Todd Monken, offensive players discuss 2021 Orange Bowl playoff game
UGA football offensive coordinator Todd Monken and five offensive players, Stetson Bennett, Zamir White, James Cook, Kearis Jackson, and John FitzPatrick, spoke with the media on Tueday about the Bulldogs’ upcoming game against Michigan in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Orange Bowl.
The third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs will face the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. The game will be televised by ESPN at 7:30pm ET.
Chris Fowler will call the play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit will provide analysis, while Holly Rowe and Marty Smith will report from the sidelines.
Below is a transcript of the comments on the Michigan game, which was provided by ASAP Sports.
TODD MONKEN: All right, so here we are. Everything that you work for in the off-season, that you point towards, we’re here. I think we’ve had a really good couple of weeks of practice, getting the guys going again right after the Alabama game was hard with finals and a lot of things they had on their plate, but last week I thought we had a good week of practice, and we’ve continued that once we got down here. We’re excited about the opportunity being one of four teams left that have a chance to play for a National Championship, and I’m confident we’ll be ready to go.
Q. Let’s start with a quarterback and receiver question. Obviously you’ve gone with Stetson Bennett for many weeks in a row now since JT Daniels returned from injury. Why is that, number one; and number two, we understand George Pickens is back now after a brief hiatus in the middle of bowl practice. Can he figure into things? Did that stall his progress of coming back and being able to help you?
TODD MONKEN: Well, you’re right, there’s a number of questions there, and I’ll try to get to all of them.
First off, the reason Stetson Bennett plays is we think he gives us the best chance to win. Without getting into too much detail, we think he gives us the best chance to win, and that’s really the end of that question.
You know, we anticipate all of the players that we had against Alabama to be ready to play, including George Pickens. George has done a fantastic job of working to get back, to give himself a chance to play at the back end of this season. When I think back to the spring when he injured his knee and thinking, wow, what a disappointment for him and his development and for us. But he has done a fantastic job of trying to get back.
There are going to be some things that he’s continued to work through, trusting the knee, obviously reps. He’s still a young player, when you think about playing as a freshman, and then we didn’t have any spring ball. So he’s basically missed the last two springs when you think about a young player’s development, and then he missed a couple of games the year before. So he’s still a young developing player, and we’re still trying to work him in and to make sure that he can help us offensively and most importantly help us win with what he can do at this point.
But he’s done a great job of getting back and helping this team.
Q. JT is the starter when the season starts. He plays well. When he gets hurt twice, Stetson then becomes basically at this point the permanent starter, even though JT apparently is healthy. I think the question a lot of fans have, a lot of people like me also have, is basically what changed? You guys did know what Stetson brought to the table and you knew what JT brought to the table, so what did change to make Stetson the starter?
TODD MONKEN: Well, probably not a lot in terms of our confidence in both players. I think that’s probably the best way to put it. You know, I think Stetson at times — I’m talking about me, have probably undervalued his skill set. We’ve tried to elevate guys that have talent on our roster, and we do that at every position, and some guys just combat that and fight and scratch and continue to play well and try to prove you wrong, and that’s what Stetson Bennett did.
It wasn’t really anything JT did, it was more along the lines of what Stetson did that we thought gave us the best chance to win, his mobility, those things, in the run game and the pass game when things break down we believe give us the best chance to win. It’s nothing really that JT did, and it just happened where Stetson got an opportunity, took advantage of that opportunity, we continued to win. It never really ended up flipping the other way.
I can’t say that — because they’re really talented players. Carson Beck is a talented player, Brock Vandagriff is a talented player. Sometimes opportunity leads to things that end up going in your direction. I don’t know if I said that exactly right, but it never went back the other way where JT got a chance to get in there. So it’s just the way it is, and we believe that he gives us the best chance to win in a couple of those things that I’ve said.
