Friday, August 31, 2018

Athletics Board Convenes for Fall Meeting

UGA Sports Communications

The University of Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors held its Fall meeting Friday on the UGA campus to discuss both financial and athletic matters.

In a wide-ranging Athletic Director's report, J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity first reflected on the newfound enthusiasm within the overall athletics program. The success of Dawg teams in 2018 — leading to an 8th-place finish in the Learfield Director’s Cup — has helped to make UGA the preferred destination for more and more prospective student-athletes. Along with Georgia’s popularity will come UGA’s continued responsibility to educate and train these young student-athletes, McGarity said.

McGarity also touched on the following additional topics in his report:

> Reflections on the West End Zone dedication that took place Friday. Completion of the $63 million project was the culmination of a joint venture that involved many and varied entities. Most prominent among those mentioned included head coach Kirby Smart and the football staff; the UGA Office of University Architects for Facilities Planning; Deputy Athletic Director Josh Brooks and his Operations staff; and the contractors that contributed work to the project.

> Acknowledgement of the many facility enhancements that have touched nearly every athletic program at UGA in the past decade. Over $167 million in improvements to UGA’s athletic facilities have taken place during this time period, funded by a combination of donations and UGA reserves.

> Recognition of UGAAA’s nutrition program, its growth since the addition of a single staffer in 2011, and the total investment (over $3.6 million annually) in the food and nutritional supplying of Georgia’s student-athletes.

> The improvements in UGA’s fundraising and donor relations, resulting in a record-setting fiscal year 2018, in which over $80 million was raised. McGarity also announced the promotion of Matt Borman, who has directed UGA’s athletic fundraising since December of 2016, to Deputy Director of Athletics.

McGarity then requested approval to allocate $3.1 million of operating reserves to begin construction on a new Equestrian Clubhouse at the team’s complex in Bishop, Georgia, 10 miles south of Athens. The 7,000-square foot facility will provide fully equipped locker room and dressing facilities, a 70-seat team meeting room, sports medicine space, uniform storage and laundry facilities as well as coaches’ space, including an office suite and locker room.

The Equestrian Clubhouse must clear authorization from the USG Board of Regents at its October 2018 meeting – after first serving as an informational item in its September meeting – before construction can begin in December. The projected date of completion for this project is January of 2020.

McGarity also reported that an architect has been chosen to begin designs on another facility project: renovation of the grandstand at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Other highlights of the meeting included:

> Faculty Athletics Representative David Shipley gave a glowing academic report. The most prominent information he shared was the 3.1 overall grade point recorded by all UGA student-athletes in the 2017-18 academic year. That figure matches the all-time highest GPA for a single year, equaling the 3.1 mark of the 2016-17 year.

> Executive Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Will Lawler conducted an educational session for board members approximately 20 minutes in length. Among the topics Lawler covered was the NCAA’s expectations for institutional control.

> Reports from all three student representatives on the Board: Roya Naghepour, a senior from Roswell, Ga.; Kayla Smith, a junior pole vaulter from Indianapolis, Ind.; and Connor O’Neill, a senior men’s basketball player, also from Roswell.

Monday's Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, met with media members on Monday to preview the upcoming game against Austin Peay. The Dawgs’ season-opener is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium tomorrow on ESPN.

On Monday, Smart and the Dawgs offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments …

“Excited to get moving forward on Austin Peay. I have a lot of respect for Coach Will Healy and the job he's done. I've followed his career. He's done a tremendous job everywhere he's been, especially offensively; and they've got a great unit coming back. In our estimation they've got eight to nine starters coming back on offense, depending on how you count a couple of wideouts, and eight guys coming back on defense, with two all-conference players that we think are really good players.

So, we are excited for the opportunity to open with these guys. He's got a lot energy, you can tell. His players are very enthusiastic. He's done a really good job recruiting, coming into the state of Georgia. I know the high schools I've been in, I've seen them in the local high schools more and more, and it's kind of evidenced by the way their players have played.

I know our players are chomping at the bit to get the chance to go play somebody other than ourselves. They have practiced long and hard, and they're excited about the opportunity to go get ready for somebody else. We've been working on these guys for probably the last two practices. We'll continue in that mode as we move forward today.

But I know our guys are excited, and they've worked extremely hard in camp in a lot of areas. Now, this camp was different than probably the two previous because we've been shorted practice days a little bit just by NCAA standards. You don't get as many practices in fall camp as you used to get. So sometimes as a coach you feel like you're a little bit behind because you haven't got to hit everything. So we're still introducing a lot of things as we lead into this first game week.

We're excited about where we are. Looking forward to seeing these guys play. I'll open it up for questions.”

On the desire to coach when he was younger …

“You know, I never looked at it that way. I just looked at it as kind of be where your feet are, and it takes care of the rest. I've always been one of the approach that if you do really well where you are and you recruit well and you coach hard and your team is fortunate to win games, you'll get a lot of opportunities. And I've coached at some really good places when you think about it. I mean I learned a long time ago when you take a job, you need to have proximity to players and you need to be able to have better players, because the coaching part can be overrated. I never looked as it as when I was going to get my first opportunity to be a head coach. I just looked at it as being kind of present where my feet are. But he's done a tremendous job. I think he's shown a lot of leadership at a young age to go out and do what he's done. He's turned a program around that was consistently at the bottom to now, they're winning games. They did a hell of a job last year, lost to one SCS team, Jacksonville State, who has got a tremendous program, and that's in their conference, and they lost to those guys within conference and that was it.”

On who will start at quarterback and if he has a plan for any sort of QB rotation…

“We're not announcing a starting lineup for all the positions. Jake's been going with ones the whole time. I think Jake would tell you the same thing and Justin would tell you the same thing. They both want to do what's best for the team. They both want to give us a chance to win football games. They have prepared really hard; both of them have. I think the game will dictate how we get to play those guys I don't know how that is going to come out, but there's no like plan, this is what's going to happen, this is when he's going to play. We're not into that. We're going to kind of see how the game goes. Both of these kids have practiced their tail off and both of them have done a good job in fall camp.”

On Jake Fromm’s season a year ago and if the coaching staff wanted to reevaluate anything this fall …

“I think it's just kind of the mantra we go by here, that every practice is really competitive, and every job opportunity is competitive. I mean Andrew Thomas could have every right to left tackle there is, but if he doesn't play as well as the next guy, then he's not going to be the starter. Deandre Baker through this camp he's actually practiced better this year than he did last year, but there were points in this camp where if he didn't play better than Eric Stokes, then he wasn't going to be the starter. So as far as that goes, for us it's always that way. Guys compete; guys go out and play. It was the same way last year with Jake and Jacob. He was out there competing.

As far as what was extraordinary about Jake Fromm last year, I think he did a really good job of handling a burden from the Notre Dame game on that he wasn't expecting. It wasn't like he went into the season expecting to be the guy. Yet it turned on him really quick. And if it weren't for some really fast ball snaps and some plays where we went no huddle that he made some plays in that first game, he was able to gain confidence. Second game Notre Dame, probably struggled a little bit. You know, it was first start, on the road, at Notre Dame. You can imagine. I think what he did really well last year was handle our team. I mean here you got two backs that are elite backs. You've got a team that's surrounded with a pretty experienced defense. He did what we asked him to do, and I think that's important, and the quarterback position is making decisions, and that's what quarterbacks are usually judged on is how methodical, how many good decisions can you make versus bad decisions that hurt your team and you're trying to -- you talk about it all the time, they're trying to make completions. A good short completion is better than a long, deep, out-of-bounds one, and we drive that home with the wide receivers and the quarterbacks to stay ahead of the chains. I think both these quarterbacks have done a good job of managing that situation.”

On the passing game and if Georgia will pass more this season than in years past …

“I don't know that you would assume we're going to throw the ball more. I don't know if you all realized, but the last scrimmage was really -- that's kind of where we were. We needed to defend the pass on defense, and we needed to pass the ball on offense. That had nothing to do with our offensive system. Our offensive system is built around getting the ball to the best play makers. I think any good offensive coach will tell you what is your objective; No. 1, score points. How do you score points? Get the ball to the play makers. If you're play makers are backs, if your play makers are tight ends, you're trying to get touches to certain players, and sometimes defenses can dictate who you can get those touches to. 

The defense will dictate a lot on what we do. We're not going in this game saying we're throwing it a lot more. We're not going in this game saying we're running it a lot more. I think that would be a crazy assumption either way. I think the key for us is can we be balanced, can we get our best play makers, can we get those guys the most number of touches so that we can be successful. That's what we're focused on.”

On avoiding complacency this week …
“We don't get into teaching tools from other games. I think sometimes you do that as a coach, you get into negativity. What we try to emphasize is the truth. And we have a lot of respect for this team like we did App State last year. I compare this team in a lot of ways to App State in that they're coming off a very strong winning streak from last year. And we show our guys the tape. They've got three or four transfers that are from major college programs. They've got good football players. We tell our guys all the time we play to a standard. It doesn't matter whether we're playing Florida, Austin Peay, South Carolina; we play to a standard, and our standard is to go out and dominate the opponent, physically, mentally, wear them down. And that's what we try to do, and that way if you have that message, you're not changing the message every week. The message is very consistent, that when we go out to practice, we're trying to be the best team in the country so that when we get in the game we can dominate people physically and not really worry about the scoreboard or who we're playing.”

On getting injured players back before Saturday’s game…

“Yeah, specifically, I don't know who all you're asking about, so if you ask, I'll answer, but Terry Godwin is still questionable. We don't know if Terry is going to be back. Hope to get Terry back, but don't know that.

Jayson Stanley and Kearis Jackson we think both are going to be able to go a little bit today, a little more than they have been, but to say they're back for the game, I don't know that yet. Kearis is dealing with a hamstring that he's had a couple of days to recover from. We think he'll be able to do a little bit today, don't know if he'll play in the game. And then Jayson has been dealing with a quad, and we think Jayson is going to be able to play, but we don't know that for certain.

