Watch: Kirby Smart Discusses First Scrimmage of 2020

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Watch: Kirby Smart Discusses First Scrimmage of 2020

On his overall impressions/how the quarterbacks operated with the ones [No. 1 teams] and twos [No. 2 teams]…

“We’re behind. I don’t know that I’ve ever come out of a first scrimmage and felt good. I’m happy we got to scrimmage, to be honest with you, just between the injuries and COVID going on with different teams and different programs, the social injustice issues we’re dealing within our country, and our players are dealing with the thoughts of all those things. I’m really proud and happy we were able to scrimmage, but just looking at the scrimmage as a whole— we have a long way to go. We looked like a team that didn’t go through spring practice. We looked like a team that is young at a lot of positions. We were really sloppy, to be honest with you. I guess the thing I was most proud of was that it was pretty hot, and they pushed really hard. We’ve been harping on mental toughness and practice effort, and we really haven’t had good practice effort. Then today I thought, ‘You know what? These guys got tired. They pushed through. We conditioned at the end of practice, and they really pushed through that.’ That part made me proud, but the actual execution was poor. Going back to your quarterback question; I’m pretty sure we had every quarterback go with the 1s at one time. I don’t think Stetson [Bennett] got to go with the 1s. Stetson did a good job in the groups he did go with. Jamie [Newman] operated with the 1s, and JT [Daniels] operated with the 1s. D’Wan [Mathis] got a red area series with the 1s, as well. The reps came out pretty balanced. Stetson had a bit fewer because we had seen his stats a lot more and know more about him because of his time spent with us last year.”

On whether any players have indicated if they would like to take any action against the social injustices that have been brought to the forefront recently/how he and his support staff have communicated with the team about these issues…

“First of all, I give a lot of credit to our staff. I rely heavily on the black men on our staff who have done a tremendous job. Dell [McGee], Cortez [Hankton], Charlton [Warren], Tray Scott, and Jonas [Jennings] have been tremendous assets. All our guys are really great assets, but we lean on those guys, and we lean on their experiences, and they’ve done an unbelievable job. And, yes, our guys are heavily affected. I don’t think [people] realize that. I don’t think, as coaches or that our donors, our alumni, our fans— I don’t think people in the country realize how it affects each young man differently. When you show empathy, and you listen, you hear about their experiences. It’s not all about just what [these young men] see on TV. That certainly is what sparks it, but it’s the personal experiences each one of them has had in their family or in their community. Sometimes that resonates with them; an experience a young man had with his mom and experiences a young man had with his brother. When you sit there as a head coach, and you just listen, you realize how it affects each player differently. One of the most important things I’ve learned in this process is listen twice as much as you talk, and we’ve done a lot of listening. Our players have been very adamant. They brainstorm. They’ve come up with all kinds of ideas about what we think we can do to take action because we’re big on action. I’m big on action. That’s my big thing— I’m not going to just sit there and issue a statement or words. We want action, and our guys came up with an action list of items— probably 17, 18 things — and we’re just taking them on one-by-one. We’re going to take them on and try to be very intentional about what we do.”

On whether any plays or players’ performances standout from the scrimmage…

“It’s hard because I know as media you want to highlight someone. I want to give you that information, but for every one of those highlights, there’s a low light on the other side. For every sack, someone got beat. I don’t know exactly who got beat, and I don’t know exactly who had the most sacks because I don’t have statistics and I haven’t watched the tape yet. There were several long runs. James [Cook] and Zamir [White] both had long runs, mostly against the second-team defense, but the defensive guy made a mistake. The guy misfit it, so it wasn’t like they went out there and broke 18 tackles. They went untouched for 50 or 60 yards. To the normal eye, that’s a great run, but to me, it’s a mistake in the same way on some of the pressures some guys made. Really, the One offense kind of dominated the two defense. The one defense dominated the two offense. You’re like, ‘Okay, that’s great.’ Then we went on one-on-ones, and it was a little more balanced. There were a couple three-and-outs, but the one offense also sustained a drive down and made some plays. I thought it was very competitive when it was one-on-one with the 1s. I don’t feel like there are a lot of big plays in the passing game. We’ve had some big vertical plays in the passing game in practice; we didn’t really have that today. The explosives we had today runs and sloppy mistackles.”

On Dominick “Dom” Blaylock’s ACL injury and how UGA’s wide receiver core will be affected…

“We released a statement, but it’s just very unfortunate. Dom worked as hard as anybody I have ever seen. Ron Courson has probably had over 50 ACL’s in his time here, and he’s never seen somebody work as hard as he did. He likened it to what Nick Chubb went through, who did so much work and prepared so hard. Dom has such a great family at home, and it just hurts for a kid like that to get out there— he was on a rep count when he went back out there— on his third or fourth rep. There was no one even around him. It was a weird deal. He just caught the ball and planted and turned. It was a non-contact ACL, and it’s very unfortunate. That’s what’s so special about Dom. I reached out to him right away, and he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be back. I’m going to be fine. I’m going to get through this. I’m going to push through it. He’s such a fiery competitor, and I’m excited to see him get back. As far as the rest of the guys, we hit a wall a little bit with some of the younger guys. I think they didn’t show us much today. We didn’t have a lot of great vertical passing game, but Kearis [Jackson], Demetris [Robertson] and George [Pickens] are pretty consistent. After that, we’re trying to build a depth chart among those guys, the freshmen and the other guys competing like Justin [Robinson], Marcus (Rosemy-Jacksaint] and Jermaine [Burton] are all competing in there along with Trey Blount and some of the other guys. Nobody really stood out today. It wasn’t like anybody was head and shoulders above the rest.”