Q. With your time in the NFL, the tight end position has sort of become — has exploded. There’s always been good tight ends. You and I are both guys who go back to the Kellen Winslow days, but the position really has exploded in recent years, and as much as there are very good tight ends and you have one of them in college, it doesn’t seem like at the college level the level of production at that position is quite the same or has been exploited in quite the same way as the NFL. I’m wondering as somebody who’s been in both of those worlds, do you see it as a difficult position to max out in the college game? Is there something about getting the ball to the tight end that’s a little tougher for quarterbacks that takes them a little time to master?
TODD MONKEN: Well, first off, I think the game has changed. When the game evolved to more spread teams, especially in high school, you saw a lot more air-raid wise and not a lot of tight ends. Tight ends were playing now defensive end or being bulked up to play tackle. When you think back at guys that were elite when I was a kid growing up or when I was young in the profession, you’d take like a Kellen Winslow, that was different at that time, or the guy that played at Miami, I can’t think of his name, is it Shockey or whatever his name was, they were different. They were athletic. They were more wide outs that were built into tight ends, which is where it’s going now, all of those guys. You look at what Kittle was out of high school, I think he weighed 205 pounds and Ertz and those guys and the Kelces of the world that might have been quarterbacks.
The game has changed in terms of athletic, big guys at the tight end position that have developed as route runners, receivers that — it used to be they were blockers that develop their wide receiver skill sets, where now they’re receivers developing their blocking skills, if that makes sense. The game has changed from a size standpoint, a range, their route running has developed and grown. You see those guys running routes and they look like receivers because they started that way.
I think that’s where it’s changed, and I think the more you’re a spread team — and the more you max protect, you see certain teams, it’s hard to get the tight end involved if you’re a max protect team because they’re involved in protection. The ability to utilize those guys in the route running and if you’re chipping them — if you chip them in protection, it also doesn’t allow them to get into their routes, so you have to be able to protect. You have to be able to utilize their skill set, and a lot of that comes from play action run game. What else eliminates some of that? We’ve gotten into the world of RPOs. A lot of RPO world, well RPO world uses the tight ends in blocking and run game and uses the wideouts in terms of the RPO world where you’re shrinking plays if that makes sense. Old school football used to be, if you got the right box count, you ran the ball, and if you got too many guys in the box you went to play-action pass. Well, that included the tight end a lot more, where now teams are running a lot more RPOs where the tight end is part of the blocking structure and you’re throwing it to wideouts.
Q. I want to circle back to the quarterbacks again. You said that there wasn’t any chance for JT, but after the Florida game I think Stetson had a couple picks and was about 50 percent passing and they talked about competition at the position, and then in the Alabama game you guys fell down by 21 points and a lot of people wondered why you wouldn’t put more of a pass-first quarterback in. Kirby said you didn’t even talk about it. Can you address those two instances where there might have been another look at a quarterback?
TODD MONKEN: Sure. I’m not surprised we’re circling back to that, first of all.
The reality is that there’s no question at any point and everywhere I’ve been where when a certain player, doesn’t matter quarterback or any position, doesn’t play up to — forget our standard, their own standard, the way they believe they should play, that — we’re always looking to play our best players. There’s no question.
There are times in games where any of our players don’t play their best, and we’re disappointed in how they played. But the body of work that we felt like that Stetson had given us I think allowed us to carry it over to the next weeks. The reality is that we don’t know what’s behind the next decision. We know what we make the decision based on what we see on a daily basis.
You’re right, we do compete every week. It doesn’t matter who’s healthy at any position. They’re always competing. The guys that are going to come up here and talk to you guys, they understand that. No one is guaranteed week to week. We’ve had competition every week at running back, and they earn the reps and the touches that they get, and it’s the same at quarterback.
I get it. I’ve been around it. We have really good players at the quarterback position, and we do, and we’re lucky to have the guys that we have, and Stetson Bennett is a hell of a football player, and so is JT Daniels, so is Carson Beck and we believe Brock Vandagriff is going to be a good player. It’s a good problem to have. We’re disappointed when we don’t score. We’re disappointed when we turn the ball over. We’re disappointed when we don’t have the production that we expect to have, starting with me in terms of calling it, structuring it, the week of practice, how we do it, because I’m in charge of all of it.
So ultimately it falls on me, and when Stetson Bennett takes the field, we feel like he gives us the best chance to win.
