Kirby Smart comments following first Spring scrimmage of 2023
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Kirby Smart comments following first Spring scrimmage of 2023

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart met with the media on Saturday following the first scrimmage of 2023 spring practice.

Georgia will practice a total of 15 times this spring, which includes the annual G-Day Game on Saturday, April 15.

Below is a transcript of Kirby Smart’s comments  that was provided by UGA:

Opening Statement

“First scrimmage today. I think this is my eighth Spring here. It seems to be the same every time. We don’t tackle well. We’re a little lackadaisical. Probably more penalties than I am used to having on the first scrimmage. Administrative penalties, signals getting in, delay of game, communication, things that you shouldn’t have but we typically have in the first scrimmage. I was proud of guys for pushing through. We had rain this morning. The field was a little damp, but they competed. It’s hard to talk about individuals because I like to watch the tape. Over nine practices I’m pretty pleased with the effort. I keep thinking defensively we should be ahead of where we are. We are probably not where we need to be in terms of that. We played really physical up front on the offensive line. We got some guys dinged up that have been out, but we have some young guys that are coming along and picking things up. The good news in, those 21 freshmen, new guys, whatever you want to say, they are going to be a lot closer to being ready the next time we have a scrimmage No. 1 in the Fall. I’m excited about where they are going to be, but maybe not where they are.”

On his initial thoughts on the quarterbacks…

“It’s like everything. The ebb and flow. I can think of some really good things each one did, and I can think of some really poor things each one did. It’s not like one guy is sticking out. Carson (Beck) has really good command of the offense. He understands it inside and out. He communicates it. He gets things correct. He had a couple poor decisions and choices today, but he also made some plays, made some really food throws. He has a really good presence in the pocket, moves around. Brock (Vandagriff) made some plays. He made some plays getting out of the pocket. Made some good throws. He had a couple of downfield throws that I think he wished he had back to give us a chance in some 50/50 situations. Keep the ball in bounds with that. He did a really good job in two-minute. Gunner (Stockton) made some plays. The made some play with his feet. He’s still… the administration of the offense, getting everybody lined up, getting going, getting the call in, which is not all on him. He’s grown. He’s getting better. He made some nice throws. I’m going to keep repeating myself, but we have three pretty good quarterbacks and they’ve grown. Each one of them and they are all three different in their own ways.”

On the dynamics of the quarterbacks…

“I don’t think the dynamics have changed. Brock and Carson are both getting reps with the ones. Gunner got some reps with the twos, predominately the threes. Our threes are in a better state. There are times where they couldn’t function. This three group has some really good skill players in it. I’m not used to having this many wide receivers on our threes. We have some good guys to throw to. The offensive line with the threes has some experience and a couple walk-ons. It functions so you can evaluate Gunner better, where there is not always the chance to do that with the threes. I can’t sit and say that the dynamic has changed in any way, shape or form. I think we’ll evaluate this scrimmage and come back in Monday and be able to say what they did well or poorly with no coach on the field. It’s still a tough evaluation because there are probably 10 plays out there during the scrimmage where I have to say a guy got sacked. Did he get sacked, or did he not get sacked because we didn’t tackle him? You give the benefit of the doubt to the defensive player that is standing there unblocked but you actually have to get him to the ground. Until you tackle a guy live, which we are not going to do, it’s not going to be a true evaluation.”

On the speed at the receiver position…

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. You throw Arian (Smith) in there and you know he’s fast. He’s as fast as we’ve had. He’s been part of the recent receiver groups. C.J. Smith is really fast. He’s done a really good job. Growing up. Anthony Evans has been dealing with a little bit of an ankle sprain. He went early in practice but didn’t get to finish out. He didn’t reinjure it. He just has a nagging injury, but he is fast. It’s hard to say. I think it’s one of the largest sheer groups we’ve had in numbers. We’re able to put ones, twos, threes out there and I remember in past Springs we were just depleted at that position. I can’t answer whether this is the fasted or not.”

On Austin Blaske and the offensive line…

“He’s a competitor. I don’t know if there is anybody on the offensive line that practices as hard and as physical as he does day in and day out. He doubles as a center too. He goes in and plays center as well, so he’s really intelligent. He works really hard. He’s really good on our loose plays. He can cover down. He’s athletic. He does a good job. Earnest (Greene III) is doing a really phenomenal job as well. Earnest gives us something we didn’t have in the last couple of years. In the run game he is really physical. He moves people. Those two guys are battling it out there. We have to be able to flip too. They just can’t all be one side. Whether Amarius (Mims) id there or at left you have to have at least a couple of tackles that can flip. Go back and forth. They both have done a good job of doing that.”

