Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart Post-Practice Presser – March 25, 2021

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Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart Post-Practice Presser – March 25, 2021

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On what the offensive plan is without George Pickens…

“We played last year without George for several games. I thought offensively, we had a good plan for Florida and happened to lose another receiver in that game. We had our opportunities against Florida, and he wasn’t out there. George will be dearly missed out there, because he’s talented, he works really hard. He makes our whole team better, and I know that’s obvious in terms of what he does offensively, but he makes all the defensive backs better. So, when you talk about challenging guys, there’s no greater matchup for a young DB to go against than George. That part, we don’t control, but what we do control is how we respond to it. George knows that, and we’ll have other guys step up. I’m very hopeful that George gets well and is able to come back.”

On the latest on where Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint are in their rehabs and what their absences mean for the next guys up…

 

 

 

 

 “It really puts it on everybody. I think Brock Bowers, I think Darnell [Washington] fits, and James [Cook], Zamir [White], Daijun [Edwards] and Kendall [Milton]— you’ve got a lot of guys who we’ll try to find ways to get the ball to them. I don’t look at it as receiver pressure. I look at it as an opportunity for other guys to step up and do some special things. Rosemy [-Jacksaint] is rehabbing and has been out there doing walkthroughs [and] coaching the young receivers. He’s really into it. Dominick [Blaylock] is very smart and understands it. He’s rehabbing, as well. Both those guys are running and doing things, but they just aren’t cleared to practice yet.”

On whether the offensive focus will be about coming up with a player who can do all the things Pickens can do or more about reemphasizing other areas where the ball goes, depending on the talent that emerges…

“You take your best 11 football players, and you try to find ways. That could be one back, three tight ends. That could be three back, one tight end. That could be five wides, no backs, no tight ends. You find your best football players, and you find ways to get them the ball. That’s what I think Coach [Todd] Monken does a great job of, so he’s going to try to exploit whoever you’re playing’s weaknesses. He’s going to try to use our strengths to do that with. We have plays we’ll call that are the same plays we call in all personnel groupings; it’s just another way to get another playmaker the ball. We lost a guy who’s a pretty good playmaker, but we’ve got other guys we think are good playmakers, and we’ll just find more ways to get them the ball.”

 

 

 

 

On Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson / how they could progress in the absence of Pickens in terms of the attention defenses tended to give to Pickens…

“We really didn’t have that. I think that’s a misnomer that people give attention, or role coverage, or things like that. We didn’t really have that last year. The games [Pickens] didn’t play, it didn’t matter, and the games he did, we got a lot of special coverages. So, I don’t think we’ll get that. We’re enough run-oriented and we have a strong enough offensive line that people have to honor and commit to the run, and they’re not able to put a lot of doubles out there on people. Those guys played well last year, and I’d like to think both of them are going to be better this year, right? They’re more experienced. Certainly, in Jermaine’s case, he’ll be more experienced. We’ve got to find a supporting cast around him, and we’ve got the players to do that. That’s the most important thing.”

“Yeah. I’m excited to see the work both of them do. They’re both extremely talented, but they’re both blessed with great work ethic since they’ve gotten here. They’re ‘total program’ guys. They’ve been major factors on special teams, which that’s been a really high-quality area here. Ameer Speed is probably one of the most elite kickoff return people on the frontline in the country,  and people respect that. Channing Tindall has been a starter on punts since he got here and has been a dominant player on a lot of special teams. He’s played on third downs a lot. He’s had sack production. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys and the work they do. As far as the Transfer Portal and staying here? That’s the way it should be. You should want to play for your university. You should want to get your degree from your university, and when you get your degree, it certainly opens up doors to go other places. A Georgia degree is worth a lot more than just going somewhere else and just playing more. I ask people all the time, ‘If you’re not going to be a starter at Georgia, what makes you think you’re going to be a starter in the NFL?’ It doesn’t work that way. It’s easy to say, ‘Well, I couldn’t start at Georgia, so I’ll go play somewhere else.’ How about getting your degree, play for the university, play for your teammates and try to win a National Championship? To me, that’s something special. [Tindall and Speed] have aspirations beyond the University of Georgia, but right now they get a great workout place, they’ve got great staff, [and] they’re developing. We’ve had guys who maybe didn’t necessarily start every game, but who have gone on and played in the NFL.”

On Justin Robinson…

“Well Justin has come a long way since he got here. He got here last year and then the pandemic hit, and he didn’t get to go through a spring that would have helped him from a competitive standpoint. Then he was dinged up in the fall. He had a couple different injuries, and then he got hurt late in the year [and] was not able to do some things. He also had some knee stuff. He did not do all the off-season workouts, and I always like for those young guys to get the mental toughness of the off-season workouts. He started to get some of that at the end. It really started to push him and challenge him. He has shown some flashes in the last couple of days. If he can sustain and keep that same energy, juice, and level- there are times he practices really hard and then there are times where I think he is trying to save and condition himself. But when he really goes, he is a really good factor for us. He is a big guy that is hard to match up with. He is different than some of our other guys because of his size.”

On the importance of spring practice for Darnell Washington as he enters his second year…

“It is big for everyone to go through spring, right? It is a huge deal to get to spring practice. This would have been his first spring practice anyways. He has grown a lot, he is a lot smarter, and he is in better condition. He is in a better mental toughness state, part of being a good player is pushing through practice and being able to sustain, and he struggled to sustain through tough practices last year. He has done that this year, he has practiced a little harder. He is doing some good things. He is still really big— 275, 280 pounds. He is a different kind of match-up guy.”

