker
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and two defensive players, Travon Walker and Ameer Speed, spoke with the media on Tuesday about the Bulldogs’ 2021 SEC-opener against South Carolina.

Georgia and South Carolina will square off at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Sept. 18. The game will be televised by ESPN at 7:00pm ET.

Sean McDonough will call the play-by-play, Todd Blackledge will provide analysis, while Molly McGrath will report from the sidelines.

Below is a transcript of the comments on the SEC opener against the South Carolina Gamecocks which was provided by UGA.

On Jack Podlesny… 

“Yeah, he’s battling through it, he’s pushing through. I thought he kicked the ball well today. We actually just walked off the field and did field goal periods, and I probably kicked the ball well. But yeah, you know, we’re always in competition as you well know, Chip, it’s one of those things that we got to help him out and push him to he’s been really consistent in his career as a starter here, still believe in him and we’re gonna work through it, and I think he’s still got a great leg you know he’s hit a clutch field goals multiple times but we’re pushing through it and you know (Jared) Zirkel out there kicking and so is (Jake) Camarda so those guys are kicking as well.”

On improvements and William Poole…

 “Yeah, he’s ineligible for the first four games due to academics but he is. He did a tremendous job to get himself in that position to get back. So, he was not, he was not gonna be able to play this year, he was able to get a waiver, and he now is eligible, after the, what would that be Vanderbilt game I think he’ll be back with us so we’re looking forward to getting his depth back to help us out. Improvement wise, you know, we really probably did not play as well in the second game, you know, as we did in the first, we really did not strike blockers and play run fits to the standard that we expect. We did get some turnovers, which we didn’t get in the first, but the biggest thing was playing our gaps, strike and blockers, and, you know, communication, there’s still breakdowns that we have if we’re trying to get right defensively. We’re fast enough, we’re big enough that we haven’t been exposed to some of those. We’re gonna do a better job of definitely playing the run.”

On when it’s too late to adjust defense… 

“I don’t think it’s ever too late to adjust it’s probably too late for them to hear us, you know what I mean like at some point, they’ve got to go get ready to play the play but that is probably simultaneous with snapping the ball, in terms of we always say the hays never in the barn in Georgia, you’re always getting ready before the game, we’re going over adjustments, you want everything that can happen, halftime we’re going over everything that’s gonna happen, in drive we’ll pull a guy out and go over something new they did to say hey this is how we got to play this. But a lot of times you see us doing that it’s a guy’s not lined up right, wanting to get wider, or we might know a tendency the other team has and we’re trying to help somebody out with what we think it is, because ultimately offense is trying to copycat other offenses right so if we’ve given up whatever the play might be an inside zone, this formation, they might try to copy that, and so we’re trying to let our guys know we’d sometimes know the answer to the test better than a player, so we’re trying to help them out, but a lot of time it doesn’t help. We just confused them more.”

On recruiting and hiring David Cooper… 

“Yeah, it’s extremely competitive. It’s the number one, you know attribute to having success is getting good players, you got to develop them, you got to make sure they go to class and do their academics and they develop as a player, but number one thing you can do is be able to sign players and we’ve got a tremendous recruiting staff. The group we have is just awesome. They’re a joy to be around, they’re smiling every day. I just passed by two of them in the hallway coming up here and you know they’re always recruiting. This recruiting world has changed so much, they used to be, you know the coaches did the recruiting, they did it when they got off the field and now, it’s I mean, it never stops. It’s like, year-round, and the staff we have with David and so many others, Katie does a great job, Angela, Logan, and Christina, we just have a wonderful staff that works, works really, really hard to do that. Cam is another guy that helps us. We got a great recruiting staff.”

