Kirby Smart, Bulldogs discuss 2024 Spring Practice
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs discuss 2024 Spring Practice

Brett Thorson
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, Brett Thorson, Dan Jackson, and Dominic Lovett, met with the media on Tuesday following the third week of 2024 Spring Practice.

Georgia will practice a total of 15 times, which includes the annual G-Day Game on Saturday, April 13.

Below is a transcript from the press conference that was provided by UGA:

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the first scrimmage and what he is looking for in this Saturday’s scrimmage…

“The first scrimmage we had a really good energy level, intensity and intent to go prepare to scrimmage. It was not lethargic ho-hum. The players had good intentions and energy. Sometimes it’s a different start time for the scrimmage than our typical practice times of 2:30 or 3:30. I was worried about us starting fast and having good energy. We had that. We’ve got a lot to work on. We were very sloppy in terms of substitutions, getting guys on and off the field, communication, signals, just a lot of new people in the organization. Whether players are new, mid-years are new, portal guys are new, coaches are new. It was not as clean as most of our first scrimmages. Some guys did well, some guys didn’t do too well, lot of anxiety for mid-years. So, from scrimmage one to scrimmage two, starting really today, we’re moving towards how much can we improve from scrimmage one to scrimmage two. Usually, you see immense improvement in guys that just got here because they aren’t as nervous. It was their first practice in the stadium, so I’m hoping to see some of that growth this week and into Saturday.”

On the defensive line’s performance in the first scrimmage…

“I thought they did a really good job of having energy and enthusiasm. We affected the quarterback, had some disruptive sacks, did not probably play the run as well as I’d like to. As high as my expectation is in terms of making goals of 3.3 or less per carry. We’ve had much more dominant scrimmages from a defensive line than we had on Saturday.

We had some guys nicked up and banged up. I was pleased with the tenacity and the way both groups at the line of scrimmage approached it.”

On how NIL affects recruiting, specifically with quarterbacks…

“I don’t know that it’s changed. I mean we go about recruiting quarterbacks by evaluating quarterbacks. We watch them play in high school, we bring them over here and have them throw for us, we watch their games which is by far and away the most critical thing we can have. It would probably be a bigger picture of ‘why are we singling out quarterbacks because NIL is impacted the recruitment of every player?’ In terms of where does that rank on their scale? It’s one of the first questions. Is that number one priority, is it number two, three, four, five, six? Do you list it that we way because you actually feel that way or because it’s the right answer? It used to be every kid came in and said, ‘ the most important thing for me is my education.’ Well, I don’t know many universities that you can get a bad education at. They don’t hand out bad educations. So, is that truly what people were coming to school for 10, 15, 20 years ago? Is it truly what they are coming to school for now or NIL? The answer to your question is I don’t really understand why it’s specifically about quarterbacks. All recruitment of quarterbacks or any position hasn’t changed what we look at because of NIL. It might change what their motivating factor is, certainly, but not what we look for in terms of criteria. I want a self-starter; I want a guy that’s committed to the program and is selfless. I want all those same things. Size, speed, I want those same things. It’s more, be more selective over the kids you pick and choose from that the NIL is not the number one narrative.”

On what he has seen from Arian Smith this spring…

“Good and bad. I think we’ve made a conservative effort to spend more time on developing Arian. When he decided to come back, I said to him, ‘look, I want there to be a purpose with you coming back. Where are the areas of growth?’ We’ve done some things during special teams periods. He’s been a real dominant special teams player and he knows that. He loves that and he embraces that. That’s where he made his first name, being a dominant special teams player. We’ve taken some of those times that he’s invested four years in special teams work and we’ve allowed him to really grow as a wideout. I think it’s helped him do that. He’s had some plays; I think he’d be the first to tell you he wishes he had back. Intermediate routes and deep routes, and then he’s had some big plays too. I’m pleased with where Arian is. I hope he keeps getting better and keeps rolling in trying to be an explosive playmaker for us.”