Tyrique McGhee is running now. He's doing underwater running. He's doing some of non-weight-bearing running stuff, but we're hopeful to get him back for South Carolina, but we don't know. He won't be able to play this game.”

On the impression of newcomers, specifically Jay Hayes and Tyson Campbell…

Jay Hayes has provided us much-needed depth. I think Jay gives us a lot of quickness on the front. He's a guy that does movements well, plays good at the point of attach. He's been an asset from an energy and effort standpoint. I compare him to Jonathan Ledbetter where he chases the ball, he runs the ball. He plays really hard. He's adjusted to our system very easily. I think having been an older player, he just learns easier, and he's going to provide us a lot of depth. He's going to be able to play a lot of snaps.

And the other you asked was Tyson Campbell. Tyson has come in and picked things up probably more naturally for a defensive back than what I've been used to. The corner position is probably the easiest to play when you look at our defense, because a lot of times they're man to man outside, but there are some checks involved, and he's handled that well. He's a very mature kid. He's practiced hard. If he can stay away from the injury bug, he's certainly going to play a lot for us.

On Demetris Robertson being ready for game action now and down the road this season…

“He’s definitely ready for game action. I don't know that he's in the shape that he would tell you he needs to be in, but we're not talking about the guy playing 70, 80 snaps either. Where he's been a blessing for us is he's been extremely competitive in the special teams department, which I didn't know if he had played a lot of special teams during his career. I know he played a little bit of defense in high school. But he plays with toughness. He's helped us on punt. He's helped us on punt return. He's helped us on kickoff return, and then he's also been a quality wide-out for us. With these knickknack injuries we've had with the wide receivers, he's a guy that's pushed through and done a really good job for us.

I feel like over the last two weeks he's gotten his legs back under him. So you see some of the juice that he had from the beginning, but he's probably still not where he needs to be as far as from an off-season conditioning standpoint.”

On what he hopes the team learns in Saturday’s game…

“Well, No. 1 thing is they have a lot of elements of the option. Their quarterback does a great job. Both quarterbacks do a great job running the ball. And they have perimeter runs. They have inside runs. They have arch schemes, they have deer schemes; they have power schemes, gap schemes. They have a kind of a plethora of offensive sets in motions, and they do a very good job offensively of trying to keep you off balance.

I think we have a good physical front. I'm not saying they're going to come in and dominate and be able to run the ball every down on us, but I think what they can do is get explosive plays, because they affect you on the perimeter. If you don't play the option right, which is not something that we practice against every day, it can become a problem for you. So we've worked really hard at understanding some scheme blocking stuff we may get play actions off of it, you have to have really good eye discipline. That's why they score so many points because teams get in trouble and don't look at the right thing, and when you're dealing with a young secondary, sometimes that can happen to you.”

On the transitions at inside linebacker…

Monty Rice has done a good job this camp. Monty is a wee bit younger than those guys you mentioned when you throw Juwan Taylor in there with Natrez Patrick and Tae Crowder. But Monty is a high-effort guy. Every time we scrimmage or play games or spring game, he seems to put up good numbers. He has to do it more consistently in practice, and he has to play with a lot better body position in practice, but Monty is as hard of worker as there is on this team. I've been so pleased with the effort he gives, and he cares about the team a lot.

When you talk about Natrez and Tae, both of those guys rotate, so whether they're in there together or whether they're in there with Monty or Juwan, really of those four guys, they've kind of all been sharing time. Conditioning is important to them. Those guys alternate. They have a lot of similar qualities among the four of them. None of them really stand out as a different kind of linebacker. So we're able to play those four guys.

They have a good understanding of the defense when you talk about those four players. What they don't have a lot of is experience. Monty and Juwan got a little bit last year. Natrez has a little bit of the history, but he didn't get to play towards the end of last year, so of those four guys it'll continue to be by committee at the linebacker position.”

On Justin Fields’ decision-making developing from spring camp to now…

“You think about when you start out in college and you really should be a senior in high school, and you walk into a system that you've never heard or done and you go through spring practice. I was very pleased when he went through spring practice what he was able to pick up and command. He did a great job this summer of coming in, studying, understanding things, knowing where protections are, knowing where he's got to read certain things at second level. He does a really good job with the academic element of the quarterback position. That usually transcends into good decision making, because if you know where you're supposed to go with the ball and you know when the first option is not there and you can get to the second and third, you're starting to pick things up.

He's done a good job in this camp of being able to move on and make the decisions you gotta make at quarterback to make winning decisions. That's why we're very confident in Justin and what he's been able to do. I'm very pleased with where he's at. Now, he has to continue to improve. So does Jake. They've both got to get better because for us to go where we want to go we may have to put more burden on those two guys. But right now they're making good decisions; they understand the offense, and for the first time they have a limited game plan where it's not the whole play book which we did in camp."

On the line competition in camp, particularly the offensive line…

“The offensive line competition has probably been the most heated, maybe other than receiver, that we've had. And I think a lot of that has to do with the recruiting and having good quality players. We actually probably have less depth. When you look at our scout team O-line, last year we had like five scholarship guys on scout team O-line. This year that's not really the case because we have fewer linemen in general and fewer walk-on linemen. So we have a little bit of a depth issue when it comes to our scout team look, but when it comes to our first and second teams, we've got a lot of interchangeable parts. Not only that, a lot of them have experience because even the freshmen, both of them were here in the spring. So when you see Cade Mays and you see Trey Hill and those guys, even Warren Ericson, they're out there in the spring, so you feel like these aren't first-year players. They're out there able to compete.

So I've been very pleased with the competition at that position. There are some holes and some things we've got to figure out with the offensive line – what parts are going to start where and how many snaps are they going to play. A lot of the offensive line has to do with if you lose one guy, you don't want four people moving, and we're trying to figure out where the moving parts go with that offensive line. As far as the defensive line, we don't have the depth we need. We're in constant search and need of defensive linemen. I don't know that we've gotten bigger at that position. Certainly you want big, but in this day and age, you’ve got to be able to run sideline to sideline, too."

On Lamont Gaillard’s development…

"I think that's for somebody else to judge from a standpoint of where he is rated and those kind of things, but Lamont Gaillard is a really good leader for us. He has gotten better since we got here, but that's probably to be expected because before we got here it's my understanding he was a defensive line, then he switched. It's probably a good move for him, because when we do sprints and we do shuttle drills, and we do change-of-direction drills, you watch Lamont, and he's beating the defensive linemen. Offensive linemen don't always beat the defensive linemen, but Lamont does.

He has great toughness. He's able to push through pain and injury. He's very bright. And I'll tell you what he is, he's really competitive. When we mess something up, if we don't do something right on the offensive line, he gets upset. It bothers him. And he wants to command the other offensive linemen to get it right. And when he demands that, we usually have pretty good success. So I've been very pleased with what he's shown in his improvement and getting better. But as far as where he stacks up, I haven't seen enough centers in the country to know where he stacks up."

On comparing leadership from former Dawg left tackle and current New England Patriot Isaiah Wynn to Gaillard…

"I think Isaiah was the quiet leader last year because he didn't do it vocally. He did it by how he practiced and his toughness, and he didn't have to say anything. It was more like Nick. Where this year, Lamont commands respect, but so does Andrew Thomas. And Andrew does it quietly as well. He plays really hard. He plays physical. He does a lot of good things for that offensive line. He gives you really a very mature, rock-solid sophomore at that position. And then Ben [Cleveland] has spoken more lately. So I think Lamont has probably a little more help than Isaiah had when it comes to that because he's got some guys that have a lot of playing experience. Last year we didn't have a lot of guys with a ton of playing experience."

On running onto the field from the west end zone this year for the first time…
"I think it'll be different. It's more second nature to us because we've practiced there more now and we've had a couple practice sessions where we came out from that end. So it's more familiar for us than it will be for the fanbase. It will definitely be unique. It'll be the first time I know of that it's happened that way, but I think we'll get used to it pretty quick, though."

On Jake Fromm’s availability to the media on Monday…

"The things we do in this meeting room with the team and from a team standpoint, Jake stood in front of the team and talked. Jake does a great job if we ever ask him to break down the team afterwards, stand up in front of the room and talk to them, he commands a lot of respect. He's one of our best leaders. I think for Jake's sake the most important thing he could do for this camp and even spring practice was be a better player and grow and get better. And he's done that. He's done everything we've asked him to do. Been very pleased with that. And the fact he's up today I think tells you a lot about his leadership qualities and who he is, and he's managed that really well. I'm very pleased with what he's done for our team from a stand-in-front-of-the-group, command the respect, grow us a player, picking the right plays to put in. He's done a really good job of that. And we want that for every player on our team. We want every guy on our team to lead by example and do things the right way. And Jake's done that since he's been here."

Follow up question…

"I didn't want him to have to deal with questions regarding the other quarterback, just like I didn't want Justin to have to deal with them asking about Jake. But both of those kids have visited frequently with us as coaches, and we've let both of them know where they are and communicated really well with them, and I think Jake's handled that well. And I know he'll handle today well because I know Jake Fromm well. He's a very good young man."

Jake Fromm, Soph., QB

On going through the system as a sophomore…

“It has been a lot more understanding. You know what is going on more. You understand the offseason process. Last year, it is just kind of a like a daily basis that you just show up and you get told to do this, that, or the other and you just say okay. Now you have a general feel of what’s going to happen and the workouts and what not. It has been a lot better, and I have a better idea of what’s going on. You then can prepare for things better. I love to prepare so I didn’t don’t want to show up to anything unprepared.”

On freshman quarterback Justin Fields…

“He’s a great player, and a great person too. We’ve had a lot of fun in the quarterback meeting room, and it is definitely fun to go out there and compete with him. He is a great competitor, and can make great plays and throws. He puts you on the edge so you always want to one-up him and make a better throw.”

On individual goals and skills he wanted to work on in the offseason…

“I wanted to stay consistent and be a better leader. For me, I wanted to get better in the pocket and be more accurate. So I had a couple things, but you always want to go into camp with a few things you want to work on.”