On the outside linebacker room…

“Green. Extremely green. Never seen one as green. The issue is even the old players, Darris Smith, Marvin Jones Jr., and CJ Washington, none of them really have true playing experience. Marvin probably has the most and he’s out. CJ was injured all year, going through a shoulder surgery a lot of the year and kind of recovered from that so he’s out there getting reps. Then you’ve got the incoming freshman. So it’s very unique, but I like what we have. I wouldn’t trade the room for somebody else’s room because we’ve got some good players in there, they just got a long way to go. I go back to Nolan Smith’s freshman year and you watch all the clips and he wasn’t where he was year three. He’s not supposed to be. And they’re not. Jalen Walker last year played a lot in some pass rush situations so he’s been able to do that as well.”

On the running backs and the injury bug…

“I don’t think we lost anybody today. We had a couple guys that weren’t able to scrimmage today, but we didn’t lose anybody within the scrimmage. Daijun Edwards has been dealing with a hamstring, so he’s been in-and-out. He’s hitting some good miles per hour, I think Daijun’s really close. Maybe could have pushed over the edge today to go to give us some more depth at back but we didn’t do that with the hopes that two days off, Sunday, Monday, we’ll have him ready to go Tuesday. Obviously, Kendall Milton’s injury, he’s out but Branson Robinson did a good job. I think we ended up getting about 10 carries for Branson and about 10 carries for Roderick Robinson, which is a lot for us in a scrimmage. The guys that haven’t played in games in the fall, we try to get them 10-12 a scrimmage. The guys who have played a lot in games, we try to get them 4-5 a scrimmage. Those guys did a nice job. Sevaughn Clark did a good job, as you know Cash Jones has been working at that position, he does a really good job. We’ve got a couple guys, Joseph Daniels and Miles Thornton, who moved there from DB and receiver who’ve actually been a blessing for us. Two walk-ons, one was a wideout, one was a DB, who’ve done a really good job.”

On the tight end room without the likes of Darnell Washington…

“It’s not the same. We don’t have that same mass and movement. It doesn’t just affect the run game, it affects the play action pass game. Where Darnell Washington was elite was he could block you, he could go out on the perimeter and block you, he could get vertical on a play action, but when we match protect, he was like having an extra lineman. Oscar Delp’s doing that. Oscar’s really been a pleasant surprise blocking this spring. He’s come so far. You don’t know how Oscar got better versus who are the people he’s blocking. He’s not blocking Robert Beal Jr. and Nolan Smith, he’s blocking Gabe Harris, Sam M’Pemba, CJ Washington, and even Chaz Chambliss. Oscar’s done a good job when he’s gone against Tramel Walthour and Mykel Williams when he was out there. I like the competition at tight end, but we don’t have the depth, especially with Pearce Spurlin out, that we need.”

On Mykel Williams…

“Mykel had a foot injury that was bothering him all year. He did not get injured in spring practice, he had a continuation of a small injury that Ron Courson felt like if he couldn’t handle it with maintenance — meaning treatment and getting better and recovery — that we would have the possibility of taking him out. So we decided to do that. It’s going to allow him to be back running in June and working out. It was more of a choice that he and his family made at the advice of the doctors, but not a true injury. It’s just something that’s been nagging him and we wanted to clean it up for him and get him healthy.”

On Javon Bullard…

“Javon Bullard’s true position. He’s a really good blitzer, he’s a really good STAR. Natural, just good football player. He reminds me a lot of Chris Smith because Chris could play STAR, Chris could player safety, and Chris came in as a corner. When we recruited Javon out of high school, he was a deep part of the field player. He broke on balls, made lots of tackles. The things we saw on tape, we see now. He’s competing for the strong safety spot, he’s repping STAR. So we’re very pleased with where he is, but we’re trying to continue to get him better.”