On the defensive line and their performance…

“I do not know where this is coming from, maybe a narrative out there I don’t know about. I have no idea what you guys are reading or saying or seeing. I am not down on our run defense. We are not as good as we were that year (with Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt and other current NFL players), but we are better than we have been a lot of other years. There is a scale of that. I would not trade our group for any group in the country, in terms of defensive line groups. As a collective whole, we have got a group that can get the job done. They are going against one of the best three or four offensive lines to ever go against all season each and every day. Iron sharpens iron. We are getting better by who we go against. I don’t really of the comparison thing. I am not going to compare then to Devonte (Wyatt), Jordan (Davis) and Jalen (Carter), who were all here at different times. There were years with those three, and there were years that one of those three was here. It has varied every year. I am pleased with where we are. We have to get better. We have players on our defensive line who can get better. The worst feeling as a coach is when you don’t have players that you can get better. There are coaches all across the country right now on defensive line who don’t have one 300-pounder. We’ve got several. We just have to continue to get them better and execute at a higher level. It is not about them sometimes. It is about the guy behind them making sure he sticks his nose in the right place too.”

On Gunner Stockton’s performance in the first scrimmage…

“Gunner has done a good job. I have seen growth in Gunner. I think he had a couple mistakes in the scrimmage, but he also played with much more consistency. I have seen this progression with Gunner where he is getting better each and every practice. The bowl practices were great for him. The ability to play in that bowl game was awesome for him. He has gotten better. He is getting a feel for our system. He is a really good athlete. He has, every now and then, a mistake that you can’t have at that position. The good thing for him, you can ask him after the play, I always ask him, ‘What did you see? What was the coverage?’ He always gives the right answer. He is seeing the right things. He has to continue to develop and grow. That is a hard position to play. He is still trying to master that position.”

On Ryan Puglisi’s injury status…

“Ryan is dealing with a little bit of a knee injury. It is not a significant injury. He has had it before, since high school. It has been bothering him. He has been able to throw. He hasn’t been able to go out and be mobile and run. His knee has been bothering him. We are hopeful to get him back today. If not today, then probably Thursday. He has had to miss out on some reps because of that injury. He has been in everything, all the walk throughs and all the mental stuff.”

On what skill players made an impact in the first scrimmage…

“I kind of look at it like, what scrimmage have we had that a skill player didn’t make a play? What scrimmage did we have where a defensive player didn’t make a play? The issue is you guys may not know about it. You just hear about it. Then I guess a big deal is made. I don’t know. I don’t look at it that way. Arian (Smith) had an explosive play, but we also had a bust on defense. Was it Arian or was it the defense? Dillon Bell had a great catch, but Dillon Bell has bad great catches all over the place. I don’t get into like, ‘These guys just blew it out of the water. Oh gosh, these expectations are so great.’ I look at it as the defense sometimes messed up, and we also had some sacks. Did we have sacks because we had great pass rushers or because the back didn’t block the blitzer or we busted and slid the wrong way and cut a guy free? If a guy has a dominate performance, I would be more than happy to mention it like, ‘He dominated. He beat every rep.’ We didn’t have anybody do that. There is nobody that had a dominate performance. Guys got lucky and fell into plays. As coaches, we don’t look at those and look at those as progress. Sometimes that is taking advantage of what is given to you. We had a lot of those opportunities on Saturday because we had a lot of busts. There is nobody that I can say. Even (Roderick Robinson), I thought Rod had a lot of yards left out there than he had. We didn’t have one explosive run the entire scrimmage. If you don’t have explosive runs, you are either not blocking down field well, or you are not making people miss. That is kind of an M.O. for us. Last year, it was kind of the same way.”