On the development of the offense and specifically the quarterbacks…

“I’d like every one of them to be successful and do well. The tough thing is going against our defense day in and day out that we did have a spring to go through. I think offenses traditionally start out a little slower than defense. That’s just always how it’s been in football but the last three or four days there has been a ray of light. There’s been more plays made. Certainly, today when they went against the twos, which the ones on offense don’t always go up against the twos. There was a lot of ray of light, guys were scoring left and right. I don’t think anyone has separated if that’s what you’re asking. As far as the time table for that, I don’t have a time table for that. It’s got to happen. JT [Daniels] is not cleared still. You all think he’s cleared or what you think of is cleared. Cleared to me is, I can go out and play a full game of tackle football. He gets to scrimmage but he wouldn’t be cleared for a game in terms of contact yet. That factors into that decision and also the other guys, what they can do with their feet. Sometimes that’s a tough measurement at quarterback unless you go live with those guys. We haven’t had anyone separate yet.” 

On whether he has gotten used to the changed calendar…

“It’s very unique. I talked to our team about it today. At this scrimmage point, at this time we’re three weeks away. We’re four weeks away with the scrimmage in our bank. The difference is we don’t have that many practices left. Time is there, but practices aren’t if you know what I mean. We’re monitored by the NCAA and also required to give the players a certain amount of time off so our practice numbers we have left are less than we would traditionally have at this point. We also have a little time to recover and get better. When I say behind, I’m talking about the fact we didn’t have spring. We got guys that, Carson Beck didn’t get to go in the spring. D’Wan Mathis, a kid who really needed those reps in the spring, didn’t get to go. Jamie [Newman] didn’t get to have spring practice and JT [Daniels] wasn’t here. When I say behind I mean it from that perspective. I would say that knock on wood, we’ve done a good job with Ron [Courson] and his staff and we’ve been able to keep most of our players out there from a health standpoint and from a COVID standpoint to be able to practice.” 

On the offensive line/who has stepped up and responded to the changes since last season…

“I don’t know what you think, or what you expect or what’s out there. I haven’t seen anything but the spot that is most competitive, both guards are going to be competitive. Trey [Hill] is playing center. Jamaree [Salyer] is playing left tackle. [Justin] Shaffer has done a lot of work with the ones at left guard, Ben [Cleveland] at right guard but I wouldn’t say that’s a done deal because we’ve got Warren Ericson, Clay Webb. We have some good competition. Netori [Johnson] has shown some promise there working. So, those guys are really competing at the guard spot. The right tackle spot has been the one, that is probably the most competitive deal. Owen Condon has really stepped up and done some good things. Owen hasn’t been healthy since he’s been here. He’s been a pleasant surprise in terms of competitiveness, intelligence, toughness. We’d like for him to play with a little more power and be able to move people. Then Warren McClendon. He [Condon] and Warren are probably getting the most reps there. Then Tate [Ratledge] has come along since the pads came on. Tate Ratledge has come on and played well. So we’re trying to find the best mix and as you always know, it’s not three guys getting one spot, it’s can one of those guys go in and play guard, better than one of our guards. So, we have a little bit of musical chairs going on at this point. Matt [Luke] is handling it well, Coach Luke. Those guys are competing. We have a good quality depth there. We don’t have the elite players we had last year.” 

On whether there has been discussion about ways the team can implement a call for action against social injustices/whether the players have been directed on ways to express their opinions across social platforms…

“Like I mentioned Thursday, was a day off, well, Thursday was a day of meetings and exercise, conditioning. We’re allowed to work them out Thursday. It was not a true practice day. It didn’t artificially happen, we just said, ‘Hey, we want to talk about some things.’ A couple of players reached out to me, I guess it was Wednesday night after practice. I had seen all the issues in Wisconsin. I had seen the social injustice, all the different shots, and all the different camera angles Monday or Tuesday night. Wednesday night, when the NBA boycotted its games, I started getting some stuff from our players reaching out saying, ‘Coach, let’s talk. Let’s revisit this.’ We had talked about it prior, earlier in the summer, but since camp had started, we’ve had a couple speakers come in, but we hadn’t really shared as a team. Dell [McGee], Cortez [Hankton] and Jonas [Jennings] thought it would be a good time, and we have a tremendous staff here. We let the players share Thursday. What was supposed to be a quick meeting and then go to our football stuff, ended up being three and a half hours of each guy sharing, and it turned into brainstorming [and] coming up with some ideas. We didn’t do any football that day. Football wasn’t important. They got to voice their opinions. Emotionally, a lot of our guys are in pain. When you hear it, it’s easy to sit back behind a social media site or a social media and post something and have your opinion but until you’ve actually heard guys and the pain they’re going through and the things they feel, you don’t know. That certainly affected me and it affected our players. I’ll say this. They have been very intentional about wanting action. They want the University of Georgia, in terms of the athletic department, to represent them, they want to do things in the community, they want to give back to their communities. They want to make change. They want 100 percent of student-athletes at Georgia to vote. They’re issuing the challenges that need to be done and I’m really proud of them for that.”