On what he’s looking for out of the quarterbacks…

“Demeaner and communication. I can get the stats, but a true quarterback is a decision-maker. In our system, because some systems take all the pressure of the quarterback and they just go really fast, we don’t do that. We’re a quarterback driven offense. So, can you process the information? That means you to signal. You get people lined up, then see what the defense is in and figure out, are we in the right situation? Which of these three choices Coach Bobo’s given me am I going to utilize on this play? And then the play happens, and there might be a mistake or a breakdown, and you do not go full metal jacket and have catastrophe mode and put us in a bad situation. Decision-making is the number one thing I want to see at the quarterback position. Can you make consecutive, good decisions over and over that don’t cost our team games? Because we have enough play makers, and we have enough plays that you will make a play inevitably. Don’t make a bonehead play. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

On transfers and their early impact…

“Rara had a little bit of bone bruise on his knee, so he missed one or two days. Came back Thursday, had a good practice Thursday, he was catching his wind, and then he had a pretty good scrimmage today. The biggest thing with Rara is he’s showing us that he can make plays downfield, which we really need. He catches the ball well, but he has to learn the system. For him, it’s little administrative things, what’s my split? What’s the call? Where do I get the signal? Where do I line up? He wasn’t in a system where he had to do all those things so there’s a bit of a learning curve there, but he’s a guy with a great amount of ability who has to be more dependable. Dom (Lovett) has picked things up nicely, he’s very intelligent, and he’s been able to make some plays down the field. He gets to match up against Tykee, Bullard, and Joenel a lot, and he’s made some plays on those guys. I’m very happy with what he’s been able to pick up. Smoke Bouie is another guy that has to learn the defense, he’s got a long way to go but he’s picking it up, he’s not afraid to go out there and compete.”

On Branson Robinson…

“He’s working, he got his share of carries today. I thought he looked quick and powerful; he broke some tackles like you would expect. He could’ve easily played more last year but we had guys that were capable and in front of him, the biggest learning curve is pass protection. The biggest jump they have to make from year one to year two is, can we count on you in pass protection, and can you protect the ball if we’re giving you the ball as a back. He’s shown that he has the intelligence and toughness to do that.”

On what kind of player an NFL team is getting in Nolan Smith…

“He’s going to make an organization better, and he’s going to make the community better. First, he’s a very bright individual with a huge personality, he’s a hard worker, coachable, but that’s why they draft those guys in the first round, those teams look at the board and ask, ‘Where are the pitfalls?’. With Nolan Smith, you’re not going to get many because his character stands out, he has a great momma and grandma at home that raised a bright young man. He’s fun to be around, he texts me all the time and I miss him because you’d walk into the team meeting room and he’s sitting right in the front smiling, being loud as hell, always talking, and they’re going to get a great personality that would represent an organization in the right way.”

On the cornerback competition…

“I would say that Kamari has played well, he’s ahead, but not where he needs to be. I want him to continue to grow and get better, but the steps he’s taken have been with leadership, toughness, and showing people how to practice. It’s really an open competition, those guys are rolling through there, Daylen, Nyland, Julian, AJ Harris, so we’re trying to figure out who’s going to play the best, who’s going to matchup with guys. A lot of it is not just who can make plays, but who isn’t going to give up explosive plays. Our defense is going to allow us to stop the run and do a lot of things, but who’s not going to give up plays on the perimeter. It’s similar to the three quarterbacks, all three have flashed, but who’s going to be the best after the next 26 practices we have, and I don’t know if we’re ready to say that yet. They’ve all had moments of success and they’ve all had moments of failure. Even today, a couple of those guys had picks and big plays, but they also gave up some plays.”

On Jamon Dumas Johnson and Smael Mondon…

“Him and Smael started out the spring in a curious position, whereas last spring they had a chip on their shoulder and nobody knew who they were, everyone is questioning them, so they were out there hungry, eating off the floor. They both had good seasons, but I had to call them in at one point because I didn’t think that they were practicing with the same ferocity that they would’ve been practicing with last year. I showed them some clips and said ‘Here’s you last spring and this is the way you were practicing when you had something to prove, and here’s the first four practices of this spring. Is that the same two guys?’. I think they both acknowledged that it probably wasn’t, and it needed to be, and that’s the disease that’s out there. Since that conversation, they’ve both really picked it up and been great leaders. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong, it’s just that they weren’t doing it right enough.”

On replacing the pass production out of the backfield…

“It’s almost impossible with the situation that we have with Kendall and Daijun out, we’re not going to replace Kenny’s receptions with just the backs we have, and Andrew Paul is out too. So, you’re sitting there telling yourself ‘Andrew is almost back but he’s not, Daijun is almost back but he’s not, Kendall’s out’, it’s been tough but that’s why we got a wideout that’s 200 pounds, and a DB that’s 200 pounds that’s moved to tailback. Those two guys Daniels and Thornton have done great. They’re part of the culture at Georgia where you go out and get really good high school players from the state of Georgia, and they can play any position. They have helped with the receiving skills that we lost. Branson is working on it and so is Roderick.”

The Georgia Bulldogs kick off the 2023 season on Saturday, Sept. 2 at home at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., against the UT Martin Skyhawks.

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