On Dominic Lovett’s comfort level this Spring compared to last year…

“So far this spring, I would say Dom has had a very good spring. He’s so much more confident in the offense, I think Carson has so much more confidence in him, they’re on the same wavelength. There’s been days Dom has been really dominant out there. Now, you’ve got to say, is that because Tykee Smith and Javon Bullard aren’t out there covering him so he’s making more plays? Or is it that Dom’s more comfortable in the offense and he’s winning at a higher rate? He’s had a good spring. He’s got more confidence and he’s playing with confidence. I think Carson is really comfortable with him, so I’m pleased with where he’s at. His physical toughness continues to improve. This time last year, it was constantly us getting on him about what he was doing without the ball. He makes a conscious effort to be better at that now, and we need him to.”

On Carson Beck and the receivers’ chemistry…

“It’s a work in progress, it’s not where it needs to be. I would say that he’s comfortable with guys he’s thrown to the most and we’re trying to force the issue with the guys he hasn’t. Some of their reps come with the ones, some of the reps come with the twos. Right now, it’s not just getting them comfortable with Carson, it’s getting them comfortable with the offense. I put them where Rara and Dom were last year, and Rara and Dom this time last year were probably ahead of where those guys are in terms of growth and implementation into the offense. They’ve got to continue to grow and get better. As they do that, they’ll get more opportunities with Carson.”

On what he is seeing from the offensive line unit…

“I can’t put them up with the top units in the country because I haven’t seen the other ones. That’s not a fair comparison. I think I’ll leave that to the gurus that have all the talk shows and the media stuff. I can’t sit here and seriously argue that it’s a top three group in the country because I haven’t seen the others. We have a very experienced group, outside of the center, we have a lot of guys that have taken snaps. But I ask you – because you’ve taken snaps, does that make you better than other people? I certainly value experience, especially in our league, but you can go backwards, and you have to be careful with guys that are older, because if you’re not careful, they go backwards and the younger guy beats them out. There hasn’t been a year that we were here that a younger player that hasn’t surpassed an older player because they were hungrier, more driven and more motivated. I don’t see that happening with our offensive line, but I can’t rule it out. So, I love the fact that. They’re a tight-knit unit. They’re really physical, they enjoy practice, they celebrate together, they eat together. You hang your run game and the production of your quarterback on your offensive line, which we’ve been pretty consistent at.”

On Dillon Bell’s growth this spring…

“He’s continued to develop and continues to get better. He’s still a work in progress. He played high school running back. He played 25 percent running back last year. The kid has worked his tail off at receiver to get better, but there’s a lot of route running things he can get better at. The good thing is he’s got a quarterback the caliber of Carson to get him throws, get him 50/50 balls. I’m proud of the way he leads in practices. He’s taken on more of that Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Ladd McConkey role of being the guy that’s the workhorse in that group, that never complains, is really physical, practices hard and sets the standard for the others. I think him, Rara, Arian and Dom have taken ownership in that.”

On Damon Wilson and his progression from year one to two…

“Yeah, he’s getting better. Have I seen the jump that I want to have? He’s right where he needs to be and is supposed to be. He’s not ahead of schedule and he’s not behind. He’s growing at a rate that I’ve seen a lot of outside backers, whether it’s Nolan [Smith], Azeez [Ojulari], all these guys that have come through here, he’s gotten better each and every year. He’s improving his run strength ability, his ability to hold up against big tackles and stop the run, be violent and twitchy. He’s always been a really good rusher and he gives great effort, and I’m proud of those things. He’s got to become a more consistent first and second down player, which he’s doing, he’s a work in progress. He’s growing at that and he’s going to be able to help us this year.”

On the competition at offensive guard and tackle…

“I mean, the guard position, I don’t really look at as left guard right guard, we got a lot of guards competing in there. So, when you start at guard you start with Micah [Morris], Dylan [Fairchild], and Tate [Ratledge], those three guys are really interchangeable parts. Daniel Calhoun has done a nice job working in there, so has [Marques] Easley, so has Drew Bobo, Jared [Wilson] can play there. They’ve all done a good job competing right there. Right tackle, [Xavier] Truss, Monroe [Freeling], [Jamal] Meriweather, Bo [Hughley]is out so Bo hasn’t been able to go but a lot of guys, Micah [Morris] is thrown out there some and played, Dylan [Fairchild] has jumped out there and gone, so I mean we just look at as, ‘Let’s get our best five out there.’ The more guys we have above the line, playing winning football – we’ve typically had anywhere from eight to ten above that line – I hope we fall in that same area at the outcome of this spring as well.”