On the reserve offensive line… 

“Well, they’re probably right at 789 10 is where they are, they’re getting a lot of reps and a lot of work, you know Devin has gotten a tremendous amount of work at twos with the guard at guard and Amarius has gotten a ton of work at right tackle. And we’re trying hard to bring those guys along but it’s not just on us to bring them along you know it’s their responsibility to fight, scratch, claw for every inch, for every rep they get and you have to be careful that they don’t fall in a comfort zone right, I’m comfortable being right here there’s no pressure on me versus I’m hungry, and I want to be the best, and I want to go out and compete to be the best every single day. I want those guys to continue to get better, but they need playing time to get better and they got to earn that and that’s not gonna be given to them, like they got to get some of this last week but for the competitive game time reps and the SEC they got to earn that.”

On JT Daniels’ injury and the quarterback situation… 

“Yeah, JT feels much better. He’s continued to improve. I think he’s better now than he was on Saturday. I don’t know if he’s 100 percent but he’s certainly getting closer to that. Stetson is repping, JT is repping, and Carson’s repping. Stetsons actually got some lower back issues that he strained some stuff but he’s able to go but I don’t know if he’s 100 percent. He’s been dinged up since Monday morning, but he went out and practiced as well, so they’re all three practicing, and I wouldn’t say 100 percent, I think Carson is 100 percent healthy but the other two are still pushing back”

On rotating cornerbacks…

“To me, I want the best players to play, right, so the guys that practice the best, the guys that compete out there and make plays. Part of it is not necessarily just the fastest, best player, it’s knowing the system and understanding the checks and alignments and knowing how to play in our defense. I think that all the guys that have played can do that. DK (Derion Kendrick) has played quite a bit of snaps, so has Ameer (Speed), so has Kelee (Ringo), (Jalen) Kimber got in some, (Jake) Camarda got in some, so we’re continuing to bring that and develop that position along, but I’m not gonna sit here and say I want two guys to play, three guys to play. I want guys that are capable of playing to be able to play, I’m always trying to create depth so that if we have injuries, or if a guy doesn’t have a hot hand, we can play the other guy.”

On having a coaching tree that texts about him…..

“No, I don’t think that they would have that. I definitely don’t see them as my tree because, you know, two of them are my elders and I learned a lot from them, you know, Mel (Tucker) has a ton of experience, a lot more experienced than I do, and he’s been all over NFL staffs and he was on Nick’s (Saban) staff, he’s been really successful so I was very blessed to have somebody of Mel’s nature to help me start this program and build this thing. Sam (Pittman), the same way you know, Sam was great for us here and good friend, so I don’t take credit for either one of them and then you know, Shane went and he wanted to learn a different way and he went to Oklahoma to do that, he’s part of our trees part of his dad’s tree, part of Lincoln Riley’s tree, so he’s kind of his own person and he’s cut his own claw, so I doubt those guys have time to have a text thread to complain about me.”

On preparation for South Carolina in the quarterback position…

“It really doesn’t. I mean, everybody always asked that. The plays are the plays. Now the person running the plays and the mobility of the quarterback certainly changes, I think it probably changes third down. Maybe more than anything else. Is he a pocket passer? Are they gonna move the pocket? Is he a scrambler? Is he a guy that’s gonna sit in the pocket? You know, it’s just, everyone’s a little different, but the plays they run that aren’t designed for the quarterback, are the same. So, the offense doesn’t change based on the quarterback, not a lot of times the mobility might change, but that’s really about it.”

On wide receiver updates and injury updates for Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock….

 “Kearis (Jackson) is improving by the day. I felt that Monday coming off of a light Saturday for him. And they were off Sunday, I thought Monday looked really good. Today, I didn’t notice him as much, but he’s working his way back, I feel like he’s closer than he’s been, you know, we felt like Dom (Blaylock) was a little ahead of him in terms of cutting and breaking and doing that and confidence is now he’s like right there and he’s also doing a little bit of a hamstring issue so it’s not so much the knee now with him, it’s a little bit of a hamstring and that sometimes happens because he hasn’t been doing this kind of volume. So, we’ve been trying to walk him along as we bring him back, but I couldn’t tell you when they’re gonna be able to go. I feel like Kearis will be able to play some this week, he’s played, right, he’s playing punt returner, it’s just getting him out there and getting him in the offense and getting them cutting and breaking more. But outside of that, you know AD (Adonai Mitchell), Marcus (Rosemy-Jacksaint), Arian (Smith), Jermaine (Burton), Justin (Robinson), Jackson (Meeks), all those guys are working hard, Arik (Gilbert) is not back with us yet. We don’t know when he’ll be back.”

