At UGA football’s weekly press conference on Monday, the media got the opportunity to talk with Fain and Billy Slaughter Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning and Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach James Coley.
Lanning was hired back in January of 2018 to replace the departure of Kevin Sherrer who was Georgia’s outside linebackers coach from 2014-2017. After Mel Tucker left to become the Colorado Buffalo’s head coach just a few days after the 2018 SEC Championship game in December, Lanning was promoted to defensive coordinator in February 2019. Along with his defensive coordinator duties, Lanning still coaches the outside linebackers group.
Coach Lanning was asked about his role of continuing to work with the linebackers and he talked about his passion for the game.
“You know I have a real passion for this game, it’s something I really love to do, and I always tell our guys whenever football is over with, make sure you do something you’re passionate about,” said Dan Lanning. “But I think your players take on your mentality. If I coach really casually, and just kind of cruise on cruise control out there, then I expect my players to play that way. So I want to coach with passion so my players play with passion.”
If you have ever had the opportunity to watch Dan Lanning coach, you get to see that passion on display. It was evident during last year’s 2018 UGA football season and back during spring practice. That passion hasn’t waivered heading into fall camp. Coach Lanning’s enthusiasm and passion stood out during the opening day of fall football practice last Friday.
With how closely Coach Lanning works with the outside linebackers and given the talent but youth of that group, the second part to that question was what he has seen out of those younger backers so far.
“On a young guy stepping up, we’ve got a ton of competition in that room I’m really, really excited about it,” said Dan Lanning. “In fact, yesterday we were joking around when we started fitting some runs, the pads came on yesterday, I don’t know if you guys know it’s Shark Week, but Nolan Smith, we’re calling him Hammerhead now, the way he likes collision runs. There’s some really good competition, we’ve got some guys in there that are working really hard but at this point, you know that it’s still wide open.”
He elaborated further on freshman OLB Nolan Smith, who was a 5-star linebacker signee out of IMG Acadamy in Georgia’s 2019 recruiting class and enrolled early back in January.
“One thing coming in with guys, you want to make sure that it’s not just about stars,” said Dan Lanning. “I think coming to college is a humbling experience for any person, so Nolan handled that the right way. He’s really eager to learn, he’s extremely bright and smart. He’s one of those guys that signed the signing day papers and then the next day is like, ‘coach, where’s my playbook at?’ That’s Nolan, and he’s great for our room, he motivates our guys, he plays really hard, and you can overcome a lot of young mistakes when you play hard. And that’s what’s exciting probably about Nolan.”
Nolan Smith is just one of a number of talented outside linebackers on the 2019 UGA football roster. There is 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs sophomore Adam Anderson, 6-foot-4 and 244 lbs redshirt sophomore Rober Beal, Jr., 6-foot-3 and 230 lbs redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari, 6-foot-2 and 210 lbs redshirt freshman walk-on Matthew Brown as well as a junior college transfer from Independence C.C., 6-foot-5 and 240 lbs Jermaine Johnson. The lone veteran upperclassman of the group is 6-foot-4 and 245 lbs junior Walter Grant who has played in 29 games, starting 8 of those.
Coach Lanning was asked which of the outside linebackers have the opportunity to take the next step in productivity.
“It’d be hard to single out one or two,” said Dan Lanning. “But there’s some guys that have had a really good camp so far and obviously we’re only three days in. Walter Grant’s a guy that moved around a lot in the Spring and has done some really good stuff coming back; he’ll work with us more full time this Fall. Azeez Ojulari‘s a guy that finished off the year last year really strong and is doing really well, but I don’t think you could put aside the work that Robert Beal’s put in. It’s hard to just sit here and say this guy, that guy, and obviously, we have some newcomers we’re really excited about.
Lanning went on to talk about how you teach the younger student-athletes, those four and five-star prospects, like Nolan Smith, who dominated in high school.
“You put them in a competition scenario,” said Dan Lanning. “So what do we do, we try to create competition every day; and like you said, a lot of these guys were coming from a situation at 13 where they’re the best player on their team, and maybe that competition didn’t exist, but when you walk on that field at Georgia, you better get ready to strap it on and go to work or somebody else is going to move ahead. So, competition almost creates itself at our practice because we’ve got a lot of great players.”
When you hear Dan Lanning speak, when you see him coach, and how he interacts with the upperclassmen, the younger players, and the newcomers on the football team, I am very much reminded of Head Coach Kirby Smart and his passion for coaching and the game. You can watch Coach Lanning’s full press conference by clicking on the video below, and you’ll notice that horseness and raspiness in his voice is from exercising that passion for coaching in practice.