On newcomers James Cook and Demetris Robertson…

“They are really exciting. They are really explosive football players. When they get the rock in their hands, they can make it six points real quick. James Cook and D-Rob are great people and are awesome contributions to the team.”

On the offensive line group and ability to see over them…

We definitely have some really big guys up there that are keeping me safe. As far as seeing over there, there is really no difference whether they are 6’2’’ or 6’7’’ like they are. There really is no big difference, you just find a way. It is exciting to see the interchanging parts up there. All the guys get after it and all of them are big and strong. They can run block and pass block and definitely get after it. Coach Sam Pittman has it figured out.”

Lamont Gaillard, Sr., Center

On enjoying the leadership role…

“Of course, I enjoy the leadership role; it’s just me stepping up and it helps my game and helps others’ game and knowing I’m the oldest one and the oldest guy on the line, it helps get them prepared and I can vouch for that, I can help them anytime.”

On the competition on the offensive line…
“There’s a lot of competition at every spot on the line. Everyone’s come and bought into the system, everyone is willing to compete, everyone is willing to buy in and want to play. That’s good for young guys who want to come in and help out and help the competition.”

On opening against an FCS team compared to a more familiar opponent…

“It’s nothing different for us. We focus on ourselves even when we play a North Carolina, App State, Austin Peay, it doesn’t matter who we play, we just focus on us because we’re playing ourselves at the end of the day.”

On seeing Jake Fromm improve from last season…

“He’s definitely stepping up more as a leader and more at quarterback in his position because he’s got competition. He’s buying into it, but of course Jake’s going to be Jake and that’s all we need.”

Juwan Taylor, Sr., Inside Linebacker

On how his role on the team changes from last year to this year…

“I think my role has changed in terms of becoming more of a leader this year. I have been trying to be more vocal. In terms of my game, I try to make an impact by the way that I play by playing hard, fast and relentless.”

On Monty Rice as a player and how all the ILB players fit together…

“Monty is a great player. He is fast, very athletic and an extremely tough guy. As an overall player, he is really good.”

On the skill sets of the four ILB’s and how they compliment each other…

“When you rotate a lot in a position, it is all about chemistry. I feel like all of us in the linebacker room have that chemistry to play together and play off of each other.”

On elements of the position battle being different in a game setting versus in practice…

“For me, there is no difference. You practice how you play. That is what we believe here at Georgia and that is what I believe. We love our fans, but for me, I try not to focus on the outside stress. I try to just focus on what I can do to make the team better and trying to play my best game.”

Julian Rochester, Jr., Defensive Lineman

On how he has personally gotten better during fall camp…

“I tried to get in a good of shape as I could, try to maintain this 295-300 weight and the best physical at a point.”

On the expectation of Jay Hayes in the first game…
“Jay is a phenomenal pass rusher, I like him in the pass rush. He plays with great effort and he loves to run to the ball so that’s going to bring a different vibe to the [defensive] line; everyone will be moving fast.”

On the overall atmosphere and spirit of the defense during fall camp…

D’Andre Walker and Juwan Taylor have really taken leadership roles and try to just bring it every day in practice because we always preach we ‘practice how we play.’ Those guys really hitting very physical in practice and trying to fill in those gaps we’re missing from last year and they’ve done a really successful job of it this fall camp.”

Georgia and Clemson to Renew Rivalry in 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

UGA Sports Communications

Georgia and Clemson will renew one of college football’s biggest rivalries in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game to open the 2024 season. The game will be played Aug. 31, 2024 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

An exact kick time and television network will be finalized at a later date.

The 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will mark the 65th time Georgia and Clemson have faced each other, but will be the first meeting between the two programs in 10 years. In the previous matchup, the Dawgs defeated the Tigers 45-21 to open the 2014 season in Athens. Georgia holds a 42-18-4 advantage over Clemson all-time.

“We’re thrilled to be able to renew a storied rivalry between two historic programs that are within such a close proximity to Atlanta,” said Bob Somers, Peach Bowl, Inc. chairman. “Both Georgia and Clemson are two of the most well-represented fan bases in our city, so we’re expecting an electric atmosphere for this one.”

“This will be a phenomenal matchup between two of last season’s College Football Playoff teams,” Peach Bowl, Inc. CEO and President Gary Stokan said. “Both Dabo and Kirby have done a superb job of elevating the Clemson and Georgia football programs and we fully expect this to be another top-ten matchup when the two teams face off in 2024 in the capital of college football.”

Clemson will be making its third appearance in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The Tigers fell 34-10 to Alabama in the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2008, but later defeated Auburn 26-19 in the 2012 game.

“I've said many times that I think the Clemson-Georgia rivalry is one of the best rivalries in college football," Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said. "It's one I watched way before I even came to Clemson. I think it's great for both fan bases. It will be one of those games that everybody will enjoy. Obviously it's a tough opener for both teams, but it's fun to be a part of games like that."

“To play a great opponent like the University of Georgia in a first-class venue like Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be an outstanding experience for our football team and fans,” Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich said. “The resumption of our storied rivalry with Georgia has been a high priority for us and will continue to be a high priority moving forward.”

The 2024 Clemson-Georgia matchup will mark Georgia’s fifth appearance in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Georgia previously fell 35-21 to Boise State in 2011 and defeated North Carolina 33-24 in the 2016 contest. The Bulldogs are also scheduled open the 2020 season in Atlanta against Virginia, and then again in 2022 when they face off against Oregon.

It will represent the SEC’s 21st appearance in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, with the conference currently boasting an 11-2 record in the game, including a 9-1 mark over ACC teams.

“Many of the players on both teams know each other and the proximity of the two schools makes it especially competitive,” said UGA head football coach Kirby Smart. “This is another great opportunity for our team and our fans to play an outstanding team in an extraordinary city and venue. We are appreciative of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game staff for their hard work in putting the game together.”

“It is great to be able to renew our rivalry with Clemson in Mercedes Benz Stadium in 2024,” said UGA J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity. “We know our fans will enjoy another outstanding experience in Atlanta, and will look forward to a great game.”

The teams will battle for The Old Leather Helmet Trophy, one of college football’s newest rivalry-style icons. Traditionally, winners of The Old Leather Helmet don the helmet on the field after the game, starting with the head coach and then rotating from player to player as the team celebrates its victory.

The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game averages more than 68,887 fans for each game – higher than 36 bowl games from last year – and an additional 67 million television viewers since 2008. Total team payouts average $5.2 million – higher than 26 bowl games last season – with more than $67 million in payouts over its history.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

The Georgia football team practiced for two and a half hours in Sanford Stadium with its season opener arriving in two weeks.

This marked the second scrimmage of the fall camp and the 14th practice overall, including the sixth in six days. The Dawgs are off Sunday and will return to work on Monday.

“The guys have never gone this many practices in a row this camp because even when we started, we had a day off in between. Their last day off was last Sunday so they are tired,” said head coach Kirby Smart. “Our GPS monitors indicated that since there weren’t a lot of guys flying around. But I did like their grit, the fight. We did not play exceptionally well in some spots but I like the fight and the demeanor all the way through.”

The Dawgs are replacing seven starters on defense and one of those players gunning for one of those spots is sophomore Malik Herring, who has been rotating between the defensive line and the linebacker spot. Herring played in all 15 games and finished with seven tackles in 2017.

“Malik is cross training because we don’t know if we have enough mass,” Smart said. “Robert Beal has been out at outside linebacker so Malik gives us mass and he’s a good athlete. Malik has become a little better swingman than maybe Jonathan Ledbetter because Ledbetter has a little more anchor and can hold up inside better than Malik. Malik is a bright guy.”

Another underclassman vying for playing time on defense is redshirt freshman defensive back Eric Stokes. Stokes is battling to be the other starter at corner other than senior Deandre Baker.

“Stokes has gotten a lot better since last year,” said Smart. “I tell you what is unique about him. Everyone knows his speed and he was not very highly recruited. He’s a great case of someone we had in camp who was raw, fast but raw. I wasn’t sure if this kid was going to be able to develop. But Coach Tucker has done a helluva job developing him and to his own credit, he listens in the meetings, he takes notes in the meetings and he learns in the meetings. Eric carries over what he learns there onto the field and not all of our corners have done that.”

Smart also addressed that true freshman tailback Zamir White sustained a left knee injury during the scrimmage.

“Zamir was on punt coverage and it was a non-contact injury,” said Smart. “We don’t know anything yet and he is getting an MRI done.”

NOTE: MRI report indicated a torn ACL that will require surgery to repair, White will miss the remainder of the 2018 season.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Practice Report

UGA Sports Communications

Slightly cooler temperatures marshaled in the 12th University of Georgia preseason football practice, a two-hour event in full pads and helmets on the Woodruff Practice Fields.

The final minutes of work took place in the William Porter Payne & Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility, a precursor to Georgia’s final practice of the week on Friday before a Saturday scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.

Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw
 A key component of the Dawgs’ top-scoring offense in 2017, senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship boomed 94 kickoffs, 63 PATs and 20 field goals last season. The digital and broadcast journalism major broke both Rose Bowl and school records, headlining a special teams unit that staged a noticeable turnaround from the year before.

“I was really proud that I was able to be of more help to the team,” Blankenship said on his 2017 performance. “That was something that the team needed of me – they needed more production in that area, and so I was just happy to be able to improve in that area...We’re just trying to be the most complete players we can be as specialists.”

One of Blankenship’s most notable moments as a Dawg came in overtime of the 2018 National Championship – a 51-yard field goal that spoke to Blankenship’s consistent role on the Georgia squad, according to sophomore inside linebacker Monty Rice.

“You saw him in the National Championship game,” Rice said. “He’s the one who made the field goal...He works just like we’re working at linebacker and at defense. He’s working on his kicking all the time at practice – like today, he went 4-for-4. So he works hard. It doesn’t surprise me when he makes them.”

Junior defensive end David Marshall joined Rice in his praise of the Dawg point production. The Thomaston, Georgia native acknowledged the highly touted Georgia offense, a force he lines up against daily at practice.