On what he has seen from Colbie Young….

“Colbie Young, he’s flashed. He’s seen some really really great spectacular plays, and then he’s disappeared at times. So, it’s a learning curve. He doesn’t have confidence and know the offense inside and out completely, so I don’t think you can judge. You judge a skillset on one on ones when he goes against DBs, you don’t really judge his skillset in a scrimmage right now because he’s trying to figure everything out. And it’s not from like a freshman standpoint, it’s from a familiarity standpoint. I’m pleased with where he is. And, he’s really a hard worker and where he’s shown up is on special teams. I mean, he’s shown a commitment to special teams that I didn’t expect to see, which shows me his toughness level and his buy-in.”

On Carson Beck’s freedom in the offense and how aggressive the team can be with him in his second year as a starter…

“Well, your offense can only be as aggressive as the players around him. It’s not all on the quarterback. And, when I say that about, ‘Let the cat go play,’ that really came more from Mike [Bobo] and the offensive staff in terms of allowing him to play and play to his strengths. His strengths are his ability to navigate the pocket, to make throws, to change plays and to put us in the right play. That’s his greatest strengths and to use to the weapons around him, so I think he’ll continue to do that. He’s done that thus far. He makes you right a lot. He’s very hard to trick and confuse and when you got a player like that, as long as he has weapons around him, he can distribute the ball. And our offense has a lot of ways, which you guys have seen in the past, we have a large volume of catchers – meaning it spreads out. We don’t necessarily have one guy with you know 150 (yards) but we have a bunch of guys with a lot of touches and the reason we can do that is the decision making that Carson has and the experience he has. So, I’m excited to see him go play. Keeping him healthy and protected is important, but also surrounding him with playmakers that can capitalize on his strengths will make us a better offense.”

#92 Brett Thorson || Jr. || P

On the podcast with Tate Ratledge …

“He’s himself, he’s a funny guy, it’s enjoyable, it makes the podcast fun. We kind of sit there and just talk, there’s a script of ideas we go over, but there is no set script that we have to talk about.. We just talk really and you forget the cameras are there.”

On the Ray Guy Award … 

“It’s not something I actively go out and look into. The season is five-six months away, definitely not thinking about that or individual accolades. I have to focus on spring ball. We have four more practices, a scrimmage, then G day. That’s my focus, and I know in May I get to go back to Australia and work more on my punting.”

#17 Dan Jackson || Sr. || DB

On the competition at safety and how spring practice has gone so far…

I think it’s been a great spring. Everybody has shown up to work every day and gotten after it. All age groups, everyone has been getting after it.

On coaching up the younger guys while also competing for playing time …

We’re not really worried about a depth chart right now. We’re all just trying to be the best that we can be as a group and work on communicating with each other. We’re all trying to learn right now, and that is what the spring is for.”

#6 Dominic Lovett || Sr. || WR

On how it feels going into his second spring here … 

“I would say I’m more comfortable. I have a full understanding of the playbook whether it’s schemes, runs, different types of blocks, and just situational football. Overall I would just say I’m more comfortable with the whole scheme.”

On any advice to the new receivers that just came in through the portal…

“Honestly those three guys are coming along great with the playbook. As far as a team runs and physicality goes, they’re really bought in. I would honestly just tell them to enjoy it. Actually enjoy it whether it’s the struggle or the good times or the bad times.”

Georgia is scheduled to open the 2024 season on Saturday, Aug. 31 against the Clemson Tigers in the Aflac Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. (Buy Tickets).

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