On Dominick Blaylock’s ACL injury and how UGA’s wide receiver core will be affected…

“His head’s in a great space because he’s got the right mindset. We’ve had some players who have been injured a lot. Thomas Davis— I think Ron [Courson] said he had been through three ACL injuries throughout his career, so he had him reach out, and also Malcolm Mitchell, who’s had some experience with that as well. You know it’s always good to hear somebody who has had success after these experiences. We all know Zamir [White] had gone through it from high school to a year in college. Dom’s great, he’s resilient, he’s going to fight, he’s a competitor, he’s a great kid to be around and we want to keep him around the team. In terms of the other guys, Dom had not been out there much prior to so it wasn’t like the reps increased. So the rest of the guys have taken the load and have done a good job of it.”

On the performance of special teams/what Scott Cochran brings to the staff and how his transition has been…

“I thought the special teams were behind on where we need to be. That’s just like the offense and defense, when you don’t get spring practice and you don’t get to do that, you’re basically taking eight months off, you fall behind. We’ve got to improve there, we’ve got to have our best players play on those units. We showed some video of Travon Walker who played on special teams last year and dominated before the scrimmage. We’re trying to figure out which freshman is going to be him, which freshman is going to be that guy that really dominates and takes over and plays on special teams and takes ownership of that. A lot of times in these scrimmages they’re so exhausted, they don’t have the juice for special teams. It’s a lot easier to play special teams in a real game when you’re not playing every snap, which in the scrimmage we’ve got more guys playing because we’re on both sides of the ball. But Scott has been awesome, he brings great energy in the meetings, he does a tremendous job on the field. The players enjoy being around him, it’s a team effort we’ve got every coach on staff helping with that side of it. The punters, [Jake] Camarda kicked the ball really well, [Bill] Rubright hit a couple punts and then field goal kicking is still a competition. We had four guys kick field goals today, but [Jarid] Zirkel kicked the ball well and is in a heated competition for that job.”

Watch a fullscreen slideshow HERE.
These photos can be viewed, downloaded HERE.

On whether he thinks there should be an asterisk by this season’s championship winner (to denote COVID-19 effects) or whether the winner will deserve the title regardless…

“I don’t know how you would have an asterisk by a conference championship, because that would be as most real as we’ve ever had, right? That would be 10 games and hopefully a championship, so if you’re talking about that, the only asterisk that would be by that would be, ‘This is the toughest team there ever was,’ because they went through 10 games in our league and played a championship game. Hats off to them, because they need an asterisk saying they were the national champions, in my opinion, because it’s going to be tough in terms of the number of practices we have and fighting COVID. If you told me how many guys had to miss games in a 10-game schedule, because of exposure or because of a positive, they probably would really have an asterisk on the championship. One game you could have your starting quarterback out, and that could play a major factor. As far as the national championship, basically it’s the teams that are playing. If the teams that are playing play, I don’t see why it would have an asterisk, because it is what it is. It’s beyond the kids’ control—they weren’t able to go and play those other teams, and all of the teams that were eligible to play played. I would certainly think people would want to put an asterisk by it, but these teams in the SEC won’t do that; not after playing 10 games, a conference championship, and possibly two playoffs.”

On the story behind Darnell Washington’s choice of jersey number/his nickname ‘The Big 0’…

“I don’t exactly know when ‘O’ came about. It may have been after he was committed or signed I’m not sure. It brings a smile to my face because those offensive guys call him ‘The Big O,’ and he is big, he is very big. When they said ‘The Big O’ I didn’t get it until I realized he’s ‘The Big O’ for wearing zero. He’s a big man, and I assume he wanted a single digit and ‘The Big O’ is another single digit, even though it looks funny.”

On whether he spoke with Todd Monken [Offensive Coordinator] after the scrimmage/how they viewed the performance by the offense…

“I talked to Monken after the scrimmage briefly, but he hasn’t watched the tape either so the assessment of how the guys did I would reserve judgment on that until we get to watch the tape or analyze it. I don’t think we’re ready to say where the quarterbacks are in terms of the development and which guys step it up. The biggest issue with the quarterbacks is the number of reps, you can’t prepare four, five, or even three quarterbacks, so that makes it tough.”

On Daran Branch being back and if he is practicing…

“[Daran] Branch is back with the team. He was with us today. He wasn’t allowed to practice because he didn’t have on pads yet. He’s going through an acclimation period. He was out there working out, did the individual, and did the drills. We’re excited to have him back. He had some personal things he had to go home and take care of, and I’m glad he’s back with us and taking another shot at it.”

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