Q. James Cook, he’s one of the local guys here for us. Just wanted to get your thoughts on where he’s grown the most over the two years you’ve been here and just what he brings to your backfield that complements Zamir White.
TODD MONKEN: Well, first off, James is a tremendous football player, a tremendous young man, works awfully hard in practice. I say it all the time, when I first got here, him and Zamir pair up whenever we’re doing our off-seasons to compete against each other, they’re two of our hardest workers. James is one of our most versatile players. You can get him the ball in a number of ways, which is fun to have guys like that, whether it’s Brock Bowers who’s the same way, James is like that. I think a number of our backs have worked to develop their skill set where we can feel comfortable with them route running and catching the ball out of the backfield.
The more versatile you are at certain positions, the tougher it is on the defense because you can do more with them in terms of formations.
Again, I think James, one, has had a tremendous career here. He’s one of our leaders that every week we talk about, along with Zamir and some of our other guys, being captains of our team, and I think he’s going to have a fantastic career at the next level.
It’s just hard because we have a number of versatile, talented running backs and there’s just never enough touches for all of them. It’s just the way it is with our skill players. There’s only one football, and he’s like a lot of our players, have been very selfless. I get it. It’s about touching the ball. It’s about opportunities. Plays are one thing, but opportunities with the ball in their hands, and he does a tremendous job. We’ve relied on him heavily and he’s done a great job with it. Like all those guys, for the most part, they’ve stayed healthy, Zamir and James.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Brock Bowers. When did you sort of realize that he was capable of having the season that he’s had this year, and what does it say about him that as a freshman he’s able to go out and lead Georgia in every major statistical receiving category?
TODD MONKEN: Well, I’ve said this to whoever has asked this. I haven’t had a chance to talk to you guys but I get to talk to the commentators each week. When he first got here, we put GPS systems on the backs of our top 40 guys or whatever, and there’s a small group of guys and a couple of them are sitting right here about to talk to you, they’re at running back, and Brock, that when you put that GPS system on them, their band of their top and their bottom miles per hour are really, really small. They only know one speed, and that’s working their rear end off every day.
Some guys their band can be from 20 or 21 miles an hour to like 13, and right away you can tell he only knew one speed. We would be running in the stadium and you’re doing run the long, walk the short, run the long, walk the short, just as conditioning team. Well, we would do it by position groups, and right out of the jump, I wouldn’t have done it as a young player, I would run with the pack, I would have run with the rest of the guys. Not Brock Bowers. Tight ends were running, he’d be 10 yards in front of every other guy. He was working at his own speed to be the best he could be, and that is a rare quality to put yourself out there like he did.
So right away you could see this guy is different. He only knows this way to work. All he did every day was work hard. He’s going to continue to develop his skill set. He’s probably got more range than we thought. We knew he had the run-after-catch ability. We saw that on tape. They used him in the backfield out of high school, but he’s got a little more range than we thought and he’s continued to develop as a route runner. But he works awfully hard at his craft. It’s important to him. He doesn’t say a lot, he just works.
You’re going to talk to these running backs that are going to come up here next, they’re the exact same way. They don’t say a lot, they just work. It’s just amazing how it carries over. It just does. Guys just work, don’t say a lot and just compete and take coaching, and you don’t have to say anything to those guys. It’s the most amazing thing. Like I spend less time talking to James Cook, Zamir White, Brock Bowers, those guys of the world because they’re trying their rear end off to be the best player they can be for them and for our team.
Q. I wanted to ask you, what does Stetson need to do to help lead you guys in the next couple games to the national title in terms of his performance, and how much does JT missing a week of practice impact what he can bring? And with Michigan what they bring off the edge, is this a game where Stetson’s mobility is even more important?