On how Skull Sessions are translating on the field…

“Yeah, our Skull Sessions have continued. We don’t stop that when spring practice starts that would be counterproductive. We have continued those every Wednesday. We come together 20 to 25 minutes in small groups. We rotate coaches around so everyone can visit with a different group. Our guys have been awesome. They have been great. We have worked on different DNA components each time we have met, and they have been really good. They have been good for me, I feel like you get to see the players in a different light, share personal things. It is just a good group talk, just good connection.”

On Pickens’ mental state and how he will embrace new role…

“George has been a part of all of those (Skull Sessions), ironically our topic yesterday was resiliency. It was picked on before the injury that happened to George, but we talked about Alex Smith’s injury and his recovery, the things he had to overcome. So, the guys got to see that, and it was a pretty gruesome injury, when you talk about those kinds of injuries. But I think George will embrace his role. George, he loves football, he loves football. He will be around our players, coaching those guys, trying to help them in any way he can. I think that is huge.”

On whether he thinks there is a chance that Pickens could return for the 2021 season…

“Yeah, obviously I think there is a chance he could be back in 2021. We have had kids that have had ACL injuries. I liken it to Divaad (Wilson), it was an interesting case. I think Divaad when he first got here it was the third day of spring practice- and he didn’t know our defense, but he was going to help us. I think he was cleared to go somewhere around the Florida week. The issue with Divaad is that he didn’t know our defense. The difference with George is that he knows most of our offense and he has played longer and so he is little older. But all of that will be dictated by Ron (Courson), we will not be concerned with that right now. What we are concerned with right now is a great surgery and a great rehab. He has a great career ahead of him, talking about George. So that will be a situation where the doctors make the medical decision. I can assure you that no one in the country has had as many ALCs that they have had to work with than, I’m not talking about because we have had a lot of ACL injuries but because Ron Courson has been here since I have been here. That is a long time. He has seen a lot of ACLs and the names that he has rehabbed is pretty impressive. I know when NFL executives ask where did you do your rehab, that is one of the most critical factors. I reached out to Hines Ward, I talked to him for a while, he is a receivers coach in the NFL and the first thing he said was that the number one thing people want to know is where you did your rehab at? Well, when you do it at Georgia it is super credible and we do it the right way. We have more ways to help George get back to himself than anybody. The timeline of that? I mean who knows. That is not concerning to me right now.”

On whether he feels good about the players he has at positions of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs…

“As far as the players we have out there working, I think we have plenty of good players at tight end, running back, receiver. Yeah, it hurts, but the positive I guess you could find in any of this is, would you rather [George Pickens] find this out now or a week before the Clemson game? It is tough for George, of course, but he is going to be on the mend and the healing side as opposed to going through anything next year in the season.”

On whether he has connected George Pickens with former players who dealt with ACL injuries while at UGA….

“Yeah, Ron Courson has done a great job of that. I know he reached out to Nick Chubb who dealt with this obviously and Zamir White here in house. I think he was reaching out to Todd Gurley, but I don’t know if he ever connected with him or not. We have done a lot of that, and I think George appreciates that. He understands that he’s got some work ahead of him.”

On guys stepping up so far this spring…

“Yeah, I think all of those guys are going a great job. They work really hard, and we are excited about them.  I am hoping that the, I call it ‘frustration,’ but it’s really ‘growth,’ pays off in the fall, because we have so many kids coming through for the first time.  When you have 16 mid-years, plus the freshmen from last year, there is a large part of your team that is really young. It seems like you’re saying that all the time, but that is what college football is now – how fast can you get your players acclimated and ready to go?”

On what Xavier Truss has been able to do this spring…

“He is a hard worker. He has trimmed some of his weight down. I thought he gained some confidence in the Cincinnati game.  He got to play in a tough environment against a really good defense, and the best way to improve at the point that he was at is to go out and play. He has been out there this spring competing. I think he is doing a lot better with the mental side of things, like picking it up. Coach [Matt] Luke really challenges him to play with more energy and more passion. He is one of those guys who doesn’t really show it a lot. He doesn’t play with a lot of emotion, and sometimes you want that emotion to come out and show some personality when you have a good block and when you compete really hard, but he has gained a lot of confidence. And for a kid that probably didn’t get to go against the same caliber of competition week in and week out in high school, he has adjusted really well, and he is a joy to be around.”

On whether offense or defense is winning…

“[The] offense is winning. The defense has got to get better. They’ve got to grow up. I don’t think it is a lack of effort; the offense is just ahead right now, and that’s okay. It’s not like it’s an ‘us and them’ thing—, it’s a ‘we.’  And we will get better. Who better to get you better than a team who is talented with an experienced quarterback and pretty good skill players? It is a lot of guys to replace on defense when you have five or six guys on the back end all new. The drills are not set up to be an advantage for the offense, you don’t really know much till you have the first scrimmage, and you can go out and tackle. I would say they are definitely ahead in terms of execution and doing it right.”

On his time playing with Will Muschamp…

“Well, I played defense, so if he hit me, it was probably because he closed his eyes or something. He wasn’t knocking me out, he was knocking the other guys out. I don’t have a lot of memories here with Will because I was a freshman and didn’t play and redshirted and went home every weekend, so we weren’t in the same age group. We were on the same team, but I was always on the scout team, and he was playing, so I didn’t really get to know Will until I started coaching with him at Valdosta State.”

 

 

 

 

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