“I think we’ve got the best offensive line in the country,” Marshall said. “They’re pretty good. They come out competing every day. They make us better, make each other better.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Practice Report

UGA Sports Communications

The Dawgs staged their fifth practice of the 2018 preseason Tuesday afternoon, splitting their time between indoors and outdoors because of nearby thunderstorms.

Following are excerpts from head coach Kirby Smart’s post-practice press briefing on Tuesday:

‘’We were looking forward to going outside today for our fifth practice, but we got some lightning that forced us inside. We got to go outside for about half of it, which was good. Our hopes were to have another hot day today, but it didn’t play out that way. It was kinda cool outside, nice and breezy. Guys did well, pushed through it. It was easier today because of the cooler temperatures. I feel like we’ve had three really good padded practices. We’re gonna have off tomorrow due to the new rules, giving the players a day off. So I’m excited. I want to get to the scrimmage on Saturday so I can make judgments on some of these kids because a lot of them are swimming, as far as mentally, but that’s to be expected. It’s not like it’s unexpected. There are some really good competitors out there. There are some guys in the young group that are competing hard. Some leaders are starting to show up. The biggest concern I have is that the best players play the best. That probably hasn’t happened so far in camp. We’ve got some guys that I consider to be really good players that aren’t playing up to their potential. But we’ve also got a lot of players that were twos and threes last year that, I think, I are playing pretty well. So we’ve got some good competition going on out there. I’m excited about that.’’

How do you explain the fact that these players aren’t playing up to their potential?

‘’I don’t know. Call it what it is, but as I look out there, there are a couple of guys that you’d say, ‘OK, this is a guy that played really well last year.’ and he’s not playing at the level that I think he can play to. That’s probably one of the scariest things that can happen to our team. But the good news is, at a lot of those positions, there’s a guy just as talented behind him that’s scratching and clawing, or maybe he just got here, that’s fighting for playing time. That excites me because they’re really eager to learn and they’re fighting to learn, whereas sometimes you get a casual nature about you if you think you know everything, or you think you kind of understand everything. So we’ve had to have some talks about that with some guys.

Think about it. There are only a few spots where you can say, ‘that guy’s a pretty solid starter.’ Some of those guys aren’t practicing the right way. We’ve done as much as we can to encourage them to practice better because the competition level that’s out there is way more increased. It’s more intense. There are more good players across the board. Now a lot of them don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve gotta figure that out, but they flash, which in the time I’ve been coaching, what you see is flashes. When you see a guy flash, you say that he’s got it in him if he knows what to do. We’ve just got to coach ‘em up to the point where it’s simple enough so the best players can play.’’

Are you doing as much “cross-training” on the offensive line as you did during your first two years?
‘’Yeah. We’ve got a lot of different rotations. By period we change guys on the field. We’ve got tackles playing guard. Guards playing tackles. Certainly some of our guards, we don’t feel can play tackle. But we’ve got some guards switching and going out. I don’t think you guys get to see all those combinations to find the best depth we can find.’’

Speaking of rotating players, how will the the rotating of defensive linemen help with the depth there?

‘’I think any defensive line in the SEC has to play a lot of guys. You have to be able to play a lot of players on the defensive line. They get worn down. They’re second-effort players. They cover down. They run so much more than offensive linemen. So to be able to switch those guys out, a lot them are playing double teams. I think it helps. I don’t know yet who those people are, that are gonna be out 8 or 9 that we rotate in. There’s some really good competition there. Obviously, Tyler Clark is gonna be a guy that has played a lot of football for us. Julian Rochester has played a lot for us. Jay Hayes is a guy that’s picked everything up mentally. Jonathan Ledbetter. After those core guys, what you’ve got is a group of guys that are fighting for those rotations, and I think in the fastball world we live in, you’d better be able to get guys in and out of the game.’’

Right after the last game, your message was ‘Georgia football is here to stay.’ It seems like that’s a thing you’ve continued since then. How do you think this group of guys has taken to that theme?

‘’I don’t know that they look at it as what I said, or that message from that game. I think they’ve bought into the fact that if they do things the right way, they’ll have success. The biggest thing we’ve preached to these guys is that pressure is a privilege. It’s not Superman’s fault if he can fly and he doesn’t take advantage of it. My whole point is that you have an advantage. Your advantage is that you’re a really good player. Use all your skill set. So if Superman can fly, I say ‘Fly’. That’s an advantage he has, right? So our guys, if they can play here, we should play here. We shouldn’t play down to here in practice and then try to go up. So the standard’s been set to where we should go. The expectation is, if you’re whoever…Jonathan Ledbetter, Jake Fromm…it doesn’t matter. You play to the level that you need to play to in order to make yourself better, and the rest will take care of itself. That’s what last year’s team did. They practiced the same way they played in the game, and I think that’s hard to find. So many people want to take it off, take it easy, and you can’t do that.’’

What are the elements that go into sustained success?

‘’The biggest thing is that everybody understands that it’s not going to come because of what you did in the past. So this year’s completely independent of the previous. We’ve got to go out there and practice the right way. We’ve got to develop talent. We’ve got to be able to avoid injuries. But if we have injuries, do we have backups prepared to come in and fight and compete? That’s what camp is about. Camp is about toughness, physical, striking people. You may have some injuries in camp, but we’ve gotta find out what the makeup of this team is. We’re still really early in that process.’’

On the phrase “Pressure is Privilege” and its origins…
‘’Billie Jean King said it, she talked about it a long time ago. I probably should’ve given her credit at the SEC Media Days, but I wasn’t thinking about it then. It’s certainly a great statement and it’s so true that it really is a privilege. She told Maria Sharapova that and we even showed the players a tape of that and that message is always there so you can choose to be one of two things: you can say you’re the underdog or you can say that being good under pressure is a privilege; and it really is a privilege and I would much rather be in that situation.’’

On being credited by Chase Elliott mentioning Coach Smart after first NASCAR win Sunday…

‘’I think it’s pretty cool. He’s been to some events and he’s been to some of our games. I actually have plans to reach out to him and thank him for sharing our message and being a Dawg fan. We sent him a jersey last year and I’m fired up to see his career. He’s had a lot of close, close finishes and now for him to push it over the top, that’s what we’re trying to do as well.’’

On freshmen following in the steps of Walter Grant’s freshman campaign…

‘’I wouldn’t say Walter caught on this early, he did well in camp, but it wasn’t the fourth or fifth day. A lot of kids are in the same boat Walter was in then where Walter actually understood some things, he was really well coached in high school, he grasped a lot of the knowledge that we were able to try to impart on him. There’s a lot of freshmen out there right now that have done some good things and I’m excited about what they’re doing but they’ve got to do it more consistently just like Walter did this time last year.’’

On Zamir White coming back from his injury in a timely manner…
‘’I don’t know that in this day and age you would say it’s quickly. I kind of think that he’s on schedule, a little ahead of schedule. He got injured last year in the football season, so it’s not a miracle that he’s back going. Now he is pretty special when it comes to rehab, buying in, doing wrestling, doing karate, he does all these extra things, very similar to what Nick Chubb did. So that part, his effort and all this work he’s done is incredible. If you asked him, he’d want to take the knee brace off; and he can take the knee brace off in practice but it’s precautionary, it’s to get him more comfortable. It’s a little rigid and it’s not comfortable for him so he’s not out there feeling like he’s his old self yet. But he is cleared and he’s safe to practice.’’

On James Cook’s performance during Saturday’s practice…
‘’He had a pretty good day that day. … I would say that day was a little special. I mean, when you go back and watch the tape of that practice he had a lot of balls, it just happened that way, it wasn’t like it was by design, like it was going to be ‘James Cook Feature Day.’ He had some plays that he hit and he looked really good and he had really good GPS numbers. … I can’t say that’s been every practice, it hasn’t stuck out like that. … He’s an exciting player, he loves football, he’s tough, he’s not afraid to compete with anybody at 185 pounds. I really like watching the guy play. To say he’s more ready than any of those other backs, that’s a long stretch, he’s got a long way to go.’’

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Chaney And Tucker Meet With Media

UGA Sports Communications

University of Georgia offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Jim Chaney and the Fain and Billy Slaughter defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mel Tucker met with media members on Saturday. They offered the following comments.

Fain and Billy Slaughter Defensive Coordinator/Secondary Coach Mel Tucker

On the makeover of the defense from last season…

“In 2011 with Jacksonville Jaguars, I think we had maybe eight or nine new starters and they were all free agents. Then they were coming off a lockout deal so we had spring training camp which was pretty tough, but every year there are different challenges. Every time you have a new player you have a new defense so we work really hard to develop all of our guys and get them ready to go. I’m excited about what we might be able to do.”

On no longer having a player like Roquan Smith and how that changes the identity of the defense this season…

“We talked to our guys yesterday about it, what’s going to be the identity of this year’s defense. … Obviously Roquan is a great player but it’s next man up. So we’ll rally and we’ll develop the guys that we have and we’ll see what the identity of this defense is this year.”

On the expectation of Deangelo Gibbs and where he fits in…

“He’s playing in the middle spot, our star spot, he’s also looking at safety. The expectation is to go out there and do what you’re asked to do, give great effort, be coachable, and work to get better every day; and that’s the expectation of all of our players.”

On what Tucker has seen from that “next man up” and if they’re capable of replacing an athlete like Roquan Smith…

“I’ve seen these guys mature, they have a better grasp of the defensive scheme. They work really hard in the weight room to develop and have developed good chemistry within that group and I think they’re hungry. They are all going to get opportunities. The depth chart is going to change from day to day and nothing is set in stone and we’re going to play our best guys. We want to create depth and we want as many guys what will help us as possible.”

On maintaining the level of last season given the personnel changes in the offseason…

“Well only time will tell. The standard of performance hasn’t been changed. We’re coaching our players and trying to develop them and teach them in a way that they can reach those standards. We always want to play great defense here regardless of who those players are. There are always going to be changes, there are always going to be new players step in and great players leave so that’s our job to get them ready. That’s why we’ve recruited well and we expect these guys to step in and play great defense for us.”