TODD MONKEN: First question was what Stetson needs to do to lead us to a National Championship. First off, do what he continues to do. Obviously we can’t turn the ball over. I don’t care who you are. That isn’t a Stetson problem, that’s a national problem. When you turn the ball over, you don’t give yourself a chance to win. Those are things we always address. It doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s JT as a quarterback or Jameis Winston or whoever I’ve been around. If you look at the plays he’s made, he’s made National Championship plays. He has. You turn on the film and look at some of the throws he makes, the decisions he makes, the things he does with his feet. There’s no doubt in my mind we can win the National Championship, and we have — there’s no doubt in my mind we can win it with Stetson Bennett. There’s no question.
We went into the championship game with Stetson Bennett as our quarterback as a favorite over a team that hasn’t been an underdog in over five years. That ought to tell you about our quarterback and how he played, and some reason we get into this stereotyping of players based on where they were at some point. Okay, at some point. Be it one was a walk on, one was a five star, whatever. If you just look at the production and what he’s done for our football team, it’s impressive. It’s impressive.
So let’s start with that.
Okay, JT is a student of the game. I don’t anticipate any of what he hasn’t been a part of — he’s one of those guys that can come right in and know exactly what we want to do. He’s been in every meeting, Zoom meeting. He’ll be ready to go. There’s no question in any mind he’ll be ready to go.
Q. When did you realize that a guy like Brock Bowers, a freshman, could be sort of a special player and a breakout player for you guys, because he really has been maybe the biggest weapon the team with a lot of injuries at receiver?
STETSON BENNETT: I don’t know, I guess it was more of a progressive thing for me. There was a few times where working out over the summer, and we’d have these plyo boxes, and you’d see him jumping up there, but you don’t know if he’s just a freak athlete and he’s going to be able to process things fast enough to play this year, and then as time goes on, you see that he’s a freak athlete and he also can process things fast enough.
You always — everybody we recruit in the skill positions are athletic enough and talented enough to do what he’s done. I think where he shines the most is how slowly the game comes for him and how football smart he is.
There wasn’t anything that just flashed. It was more a progressive thing over time.
Q. Your position coach there was just talking about how you came to end up being Georgia’s primary No. 1 quarterback, and what he said is sometimes we as coaches undervalue a player’s ability, and they take that personally. What is your relationship like with Coach Monken? I’m assuming — what does it say that you could prove yourself only on your play on the field as opposed to having to overcome other factors? Like it was all tangible football play that got you into the position that you are.
STETSON BENNETT: You know, me and Monk are — he’s a great football coach. Anytime I have any questions, I can go to him and ask.
You know, you want your play on the field to be the only determining factor. That’s what you sign up for. That’s what you expect. So if that’s been the case, then that is exactly all that you want because then it’s up to you. You don’t really want to rely on anybody else to perform or not perform. You want it to be in your hands.
Yeah, I guess that’s all I have.
Q. Stetson, since you’ve been in this position down the road, you know that usually one of the most popular players on the team is the backup quarterback. Who do you lean on to handle the noise, the distraction, and are you confident in your abilities to lead this team to the National Championship?
STETSON BENNETT: I don’t know. I mean, like I’ve said before, if you listen to them when they’re telling you how good they are, then you’re going to listen to them when they tell you how bad you are. I don’t really care what anybody else says. My job is to go out every single day, build chemistry with these guys, watch film enough to be prepared for when the game comes, and that’s the only thing I’m worried about. You can’t put any value on people who really have no clue what they’re talking about talking.
I wouldn’t listen to myself if I was giving a speech on heart surgery. Not comparing football to heart surgery, but it’s the same kind of gist. So why would I listen to somebody who doesn’t do this for a living and just watches it happen. It really doesn’t bother me. It’s a bit frustrating sometimes, I guess, but like I said, I don’t have social media, so I don’t wallow in it. I don’t sit in it. I don’t think about it. All I’m thinking about is beating Michigan and being the best quarterback I can be for my teammates.
Q. I’ve got a question about the defense on your team, and given that you face them all the time in practice, I’m curious what specifically do they do that’s so hard to play against, and what factors really just make them next-level elite or great?
STETSON BENNETT: Well, I think it’s a combination of the type of players we have and the coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball. The coaching staff knows our strengths and our weaknesses, tries to amplify one and minimize the other. They’re just — I also think the coaching staff will also tell you they’re just talented. You can’t really do much in this game unless you have talented players, and I think our defense is the most talented defense in the country, and they’re hungry to go out there and prove to you that they are every single game.
