Can You Name Georgia's Starters? Kirby Smart Can't! Bulldogs Coach Also Says New Redshirt Rule Not a Priority at Moment

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Can You Name Georgia's Starters? Kirby Smart Can't! Bulldogs Coach Also Says New Redshirt Rule Not a Priority at Moment

Kirby Smart
Kirby Smart
ATLANTA — Knowledgeable Georgia football fans and media types who already seem to know which players will start on offense and defense for the Bulldogs in the fast-approaching 2018 season might check with head coach Kirby Smart first.
For Smart, speaking here Tuesday in Georgia’s turn at bat in SEC Media Days, said he has no idea at the present time, before August camp even begins, as to who will take the field in the September 1 season opener against Austin Peay, as the Bulldogs begin defense of their 2017 SEC championship.
“I know a lot of you guys have already predicted starters,” said Smart, addressing the print media Tuesday morning. “You already know how many returning starters we have. I don’t even know that. I don’t look at that and say that guy’s spot is locked up. That’s not the case. We can’t allow complacency to slip into our program and slip into our staff because I know that will eat away at the core fundamentals that we started to believe.”
And Georgia’s third-year head coach, who steered the Bulldogs to the national championship game this past January following the SEC title win over Auburn and then a stirring first-round playoff victory over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, is well aware of the high esteem prognosticators are holding the Bulldogs in during this preseason.
“Last year this time, they were talking about the same expectations for the University of Georgia,” said Smart. “I went back and reviewed my notes for this event, and it was the same thing. Georgia is expected to do this, to win the east, to win championships. Those are things we embrace at the University of Georgia. We can’t run from those things. We know that. If pressure is a privilege, how you manage that and how you embrace that and our coaching staff getting the effectiveness of our players out is what’s important to us.
“And that’s really the key ingredient for us going into this season,” he said. “So it’s important for us. We’ll have a competition at an all-time high. I think our top 100 guys out there at practice in fall camp … we’ll have the greatest competition we’ve had since my arrival. We may not have the most talent that we’ve had, but we’ll definitely have the most competition. And I think competition is what separates you. I listened to Jimbo (Texas A&M coach Fisher) talk the other day. He talked about the practice atmosphere and enjoying the camaraderie and competition in practice. The best battles I’ve seen in my career whether it is Miami Dolphins, Florida State, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, they happened on the practice field. Everybody talks about iron sharpens iron. That’s true. We’re are going to have some of the most epic battles we have for who is going to be the right guard, who is going to be left guard, who is going to be the starting defensive tackle. That’s what drives us to have success, it’s those battles that happen throughout camp.”
Everyone knows the 2017 Bulldogs, which lost only to Auburn and Alabama while placing a 13-2 final record beside their national runner-up achievement, played as a unit throughout the season and seemed to be laser focused for each game … maybe with the exception of the regular season loss at Auburn. Will their 2018 successors have that same mind set, so as to attain a second consecutive championship-type season in Athens?
“I think that’s a process you go through,” answered Smart. “I can’t sit here now and tell you they’re ready to do that. I would be shocked if they were. I didn’t feel that way last year about a pretty good football team. I think that you find out about your team throughout the summer, throughout camp, when we have to create adverse situations … the heat, going outside and you don’t get two-a-days to do that anymore. So creating adversity has gotten harder and harder but that’s really where you develop the toughness of your team. That’s where you really find out what they’re made of. And college football continues to change. They get a day off once every seven days in camp. It used to never be that way — it used to be two-a-days constant. It’s changed probably more in the last 20 years than the 40 prior so I think it’s important to know we’ve got to grow our team. We’ve got to develop our team and we’ve got some guys in positions that are really young and we’ve got to develop.”
Asked about the new redshirt rule, implemented by the NCAA which allows a player to see action in a maximum four games and maintain redshirt status for that season, Smart said, in summary, the ruling isn’t something weighing on the minds of the UGA coaching staff at the moment.
“I think you guys are making way too big a deal about this redshirt thing and here’s why,” Smart said. “I don’t really have a philosophy. The guy can either play or he can’t. So I think y’all think we sit around the table and go, ‘we can wait and hold this guy’ because in four years they’re either ready to leave, they’re graduating or even transferring. So if they can help your team now you play them now. You don’t sit back and say, ‘well, he’s going to be better his fifth year if he redshirts.’ Think about redshirt seniors and tell me how many of them have been effective and played a lot and played major roles. They really don’t so all it gives you the luxury of is saying I can play this guy and then I’ll decide if he only plays in four games, whether he redshirts or not, because that’s not a major factor for us. A lot of these, they’ll graduate and they’ll leave or they’ll stay and play it out. It’s not like back when you had Knowshon Moreno and he didn’t play, he redshirted and he was gone. Well, you should have played  him. You didn’t get many years out of him anyway. We’re not making a big deal out of it. We’re looking at our team game by game and what gives us the best chance to win.”
Smart, naturally, was quizzed again about California transfer receiver Demetrius Robertson and whether there’s a possibility the Savannah native could be declared eligible this  coming season.
“I  don’t know much  about that,” Smart replied. “That’s out of my department, it’s in the NCAA’s hands. I’m excited about Demetrius, I think he’s a great kid, a really competitive kid I’ve known since his ninth grade year. I’ve recruited  him a long time and very fortunate to have him decide to come back home. And I’m excited about a lot of receivers we’re recruiting because we’ve got some good wideouts on this team that are leaving and we’re going to have to replace those guys with the set of wide receivers we’re able to sign this year. We’re excited about all the guys we’re recruiting. Again, we’d hope he could play this year but that’s outside of my control and it’s not something we’re really concerned with right now,” Smart said. “We’re preparing with the guys who will be eligible to play and can play.”
With Georgia’s prolific 1-2 running punch, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, now suiting up for the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, respectively, Smart said he’s looking for the Bulldogs’ talented tailbacks, sophomore D’Andre Swift, incoming freshmen Zamir White and James Cook and rising juniors Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien, to all step up and provide the leadership that left campus with the two Bulldog seniors.
“It’s important for us to have that leadership and positive leadership,” Smart said. “They can’t get jealous of each over. Who better to model that, than the two guys they learned under? Those two guys are as good a pair of backs as you will ever see. Herrien, Holyfield and Swift have had to model people to model themselves after. It’s important to think back how would Nick have handled it, how would Sony have handled it, and use that to develop leadership for themselves. I have seen enough to know they have ability. Those guys got a lot of carries last spring when Nick and Sony weren’t carrying it. They have a lot of carries this spring. I’ve seen what they can do. It’s a matter of can they put it all together with past protection and leadership and help with the offensive line the same way Sony and Nick helped inspire those guys.”
And if you don’t mind, Georgia fans, Kirby Smart would rather put that excruciating national championship loss to Alabama way back in his red and black rearview mirror. After all, he’s got a 2018 football season to prepare for … one that, as mentioned, comes with very high expectations once again.
“We’re on to the next year,” Smart emphasized. “We are on to the new recruit. We’re on to the next strategy, whether tactical, medical or physical. We’re constantly looking for the next edge to get the next edge for next year. It’s something we don’t have to rehash all of the time. I think how our players will use that experience to grow, and I think that’s big for our program and understanding that if you do things a certain way, that you can get to certain places. We just have to be able to finish it when we get there.”

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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.