On the growth and expectations of Richard LeCounte…

“Richard has a much better grasp of the defensive scheme. At this point, it’s about the details. Really, the devil is in the details in our defense. He’s been more disciplined at what we’ve asked him to do. He asks really good questions. He spent a lot of time in the offseason studying and I’ve seen his overall maturity level improve. We’ll see how far he goes in camp but I think the arrow is up with him.”

On using the Second-and-26 breakdown as a teaching tool…

“We learn from everything, whether it’s good or it’s bad. Obviously we study it, we break it down, and we know what we need to improve, we take it with us and we move on, hopefully it will help us down the road.”

On the versatility of the star position and whether it was a revelation or envisioned from the start…

“In this day and age in football, the offenses are so complicated and so diverse that you have to have different ways to defend them. To be able to have different body types in that position, guys with different skill sets for first and second down and also for third down and passing situations that’s what you have to have. We work develop as many players at that position as we can. We want to have depth at the star position so we work defensive backs there, we also work linebackers at that position.”

On what Jay Hayes’ experience can bring to the defense line…

“He’s played a lot of football, he’s a mature guy, he’s a high-character guy, he’s a high-motor guy, he’s a leader, and he’s a team guy. He’s very unselfish. When you can add a guy like that to your roster, that’s like gold. We’ve been very happy with what he’s done so far. I think he’s fit in well with our group.”

On the assistantship of the support staff not only for recruiting but for everyday tasks like practice…

“They help a great deal with practice. It’s all hands on deck when preparing for our practices. Our practices are complicated with a lot of drills going on at one time. It’s organized chaos. We need everyone to be able to pitch in and help us prepare so we can have an organized practice.”

On having a cover corner like Deandre Baker in terms of confidence… 

“We want to play a lot of tight coverage so we have to have corners that can play man-to-man, that can play on top and can make plays on the ball at the catch point. He’s a guy that can do that and he’s proven that. Obviously we want to work to continue to get him better every day. As many of those guys that we have, the better coverage we’re going to have. He does allow us to do some things defensively. Baker is one of the guys I take a lot of pride in and I’m very proud of what he’s done because he’s worked himself into what he is today as a player. He works really hard in practice, he’s developed in the meeting room, he’s emerged as a leader for us, and I’m really excited to see what he does for us this season.”

On where Jay Hayes fits in and what is in store for the nose guard position…

“I really see him in pass-rush situations to be the inside pass rusher. I’m not sure how much Nose he’s going to play. He has the ability to play all those spots up front so he give us position versatility. He’s a team guy, he’s going to do whatever we ask him to do. … We have Julian Rochester, we have Tyler Clark who can play there, we have DeQuan Hawkins-Muckle who can play there, we have Devonte Wyatt; we have guys that can play there. Most of our guys can play multiple positions; a lot of the techniques carry over from In to Nose and vice-versa so we feel good there. We got to develop more guys that can play more inside. Jon Adkins was a heck of a player. He was maybe somewhat unsung but when you go back and watch the self-scout and watch all the plays from last season and you see he did a lot for the team defense. He was a heck of a guy and you always want to be strong down the middle. The standard has been set inside.”

On what position Otis Reese will play…

“I always thought that he could play safety because he’s athletic and he’s got good change-of-direction, he’s got good ball skills and good range on the deep part of the field and he’s a good tackler. I don’t see whether there’s any limitations on what position he can play in our secondary role as a safety and I feel good about that. I’m used to playing with big safeties. I remember a guy named Sean Jones with the Cleveland Browns; that joker was a nice sized guy and he hit you. Otis has done a nice job since he’s been here; he’s picking up things well. He practices really hard, gives tremendous effort.”

On Jonathan Ledbetter’s progression …

“It’s a credit to him. He’s a good kid. He’s a good young man, and he has always been that. So, I think he has learned from the past. We have encouraged him to develop and move forward and get better and better every day — make good decisions, become a leader for our team, become a better football player, work in the weight room — do all those things. We have a program here with our support staff, player development and all our coaches and people at the academic center. We have a program where we expect guys to progress and mature and get better, and we take pride in that. He is a prime example of a guy who was at this point and now he is here because he has bought into our program.”

On Deandre Baker becoming more of a leader and how he has embraced that role …

“He is more of a lead-by-example type, but those type of guys who don’t say a lot, when they do speak, everyone listens, and he is that type of guy. He has a really good feel for his teammates. If he needs to get on a guy in front of other guys he will do that. He may need to pull a guy to the side and do a one-on-one he will do that, and that is the sign of a good leader.”

On if he ever imagined how salaries for coordinators would develop …

“No. I have never been in it for the money, and I really don’t think about it very much. My passion is teaching, coaching and developing players. I enjoy that, and as long as I enjoy doing that, that is as long as I’ll coach.”

On the rushing yards in the first Auburn game last season …

“We did not play very disciplined in that game. We got pushed around a little bit in that game, so when you are not disciplined and not stout as you need to be then people are going to run the ball on you. We made some adjustments. We got on the guys to be able to stop that run, and the next time we played them we played them a lot better.”

On when he saw signs of Deandre Baker’s ability to have success …

“The first day I saw him we were at an offseason program. I saw him doing some of the drills, and I pulled him over and said ‘ hey, I think you could be a heckuva player — you are six-feet tall, you are the fastest guy out here, you have good change of direction, you have great length.’ I said ‘ I really believe that you can do something here. All you have to do is listen, pay attention, do what I ask you to do.’ That is what he did. So, that is a credit to him. We develop players along the way, guys buy into our program… The focus for him right now is to get better each and every day. Work on the details — technique and fundamentals. Doing the things that got you to this point and then taking it up a notch. That’s what we are going to do with him.”

On J.R. Reed stepping into a leadership role …

“J.R. is another guy who has stepped up as a leader for us. He’s comfortable with his teammates. He is establishing himself as a player that can produce on the field. He gives great effort; he does really well in the video room — takes good notes. He is very unselfish and helps other players. His character — he is an impeccable guy. He has a really good pedigree, so he is another guy we are leaning on for leadership. I’ll say this — we tell our guys all the time that you do not have to just be a senior or necessarily a starter. Leadership comes from all different areas. If you have the ability to lead and affect someone else in a positive way then do that. We encourage that.”

On Tyson Campbell …

“Tyson is playing corner right now and right now we are only playing him at one position. So, all the corners on our roster, he is competing with those guys. All of our guys know we are going to play the best players. We give guys lots of opportunities to show what they can do. We do a lot of two-spot drills; we take a lot of reps; we coach every player whether it is a walk-on or a senior. It doesn’t matter. We coach everyone of them the same. We are trying to develop as many players as we can so we have the best football team that we can have. We will see what happens. He will get what he deserves.”

On the star position and having three corners on the field …

“It depends on the situation. At the star position, we have had linebackers there. Then, we’ve had more of a cover star. When it all shakes out our job is to find out who are the best guys to put out there and then see what they can do. We have total flexibility in that. We all also have a starting point and then we go from there. We have scrimmage one and then we have scrimmage two so we can make decisions on who we think can help us. If we need to move a guy inside to a spot we can do that.”

On Tyrique McGhee’s flexibility …

“That’s huge if you have a utility guy like that who is a good player. You do not want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, so it takes a unique type of guy to be able to play multiple positions and to be able to produce at a high level. We think Tyrique is that type of player. So far he has shown that he can handle that. You could relate him somewhat to someone in Aaron Davis’ role over the past couple of years. Aaron played every position in the secondary for us, and I think good secondaries have those guys who can play multiple positions and be problem solvers and gives you the ability to play the type of coverages you need to play when you are playing.”

Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach Jim Chaney

Opening statements…

“I’m Jim Chaney, the offensive coordinator. It’s great to see everybody. We don’t get the opportunity to visit very much. I’m excited about the season, as usual. This group of kids has been fun to be around all spring. They worked hard throughout the summer. When you get that opportunity to see them, they’re around, doing their stuff. The leadership’s trying to get better on our side of the ball. I know Coach Kirby Smart has talked about it a lot. We need to continue to increase that leadership. When you lose four of the dynamic players we did early in the draft, it’s hard to overcome. Those kids are strong leaders, and our younger guys are starting to step up. It’s been fun to watch that take place on the football field, just seeing that and watching freshmen come in and just after one day of practice, it’s fun to watch them work through a 90-degree day here in Georgia, particularly some of the boys from up north. It’s always entertaining to watch. But they made it through it, and I’m excited about this group. I think we’re developing good depth at every position, which is ideally what you want as a coordinator. And the kids are working hard. With that, I’m happy, but we have a lot of work to do before we play our first ball game. I’ll open it up to any questions."

On if bettering his personal health was a result of coaching tight ends…

“No, it doesn’t have anything to do with coaching tight ends. I just woke up; I was way too big. I had to do some work and get some weight off of me. Hopefully, that’s something that will help me coach and do better and serve the university a little better, and my own personal health.”

On Jay Johnson (offensive quality control) in the press box…

“Whether he won’t be there, or will be there, we haven’t worked all the details out on the press box stuff, and all that new protocol that we’ve got to look through. But Jay’s a fine football coach. Anybody with his vast amount of knowledge you want to use. I’m real fortunate. We can run through my personal staff here, and I’m as happy as any coach could be in college football. I’ve got good coaches everywhere. I don’t like to use the word ‘I’ very much, but in this sense I will. I’m the one who benefits from it. I’m lucky to have every one of those guys. Our quality control guys, our graduate assistants do a fantastic job.”

On when he heard of sophomore QB Jake Fromm’s injury…

“I got to go fly fishing again. I made it three days up there, before my arm started going numb. So I had to come back and have neck-fusion surgery, so I had a wonderful July. It was fun. And I think that time I was coming home was when Jake got the fish hook in his hand. I don’t know, he’s okay. I’m not worried about Jake Fromm. He’s a tough kid. He’ll be just fine.”