They’re in the film room studying tendencies, studying what different formations mean to them, going over their calls. I think anybody on the offensive side of the ball would say it’s a pleasure to practice against them every day, because they are the best in the country. If you go against the best in the country, then it’s going to make you better. That’s just how it works.
Q. I kind of wanted to get into your preparation for this game. You look at that edge rush, you look at Michigan being so multiple defensively, did you do anything different? Did you take any extra time, because you’re not really familiar with it. You didn’t watch any film on this team last year, didn’t have any cross-sectional opponents. What was your preparation like coming into this and getting ready for Michigan?
STETSON BENNETT: Yeah, I mean, it’s been — I kind of separated it into like weeks, but in those specific weeks it would be the same as if it was a regular game. I didn’t want to do anything too different. I mean, obviously we have a bunch more time, and so that allows me to put more time into them, but I didn’t change anything up about my process, what I watch on what day, who I watch, because then I think you start overthinking things and you start — it’s just too much thought going into it.
Obviously I have watched more of them because of the time, but nothing in what I do each week has changed.
Q. I wanted to ask you about George Pickens. Had he talked to you at all about coming back from ACL injuries, and what can he potentially bring to you guys’ offense in this game now that he is healthy enough to play and contribute?
ZAMIR WHITE: George’s process, I has talked to him and gave him advice on what to do and as far as like a mindset thing, yes, we have talked about like injuries and stuff like that. Just me being a leader, just being there for him, so yes, sir, yes, I have talked to him about that.
Q. It’s been well documented at this point what you’ve been through from the day you were born to get to where you are right now, and obviously later on the two ACL injuries. Can you just kind of put us inside your mind? Is that stuff you feed off of regularly? Do you just not think about it? In terms of your preparation and your drive, is that something that continues to kind of be a force that kind of drives you a little bit?
ZAMIR WHITE: As far as like now, now like my mindset is just like just straightforward, just winning this and just grinding out with my teammates and just being like the best leader and best teammate and player that I can be.
But as far as like my mindset, though, I really don’t think about my injuries like at all because my knees and stuff like that don’t bother me. No, sir.
Q. Just wondering, going back to the Alabama game and setting the stage for the College Football Playoff, do you feel like there’s doubters now that you guys — you were No. 1 most of the year. Some people said they shouldn’t have gotten into the College Football Playoff. Do you feel like you guys are doubted some, and does that fuel you guys from a motivation standpoint for Friday’s game?
ZAMIR WHITE: I personally feel like that’s just part of the game. When you’re winning, the fans and stuff like that love you, but yeah, it’s just part of it, man. Just keep going and just keep on being positive, and like keep on grinding and practicing real hard and just know what your team is worth and just go out there and just play.
So yes, sir, that’s it, really.
Q. You guys have faced some very good pass rushes during the course of the season, saw one in the SEC championship game, get to see another one in Aidan Hutchinson coming up on Friday. Talk about his game and what you’ve seen and how it’s going to be to prepare for a guy like that.
ZAMIR WHITE: Man, he’s huge. He’s a fast guy, and he’s a vet player. And like just knowing what he’s like and just like just seeing him on film, it’s crazy, man. The guy is like really a dominant player. Yes, sir, we have got to watch out for that guy, man. He’s tough. Yes, sir.
Q. How does it feel to be back home and playing in front of friends and family, and what advice did your brother give you as he also had a big Orange Bowl performance a few years ago?
JAMES COOK: It’s always good to play at home. I mean, he really didn’t give me no advice, but all I ever knew was just play football. There’s no advice he could give me other than that. Just playing at home is always good just in front of my family and friends. It’s going to be a good one.
Q. Do you feel like it’s any pressure knowing that you played at Traz Powell for the majority of your high school career to going to Hard Rock Stadium? Do you feel like there will be a lot of pressure compared to that, if it’s just football?