On John Rhodes being named 2021 Game Warden of the Year…

.“The Rhodes family is a wonderful family. I felt like it was a home away from home for me in college, being from a long way away, Greensboro, which is right down the road actually Union Point is where his dad had a store, and I’d go down there with him a lot and grew up kind of in college with Trey and John, his younger brother, and we kind of took John in and he came up, stay with us all the time and he finished up at Georgia Southern and he does a great job with DNR. I run into him sometimes on the lake, so he’s always a joy to be around. He’s always got a smile on his face, so he’s one of the best at it, I’m glad he got that award.”

On lack of run gain against UAB…

“Yeah, you know, you gotta do it better. You can’t do that now. We may not have a running back get over 100 (yards), but that can happen because we may split them up, you know, we may share it out, but certainly, we thought we would’ve had more than 34 (yards) and should. We gotta work hard at that, we got to be able to create run gained. Some of our passing gains come from the run gain, right, the play-action. So your play action is not going to be real good if you’re not a good run team, that’s part of the success we have on defense is we don’t have to honor play-action because we got a good run defense, so we got to be able to make that a threat, we got to be able to make that count and hit people and we did not do that at a high rate. Now, how much I had to do with UAB and how much they had to do with us, you know, I don’t know. I still think UAB has a pretty good team and a pretty good defense, but we did hit them on some explosives.”

On Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton….

“It was big for him. He’s practicing with us, he’s not 100 percent, but he is practicing with us. He did get dinged up, but it was a bruise so we’re pushing through and he’s doing the things he can do to be healthy and Jermaine had a good game and hopefully got some confidence, both of them got some more confidence, but Arian is still a work in progress in terms of developing as a route runner and in growing as a player has been really valuable in terms of special teams with his speed.”

#44 | Travon Walker | Jr. | DL

On how the defense has prepared so far and how it’ll translate to South Carolina….

“My thoughts on the defense so far, we’re doing pretty good, playing some good ball right now but as always looking out, we always have things to improve on. This upcoming week, playing South Carolina, an SEC East opponent, we just have to play to our expectation, and just keep improving as a defense every week.”

On how much pride the defense takes in outscoring the opponents…

“We really haven’t talked about it too much but that is something we do take a lot of pride in because we always emphasize getting the ball on defense and pointing up points on defense. As long as they don’t score, they don’t win and if we’re putting up points on defense then that’s just a positive contribution to the win.”

On the biggest thing that South Carolina presents as a challenge….

“Putting the ball on the perimeter. Like you all stated earlier this week, we didn’t do too good against the run and that’s something that we’re working to do this week – stop the run more and less yards.”

#9 | Ameer Speed | Sr. | DB

On the memories with Shane Beamer [South Carolina Head Coach] and being on special teams….

“I believe I was on punt return and kick return then, but yeah he’s a good guy, you know I had him here so I’m looking forward to that match-up.”

On what has worked well for the defensive backs through two games and how to improve…

“I think honestly, we all have areas we can improve on. But I think that we’ve just been emphasizing takeaways and working on getting the ball out of people, so I feel like that repetition and putting those words in our heads are starting to pay off and a lot has made plays with the ball.”

On Will Muschamp’s impact during his time here…

“He’s had an amazing impact. He’s just a scheme person, he’s very smart with knowing defenses and everything so he’s been very helpful. His energy also is just immaculate, just his energy that he brings to me and the way he talks to us, it gets people going. Having him around – on top of Kirby is definitely a good combo.”


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