On freshman QB Justin Fields…

“We all know how polarizing the quarterback position can be. Everybody wants to know about that spot. In my particular role, I worry about everybody. And every good football player we have, you try to find ways to get them on the field and utilize them. And right now, Justin’s battling the quarterback spot, as is Jamaree Salyer with the guard spot, as is Luke Ford with the tight end spot. All that young group of kids that we brought in are all competing. 

I love Justin; he’s a wonderful young man, comes from a great family. He’s a competing son-of-a-gun, and he’s also a hell of a good football player. The future is very bright for him. As far as what happens in the future, as far as playing time and all that, all that is going to take place in the next three to four weeks, and all that who plays and who doesn’t play, you know as well as I do, that gets down to Coach Smart’s decision. So I don’t get in to all that, I’m just very glad he’s here, a part of our program and competing for our starting position for our team.” 

On working with the tight ends…

“I never ask them when they walk in, ‘Are you happy to see me or are you not?’ Some of them would probably say yes, and some of them would probably say no. I’m very comfortable at the tight end spot. I’ve coordinated from the coordinator spot, the quarterbacks and the tight end spot. James Coley moving into quarterbacks, it’s been awesome. He brings a good, vast amount of knowledge to that position. He knows what he’s doing there. It’s kind of a fresh breath for those guys to hear things from a different voice. He’s done a great job with them. For me going back to the tight ends spot, I’m very comfortable there also. So, those kids that I’ve got in the room, particularly the older guys, with Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner and Jackson Harris, those kids have known me a long time. The transition has been pretty much seamless in my opinion. I think we’ve done a good job in that room. And Shane Beamer had done a good job before. It just kind of worked out that the staff just kind of switched around. It worked out fine. I’m very comfortable with where we’re at right now. I think it’s actually brought it a little energy to what we’re trying to do. I’m pleased with our movement and how we’ve done it."

On tweaking the playbook with the players available to him, particularly Justin Fields’ run game..

“I think you’ve always got to look – it’s a good question, and we think about it all the time. Justin’s ability to run the ball is exceptional. We don’t have a vast amount of depth at that position right now, so when you start running quarterbacks, you’re putting him in harms way a little bit more, so you’ve got to be real conscious of that. I don’t know if you walk out and say, because Justin Fields can run, he is a running quarterback. I think Justin Fields is a fantastic quarterback. He happens to be able to run. So that’s a good thing. Designing a playbook directly because he can run, I think that would be disoriented of who we want to be as a football team. But it does give us some different things we can open in the playbook. It does open some pages to it. As far as strategy goes, it’s another skill set available to us to use at any time we want to.”

On Chaney’s coaching stops along the course of his career…

“You don’t have to remind me. I’m home, baby.”

And if he’s run an offense playing two quarterbacks…

“I’d have to think back. I’m sure somewhere along the years we’ve had that situation happen. You don’t rule anything out. Like I said guys, everybody wants to know about that right now. And I don’t blame y’all for asking the question at all. But we’re so much in a mode of training camp right now, just trying to get every player a little bit better, and cohesively working within our unit, and utilizing our base offense, that the mindset of game planning and putting out two different offenses hasn’t – can’t even think about things like that. My mind is so far away from that right now. I just want him to be all he can be, and let us evaluate him, see what his skill set is, and utilize it to the best of our ability – overall, to help Georgia win football games. And if it ends up being that way, so be it, but that’s a long way in the future.”

On if he’s seen a different Jake Fromm as a sophomore..

“I do, a little bit more, because he’s more confident with the X’s and O’s. There’s no question about that. He’s got that year under him, and he had a fantastic year, and he’s playing good football for us, and he’s playing very confident. But Jake’s personality has always been Jake. Even last year, he was a freshman, he was still Jake. He’s an outgoing guy, he likes to talk to his teammates. He’s positive all the time. So a lot of his personality traits haven’t changed. A lot of it is his familiarity, and he played 900-some snaps of football last year. That’s hard to overlook. He’s a good football player.”

On working together as a staff on each week’s game plan..

“Collecting ideas. It’s not all Jim Chaney. Trust me on that. When we get in the run game, it’s Dell McGee and myself, and Sam Pittman a lot. When you get into the passing game, it’s Cortez Hankton, and James, and it’s Jay and myself. We all collectively put it together, slap it up on the board, see where we’re at. If we’re heavy somewhere else, and someone has an opinion on somewhere else – anybody can bring up anything they want. I don’t care. I worked for a guy named Gene Murphy a hundred years ago – bless his soul, I lost him a few years ago. He told me, ‘Jim, if you ever have an opportunity to hire people, always try to hire people smarter than you.’ THat’s always stuck with me. I’m fortunate on our staff; I’ve had a lot of good people who are a lot smarter than I am. I would be a damn fool not to listen to what they have to say. I try to do a better job of that. Routinely, I like to go at it, for me I’ve got to bring that in and listen even more. I’m trying to do a better job of that, and I think the guys are recognizing that. We’re in it together. I use every bit of their skill set to help us put a plan together."

On Sam Pittman’s comments about Isaiah Wilson’s redshirt last season and his growth…

“You can’t replace his mass and athleticism. What he has had to do is learn the speed of the game and how fast and physical this game is. He’s gotten better. Every day at practice you see him improve. Where he is today and when he walks out of Georgia is going to be an incredible jump, there’s no doubt about it. I’ll also add that from when he walked in the door to where he is now is an incredible jump. He’s done a real good job working his butt off. It’s very important to him. He’s a large body. He can do things wrong and they have to run around a mountain to get to the quarterback. So that’s a good thing for us. We like those big kids, you guys know that. What you have to understand when you go big and you try to develop a team the way we try to do it, we’re physical playing the line of scrimmage, we’re going to try to beat you up up front. With that there are some inherent fleas that come with it. Some quick defensive linemen might give us a little bit of trouble, but we think by the end of the game- beating on you and pounding on you- our bigs will overcome.

Back to Isaiah, I think he’s progressing as planned and he has to continue to learn the game of football, continue to compete and get playing time. I will add this- there are not a lot of positions that are locked up on an individual right now. We have a tremendous amount of competition going on throughout our football team, which I’m tickled with. I can’t wait to watch them compete.”

On the talent at running back…

“I think they’re good football players and look forward to watching them go play. There’s a lot of talent there in that room. Everybody tells me how good we’re going to be, but I still look for those two kids we had last year (Nick Chubb and Sony Michel) walking down the hall and they haven’t showed up yet, they’re gone. They’re history. The kids we have, we like. We think they’re going to be good football players but to go out on the field and perform they have yet to do that. We have to watch them do that, watch them go play. We are excited about it. We’re optimistic about it. 

The rubber hits the road in about a month when we go out on the field and play. We’ll find out where we are at that time. But we sure like those kids. I’d rather be in our position than a lot of other people’s position. We have good talent at that spot with great kids. I’m excited about watching them and being able to utilize their individual skillsets. More pieces of cards we can use to put the puzzle together. I like it.”

On the staff defining explosive plays and how well they did in that regard last season…

“Run game is 12 yards or more. Pass game is 16 yards or more. We were 1 out of 6.7 plays in explosive last year if I remember right. That’s not bad. That’s pretty good for me.”

On the wide receiver core and Demetris Robertson being eligible…

“I don’t even want to touch on that. Right now he’s in here playing and that’s out of my pay grade to let you know if he’s ever going to be eligible to play. When that thing does or does not come through we will deal with it then. Everything else we will defer to Kirby and let Coach Smart deal with that.

The receiving core in general is older, they’ve played a lot. We have Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, and Terry Godwin who have played a lot. Trey Blount played last year. Jeremiah Holloman played last year. The one thing about our receiving core you have to remember is- you think about Special Teams. Tyler Simmons, Riley Ridley, and Jayson Stanley all played over 100 snaps last year on Special Teams- that’s a game and a quarter of nothing more than Special Teams. In places where I’ve been, wide receivers hadn’t played that much. That’s telling you a little bit about their character. They care about the team and they’re physical football players. You can’t play Special Teams and be any other way. We try to encourage all of our kids in that room and it’s going to get down to that room. When we walk out on that bus- who is going to be on the bus, who is going to play on Special Teams? If you have a first round wide out? I don’t know, maybe we do, maybe we don’t. I don’t know for sure yet until we go play. In our room they understand of their need to do that (play on Special Teams) in order to get on the bus and that can be said for a lot of positions. We don’t get to travel 110 people. We are going to travel 70. If you want to be on it, go earn that spot. We have enough competition now that the kids understand that. “

On the comparison of Jake Fromm to Drew Brees…

“What are the commonalities? They both have very high FBI, football intellect. They get it. They understand. They both affect other players in a very positive way. They both have proven to win football games. The differences I don’t even want to touch on, but they share those traits.”

On the presumption that because the tailback position has recruited well that they will be able to step in…

“It is to me. It isn’t to a lot of other people. I believe what I see with my own eyes until you go out on the field and perform and play. I’m not trying to be a “Debbie Downer” here or anything. I’m not that dude. I’m excited about that group. D’Andere Swift, Elijah Holyfield, and Brian Herrien have all played a little bit. But in a bigger role than what they’ve played in, they have yet to do that. We’ll wait and see how it all plays out. I hope I’m sitting here when I get my next chance to talk to you guys that we’re able to say yeah we’re glad to have all these kids. And I hopefully will be able to do that.

So much is about recruiting- all the stuff and all the stars and everything. It’s Saturday at 1:00 or 3:30 or whenever you play. The game is what it’s all about. At my age it’s even more profound. How do we perform? My ultimate job is to get them ready to play on Saturday and have a strategic plan that we feel like we can win the game. The group of kids we have right now are working hard and I’m excited about being a part of getting them ready to play and putting them on the field to represent Georgia.”