JAMES COOK: I’ve been playing football all my life, so I mean, you just go out there and play. There’s no pressure. It’s just different scenery or the field that I played on. I’ve been playing football all my life, so as long as I keep playing how I play, it’ll be good.
Q. I’ve been driving around here, been through Miami Shores, Miami Gardens. We’re in Fort Lauderdale right now. I find myself wondering exactly where was James and his brother growing up when you were young around here? Can you talk about that, and just kind of what’s some inherent things about this area, the neighborhood you grew up in, that maybe you’ve missed that you get a warm memory thinking about being back here?
JAMES COOK: I mean, I grew up in Miami Gardens, Carol City. Just playing just at the Hard Rock Stadium, it just gives me chills because I ain’t never really played in the Hard Rock Stadium. So just playing in front of my family is going to be good, at home, and just like where I grew up, it was — I mean, it wasn’t bad, but you’ve got areas like that is bad. I mean, just growing up and just having that edge like playing at Traz Powell as a young kid in high school in front of everybody, it was great. I know it’s going to be great playing at Sun Life Stadium in front of my friends and family.
Q. Your offensive coordinator Todd Monken just said he has all the confidence that Stetson Bennett can lead you guys to a National Championship. How much faith do you guys have in him?
JAMES COOK: I mean, he’s been doing what he’s doing all year, so I mean, it ain’t nothing new, or the stage ain’t too big for what he just got to do extra. Just continue to do him and play football and put him in the right situations for us to win.
Q. How many friends and family are you anticipating being at the game on Friday, and then how would you just sum up your career at Georgia to this point? I know you have a game on Friday and hopefully another game after that, but how would you sum up how your college career went?
JAMES COOK: About people coming to the game, I know my mom is going to come to the game, and I really don’t worry about the tickets and everything. She does. Here at Georgia, I just kept my face clean and worked hard every day and be a good leader in the building. I keep — like my time at Georgia was great, and I’m not done yet, because I’m going to still have another game left. Yeah, it’s been a great journey here at Georgia, and I hope people remember me forever here.
Q. I wanted to ask you, George Pickens has only played a couple games and not his usual amount of snaps and that kind of thing, and I know he’s back in town. What’s your expectations for kind of what he can give you guys in this playoff?
KEARIS JACKSON: Everyone has seen George play and knows he’s capable of doing. He’s been a great addition to this team, him being able to come back from that injury has been tremendous for not only for himself, but for the team, as well, and just him being out there brings a different atmosphere to the game.
Q. Seems like you’ve been beat up all year with one thing or another. How are you feeling now? Did the break between SEC Championship Game and now allow you to heal and get back to your old self, and if you could just give me an idea of your thoughts as you guys get ready to get in the playoffs where you’ve been aiming to be all year long.
KEARIS JACKSON: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I was beat up all year. I know during the summer I had that knee surgery, but from there on out, I haven’t missed games due to injuries or anything like that, but I am feeling good, feeling good about myself, getting my speed back up to date, and just being able to do whatever I can to help my team out, and just being able to play in the playoff game has been something that everyone on this team had always dreamed of doing. We always came up short the past few years we’ve been here, but now we’re actually living the dream that we always wanted to do, and just being able to not getting too big of ourselves, not getting too big of the moment, but just understand what we are here for and what we are fighting for and just being able to know that this opportunity doesn’t come past too often, so while we’re at it, we’ve got to take advantage of it.
Q. Since the Alabama game, how has Stetson been in practice, both as a leader and his play, and how has he looked since that loss?
KEARIS JACKSON: Yeah, I mean, we just centered around him and let him know he’s not in this alone even though he was receiving a lot of bad talk about him. And he don’t look at that type of stuff. We don’t, either. At the same time we’ve just got to know we’re here for each other. Since that loss not only him but the whole team has took a step forward to try to get better. You win some, you lose some but you live to fight another day. Yeah, we lost that game but now we have an opportunity on a bigger stage to go do what we want to do and go win the next game.
Q. Did you guys feel humbled by the Alabama game? How did that change this team? And is that a good thing moving forward to have an experience like that?