On the plan to get more than one running back on the field at the same…

“We did a lot of that last year with D’Andre Swift playing that other half back spot with another running back on the field. That’s not foreign to us. We probably did that about 70 snaps last year, which is more than anybody probably in college football. Playing with two or three wide receivers and two running backs on the field won’t be foreign to us. We have the packages to do all that. Now, can you tell me that second running back is better than that second wide out or that third tight end? Who are you going to play? I’m going to put the 11 best players out on that field to win the game. If not Coach Smart will be looking at me like I’m the dumbest man on earth and he doesn’t like really good players standing by him on the sideline. He really doesn’t like that. If he’s one of the best he’s going to be on the field. If we happen to have two of our backs are the best then they’re probably going to be on the field.”

Follow up: have the freshman showed you that’s something they’d be comfortable with doing?

“On tape from high school, yeah. But I have not witnessed anything but more than one practice. It’s premature for that but once again I am very optimistic.”

On the progress and success of the offense over the past two seasons…

“When I was a young coach I once drank that Kool Aid and that it (the success of the offense) was all about me and the next year we fell flat on our face. I learned that lesson the hard way. What happened last year is just last year. What took place last year, is it going to happen next year? There’s no guarantee of that, there really isn’t. You attack that year and try to be the coach you can be. You study during that off season all the time- what can we do better? And that’s my obligation- to go do it. I go in there every year with a great fear of failure. That’s just good coaches. You don’t want to fail at anything. You want to make sure you are on your game. That’s my obligation to this university and Coach Smart is to make sure that I bring my “A” game every year. My name is stapled on this offense and I want it to do well.”

Friday, August 3, 2018

Pre Camp Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, met with media members on Friday to preview fall camp. Below are comments from Friday’s media session.

(Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw)
Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments …

“First of all, excited to be here. You know, it's different every year you do this. Every team is different. But with the rules in college football in place, we're able to do more and more in the summer with accountable athletic activities. These kids have been here working. These kids have been here working hard. Our strength and conditioning staff, I think, does a tremendous job with these guys, pushing them, making it fun at the same time, and getting them to work hard. But our kids know, we started meetings, had some administrative stuff last night and had some reporting stuff. It's really good to get around the guys. They've got a lot of energy and it's fun for our coaching staff to be around this group. They've done a tremendous job responding, done everything we've asked them to do, and we've challenged them.

This is going to be a tough, physical camp, which all of them are, and I tell the players all the time, what's going to separate us from 13 other SEC teams is what we do between now and the first game.

We're not preparing for Austin Peay, we're not preparing for South Carolina, we're not preparing for Auburn or anybody else on our schedule, we're preparing for us right now, and we've got to do a great job this camp of understanding the areas we've got to improve on, and being very demanding and making sure everybody understands the standard that was set last year with the practice habits and the effort and the energy. I really think our players are buying into that.

Now, who the leaders are, y'all are going to ask me that 100 times, I don't think that's come all the way out yet. You certainly have players that you want to put in that position, but we've got so many competitions at each position that I don't think that a starter has to necessarily lead. Leaders lead, and if you're good enough to play, you're old enough to play. So it's not like we come in here and say, a young guy can't be a leader, a good player or an average player can't be a leader. We need leadership from everybody. We need guys that aren't afraid to confront and demand.

We sit guys across this front row when we have team meetings and we challenge guys to talk because I think it's really important that you get comfortable being uncomfortable, and we've said that so many times this organization, but it's hard for these players to confront and demand of each other, and that's what we're going to ask them to do in camp, and that's why we're going to put them in some tough situations.

Excited about the young guys on the team, just being around them, since we've been around them this summer, a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and that makes me excited. We've got 110 guys in camp. Thank goodness the NCAA has given us to 105 to 110, so that gives us five more, whether it's position player, maybe another punter, maybe another kicker. Those things are exciting, to have those extra guys come in and be able to work with us.

I'm going to update you guys on some injuries because I'm sure you guys will ask about these guys and kind of where they are to hopefully answer some of your questions before they're questions. But Jaden Hunter has a little bit of a hamstring, so he'll be a little limited. You'll see him out there. He'll work, but he's not going to be able to do everything 100 percent, and we hope to get him back soon and have him work with us.

Zamir White will be full go with a protective brace. He'll have his brace on, but we'll just have to monitor his volume, but he's not going to be limited in any way. He should be able to do all drills, and he's just gaining confidence on that thing, on his knee. But the brace will just help him with that. Azeez, who we know underwent surgery in the off-season, he's doing well. He's cleared for everything but contact as of now. He won't have true contact, but as far as you guys see him individually, he'll be cleared to do everything. Divaad Wilson is actually progressing really well. He'll be able to work into practice as the season progresses. We're excited about the progress he's made. He's a really competitive guy and wants to jump out there and do everything he can.

Deangelo Gibbs is fully cleared with his shoulder, so he's able to do everything. Terry Godwin has got a little bit of a minor issue with his left knee. It's small, it's minor. He'll be limited, but I know you guys will make a big deal out of it, and every one of you sending out a message right now about it, I'm sure, but he's fine, he just won't be able to do indy and some things today. We're going to hold him out of that.

And then Jake Fromm, he's healing really well. He'll have a splint out when he's out there, but it's just a precautionary splint. You probably wouldn't even notice it if you weren't zooming in on it from 100 yards away trying to get a picture of it. But he's fine. He'll be able to do everything we need him to do.”

On freshman running back Zamir White …

“He's fully cleared to do everything right now. He's in a very similar situation to when I arrived with Nick Chubb. He went through spring, and it kind of reminded me of Chubb, where you all saw Nick out there doing things that first spring back. He was able to do some ball handling, do some things like that. That's kind of where Zamir has been. He did a very similar protocol to what Nick did, whether it was karate, did a lot of things, getting on the ground on mats, learning to fall again, getting confidence in his knee, and that's been a big part of his rehab. If anything, at this point, I would say he's ahead of where Nick was his junior year, because he was -- his injury was not quite as significant as Nick's was at the time. So been very pleased with that. He understands things. He was able to get a lot of mental reps in the spring, but he's cleared and cleared to do everything. I think the big issue there is not necessarily is he cleared, it's what kind of volume can he handle. Can he handle 7,000 yards on our GPS at practice? I don't know. We've got to monitor that and see where he hits each day and make sure we bring him back at the right pace.

On the NCAA’s new redshirt rule …

“I keep hearing the question, and I keep hearing other coaches answer it and everybody answer it. I really don't think that it's that hard. If a player can help you win, there's no strategic advantage to it. The advantage is if you get to the end of the season and you're depleted in an area, it gives you the luxury of playing a kid and him keeping his redshirt. But I think a lot of people don't study the end game. The end game is all these kids' senior year. So if a kid plays the last four games, and let's say he plays all four of those games and then we say we're going to redshirt him, and then the next -- he still has four years of eligibility, right? I think after his third year of that eligibility, he will have been here four years. The guy is going to have graduated hopefully, have an opportunity to go to the NFL, or maybe if he's not good enough to play or he's been surpassed, he may be looking to transfer or leave.

I don't see many of these guys playing four games and then playing four years because if you look right now how many players are here five years, it doesn't happen that often. It just gives you the luxury when you have injuries of being able to take advantage of those and say, you know what, this kid hasn't played but we need him to play now, so he's going to come in the game and be able to play and not cost him a season. But most guys after they've been here four years, been in the program four years, you're not seeing a lot of fifth-year seniors, at least not in our case where that's a major factor. But we'll also take it into consideration, and if guys can help us win, we believe in playing them. We don't sit here and say we're going to redshirt them or not redshirt them.”

On the younger players and how he sees them firing in and the perception recruits might be scared to go where there is already so much talent…

“I don't know if that's true or not. I think that's a media perception, and obviously I think maybe other schools would use that and say that. But I mean, do you see what's going on in basketball right now? Do you see guys that value a championship over maybe playing as much? They put the other stuff aside. To me if you recruit the right kind of kid, he's saying, can you win a championship? I want to win a championship. It's really important that I win a championship. Those are the kind of kids you want in your organization. You want guys who want to win championships. You want guys who want to be the best they can be. Does that necessarily mean they play every snap as a freshman? Not necessarily. And a lot of the accolades that have been given to this signing class, they weren't earned, they were given. They were given by people that may or may not be able to rate players. I don't know. I certainly think that that's a judgment call on each and of itself.

What we've driven home to those guys is everything you get here, you will have to earn. You will have to go out there and earn it, and you say, where can this class impact you. We watched a tape last night of Reuben Foster hitting Leonard Fournette his freshman year, Trent Richardson making a tackle of kickoff his freshman year, Sony Michel making a tackle against Clemson his freshman year, and there was two common themes to every guy we showed: All four went in the first round, none started their freshman year, and all of them were on special teams. So the first place you impact as a freshman is usually on special teams, and that's the challenge for this unit.

Can they buy into that? Did they dream last year about coming in and making a tackle on punt team? Is that something they can see themselves doing and have value in that? Our job as a coaching staff is to sell that and make sure that we have those guys helping our team wherever it may be. It may be starting, but that's not what you see all the time.”

On the status of Demetrius Robinson …

“I figured that one was coming because I've seen some of our competition. I think it would be presumptuous to think that that makes it better for us because it's handled on a case-by-case basis with the NCAA. So each one of those cases would have been independent of his because each one of them would be based on that student-athlete's situation. And I think in Demetris' situation, it may be similar, it may be different than theirs, but each one is independent. So obviously we're hopeful, but it's out of our hands, and the NCAA will get back to us when they get done with the appeal.”

On starting a freshman at quarterback in most games he has been head coach and if that is the landscape of college athletics …

“I would never say I got comfortable with it or I'm comfortable with it. I think it's an enormous challenge to do that. I think that's a burden on a lot of people because in any offensive system, the guy that's got to have the most information or the capacity for the most information is the quarterback position. So that's not easy.

Is it the norm? I think it's happened more often, and the main reason it's happened more often is because more kids come in prepared. The level of mental practice for high schools, the seven-on-sevens, the throwing, the advanced age of high school football now, the job the high school coaches do is just tremendous, so the kids come in more prepared. But never would I say that you're more comfortable with it. I don't think any head coach that tells you they're comfortable with that is going to be telling you the truth because experience is valuable, and I think experience pays off. But I certainly know that there's talented enough players to come in and take over a team and command leadership.

One of ours was -- it happened kind of naturally, then the other one was forced, so for two different situations, we've had a freshman, and that's something that a lot of coaches are having to deal with across the country, and each year it's probably going to be more and more prevalent as kids transfer and move because you don't find the guy willing to come in and play like Hudson Mason did. You don't find the guy willing to wait his turn and play like AJ McCarron did. They're more often gone.”

On Ohio State…

"First of all, I think we do a tremendous job here of policies and procedures, and of understanding what to do. And if you don't know, you ask. Being a first-time head coach, first year, I think the education piece is so important. I think Greg McGarity and President Jere Morehead do a tremendous job with us, making sure we know the chain of command, making sure we know who our Title IX coordinator is on campus, Janyce Dawkins and Darrice Griffin, who does ours here, our deputy athletic director. I think you have to know who those people are, and you have to be in good communication with them. They do a tremendous job of letting us know exactly how to report and how to do things, and even last year Janyce came and spoke to our team, and I think that's really important to have that relationship.”

Follow-up question to Ohio State …

"I'm not going to do hypotheticals, unfortunately. But I think the biggest focus for us is obviously to be on practice one. I know where you're headed, and I get it, but it's not a topic right now for me. What I feel really comfortable with is the structure we have here, the organization we have here, the leadership we have here, and the ability to communicate across the board, which really makes it good for us. But we're really worried about practice one right now.”

On his thoughts if positive press affects players …

"My antidote is practice because I think if you ask our players, there are no accolades being given out there at practice unless they do it exactly right, every time. But I think the remedy is a standard of excellence that is not adhered to based on results. So we're not going to look at what the media, or some outside source, or what aunt, uncle, grandma say about me, we're going to do it based on how we perform in practice, and if we practice to that standard and that level of energy. Then there will be pats on the back. If not, then we're going to try to demand excellence as a staff. You hold people accountable, and the best teams are the ones that we don't have to do that – the players do that – and that's probably the best way to handle it.”

On the status of senior ILB Natrez Patrick …

"Natrez has done everything we've asked him to do. He's really worked hard this off-season. I'm proud of the progress he's made. Again, all decisions in that manner will be handled internally.”

On any scenario involving freshman QB Justin Fields starting at quarterback …

"I look at it, can Tyson Campbell beat out Deandre Baker? Tyson Campbell could beat out Deandre Baker. Can Brenton Cox or Robert Beal have a chance to start over D'Andre Walker? Certainly. I think could Jamaree Salyer work at center or Warren Ericson work at center and beat out Lamont Gaillard? Certainly. I think when you start thinking about that and you start trying to make it a bigger deal than it is, for me it's all about who's going to play with the most consistency, who's going to do things naturally as a leader and understand and develop and make right decisions at every position. So I think that's the most important thing for us. Are we headed in team-goal oriented decisions, and are you working as hard as you possibly can to out-compete the other guys?

We’ve got a ton of competition in this camp. You look across the board, when you sit there and say, we don't really have a depth chart. You guys have a depth chart, but we don't have a depth chart because every guy is getting the same rep. Our ones, twos, threes, fours are going to get the same number of reps at practice, and we're going to evaluate them and say who's doing the best job of competing to the standard we want, and then we'll make decisions from there who plays."

On the new locker room and the impact it has on current players and recruiting …

"The new locker room at the stadium? The impact on the team has been minimal. We haven’t been over there. We don’t dress and do things over there at the stadium, so that's not a big deal for us. We've had events over there. I certainly think it’s a first-class facility, best in the country when it comes to hosting student-athletes and prospective student athletes on game day events. Our stadium is one of our feature showpieces, so to be able to enjoy that environment and have a great place to host them – downstairs our locker room is obviously where our players go and use on game days, it gives them a tremendous place to be able to get dressed and get ready for a game. So I'm excited about that.

On the secondary …

"Tray Bishop is going to practice today, and things are still in the hands of the court right now, so we’re going through the due diligence that requires. At the secondary position, we've got a lot of guys working. We've moved Tyrique McGhee around, who we think is one of our best four or five defensive backs, so he's played some corner, he's played some nickel, some star. We'll work him at safety some.

Richard LeCounte will continue to work at safety. Latavious Brini is going to be working at safety. We've got a lot of young guys working at corner with Ameer Speed working out there, and Mark Webb is going to be working, Tyson Campbell is going to be working at corner, Chris Smith, Deandre Baker obviously, but we've got a lot of guys in the secondary that have got to get experience. They had a lot of practice experience, but we lost a lot of consecutive starts.

We've got some guys that we think can play that are going to have to go out and grow up, and that's going to be one of the main areas that we're focused on developing depth, but also developing who's going to start because besides Baker and J.R. Reed. There’s not really anybody out there that's started – Tyrique maybe had a few, but we're going to find out a lot about the secondary in this camp. We've got to find guys that can tackle.

On the offense and special teams …

"Yeah, I think when you lose certain people, you may not think of them as a deficiency, like punting and kicking. When you lose the punter, it changes the dynamic of how you do things, so we might have the best coverage unit in the country. Might be better at covering kicks than we were last year, but if the punter doesn't punt it to the same effective nature or distance and hang, it can change your whole outlook. It's not a matter of how much we work on it. We had a tremendous year in special teams last year, and we're trying to say – how can we get better, how can we further ourselves in regards to that?

And I think offensively there's tons of areas to improve. We've got to have more explosive plays. We've got to be able to throw the ball explosively. We've got to find out if these young backs can protect the quarterback and can protect the ball. We've got some guys on the O-line – we had a first-round pick leave the offensive line [Isaiah Wynn] – so that guy opened a lot of holes. So finding people to replace them, and also the right guys to be in the right spots behind them so that we got the right depth chart in case somebody gets injured. Offensive line is very unique. You've got five guys, but if this guy goes down, it may take four people moving to get the right guy on the field. So that's what you have camp for, and we expect it to be a tough, physical camp, and I'm excited to go work."

Isaac Nauta, Junior, Tightend

On comfortability with the young players…

“There will still be a little bit of getting to know the team, because camp is starting and the pads are coming on. This is when you really weed out what people are made out of – when the pads come out and the hitting starts. All those young guys though really had a great summer. I’ve been really pleased with how the young players have worked and bought in. That is what the culture has been set at, and that is how it’s going to work. The summer has been great, and I’m excited to see what will happen in the next few weeks in camp.”

On James Coley moving over to a new position, and Jim Chaney rotating to overseeing tight ends…

“As far as the tight end room goes, it is definitely a lot more involved in the offense, because he (Chaney) is around all the time. We are able to learn more conceptually now since he is the offensive guru. Just having him around to go more in depth on what the offense entails is more exciting for us, because we feel like we are getting a better understanding of it, and it opens its up for us. As far as Coley, he had a lot more heads in the receiver room than he has now in the quarterback room. He has done a great job. He is also a guy that has been an offensive coordinator, so he knows the schemes and concepts well. I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of both of them, and have become a better player.”

On the Zamir White recovery and rest of running backs…

“It reminded me of Nick (Chubb) on how he attacked it. Zamir is the same type of guy too – quieter and just went to work and got his knee right. He got healthy quick, he looks really good. He is a very versatile back and a hard runner. I think he will create a lot of competition in the backfield, which is good, because it makes everyone better. We have a full stable of backs and all those guys can play. Even James Cook now joining in the mix. We have a great backfield and they will all compete this camp. I’m excited to see what they can do."

D’Andre Walker, Senior, Outside Linebacker

On the two quarterbacks…

“There’s competition everywhere, I see a lot of it. I feel like those guys, they both see the battle for that position.”

On approaching the 2018-19 season…

“I feel like we have to capitalize on the smaller things. Keep working harder and making sure we can get back to those big games.”

On blocking out the noise…

“I never really did hear it. I think as a team we never really paid attention to it. We just went out to practice every day and worked.”

Riley Ridley, Junior, Wide Receiver

On his brother…

“I feel like I’m a more physical guy, I like to attack. My brother is more of a route-runner, I feel like I’m more physical. We’re both explosive. I wouldn’t say he’s not explosive or I’m not explosive but I feel like anywhere on the field, that we are where we can be explosive for our teams.”

On his progression from last season…

“Right now, I’m trying to study and be the man that I can for my team. Just be a leader for the young guys, help out, take a load off of some of the coaches and step it up for the team. I feel like I know what to expect even thought coach Smart keeps us on our toes. That’s what I want, I want to be competing, I want to be out on the field, I want to go through it with my brothers.”

On Jake Fromm…

“With me and Jake, right now, we’re going through a process and just learning. We’re learning, we’re practicing, we’re going hard. Hopefully in the fall we’re able to put it all together.”

Andrew Thomas, Sophomore, Left Tackle

On the depth of the offensive line…

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of talent. There’s going to be a lot of competition. … For the guys that are starting right now, it will push us and then for the defense it’s going to make them a lot better.”

On starting camp for his sophomore season…

“It’s just a lot of excitement; I guess it’s different for me this time around, I know the system. I just trying to get better and I’m excited to get things started.”

On the team meeting the standards…

“We just know that last year what made us a great team was how we came in and attacked practice every day. We practice hard, we practice physical. The game isn’t easy so that’s what we’re trying to make it this year.”

On last year’s success and the expectation heading into this season…

“I guess that’s what we set and that’s what we’re looking for, but you just work every day to get back there.”

On rebuilding a defense that is replacing seven starters…

“I would say a lot of the young guys have learned a lot through seven-on-seven. They have a lot of talent so I’m excited to see what they’re going to do in camp.”

On the young offensive linemen… 

“A lot of them are really smart and have been catching on. Most of them played two or three positions so it’s exciting to see them come in and work really hard.”

On learning from Isaiah Wynn’s expertise on the offensive line…

“Every time we watched film you would always see Isaiah in every play doing something right and that’ what I try and mimic.”