KEARIS JACKSON: Yeah, definitely was a great thing, just the experience of loss. You know, like, we was on a 12-run streak, winning 12 games in a row, making history at Georgia, winning the most games in a season like that, and I guess we’ve got to move forward. That game was our opening, just being able to take a loss on the big stage, SEC Championship Game, which you always look forward to playing in, but you can’t win every game. But it was, like I said, eye opening, just being able to go out there and play a great team like Bama. You’ve got to go in there with your A game, and we just didn’t play good that day.
Q. What have you seen out of Coach Monken’s fingerprint on this offense? What has been his biggest influence do you think?
KEARIS JACKSON: Coach Monken’s biggest influence, just being able to score points, take pressure off the defense and just being able to be explosive, be tough, be physical, and just — but the whole game starts up front. He preaches that, like protection beats coverage and protection beats being able to run the football, as well. That’s what he pretty much preaches every time.
Q. When did you know what kind of athletic teammate you had in Brock Bowers? When did it first dawn on you, hey, this dude is different? When did that become apparent to you?
KEARIS JACKSON: I’m not sure he had an earlier role or not, whether it was in the spring or fall camp, but whenever it was I pretty much knew he had the talent to be one of the top tight ends in the country. Just him, seeing how fast he was, going up and getting the ball, he’s very shifty with the ball in his hand, I pretty much knew that he was going to be dangerous, especially when he gets the rock in his hand. When I seen him the first time, I was like, yeah, he’s going to be one of the top tight ends in the country.
Q. John, tell me about this whole COVID situation. Were you able to go home and spend some time with family at Christmas time? Did it change any of that? Will you get to see your family at all this week?
JOHN FITZPATRICK: Yeah, I was able to go home and see my family. Not my extended family. We stayed in Atlanta. But I hung out with my four sisters, mom and dad and my brother-in-law, my little niece, and yeah, we had a great Christmas and everything.
Some of my family is coming down to Miami, I think, in the next day or so. I know Shannon, my brother-in-law Joey and my little niece Mary are staying home in Alpharetta. They’ll be watching on TV.
Q. What is this bowl experience like compared to the Sugars and I guess the Peach last year in terms of away from the practice field given what the COVID situation is now?
JOHN FITZPATRICK: Like the experience outside of practicing?
Q. Yeah, your time the other 21 hours of the day or whatever.
JOHN FITZPATRICK: Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time in the hotel. We have a little game room, watching film. I think the first day, first evening we went to dinner as a team on this boat and went around the Biscayne Bay I think it’s called. Other than that, just watching TV, watching film, just hanging out with teammates in the hotel.
Q. Obviously one of your roles on this team is being a spokesperson. Now that you’re here, I think a lot of us, a lot of the college football world, certainly fans, take it for granted that you’re here, the College Football Playoff. There’s only four teams. Everything is in front of you. As a spokesperson for the team, do you feel since the Alabama game a little bit doubted? I can only imagine you’re supremely motivated for a trophy that’s just two games away possibly.
JOHN FITZPATRICK: Yeah, you’re right. Maybe a little doubt, but we’ve only used that as motivation. We took the weeks following Alabama to get better, get better at things we can work on, and then we switched our focus towards Michigan. Yeah, we’re hungry. We’re excited, and we’re ready for Friday.
Q. We talked to Coach Smart all summer and he talked about the skull sessions that you guys had with one another and talked about your why. What is your why?
JOHN FITZPATRICK: For me my why is my family, my mom and dad. All my life they’ve given me opportunities to be successful. They’ve done everything for me, and I want to use my opportunity here at Georgia to give back to them in any way that I can. I want to make my mom and dad proud, make my four sisters proud, my brother-in-law and my little niece and my extended family. Yeah.
Q. Seems like the big fellas up front might need some help blocking Aidan Hutchinson. What have you seen from him and are you ready to get after it in a physical battle in the trenches?
JOHN FITZPATRICK: Yeah, 97 is a great player. I’m excited for the challenge against him. He’s physically strong. He sets the edge well. It’s going to be a challenge with Jamari and McClendon going against him.