ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs worked out for a little over two hours on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for their SEC matchup this Saturday at Tennessee.
Following are comments from head coach Kirby Smart:
‘’Warm day. I thought we had a good Tuesday practice, actually. It’s always pleasing, I think. The quality of the opponent helps with that and the focus was there. We’ve had those kind of Tuesday practices. It’s Wednesday that we’ve always struggled with. They usually hit a rut about Wednesday, but today was good, had good energy, good ‘good-on-good’ sections, worked on some special teams and trying to get some guys healthy.’’
On the status of OG Solomon Kindley:
‘’I didn’t get to see him in live action because I didn’t work with the offense much today. He didn’t go in the ‘good-on-good’ stuff, where we’re Ones on Ones, Twos on Twos. He went with the scout work some. We think he’s going to be OK, but we just don’t want to put him in there with the Ones right now because they go against a little bigger guys. Our Ones go against more quality scout look team than the Twos do. We hope he’ll be alright. I’ll know more after I watch his tape.’’
Has Jacob Eason been cleared to play yet and will he be available on Saturday?
‘’It’s day-to-day. He did do much better today, I thought. I got to see him in the 7-on-7 periods and I got to see him in some of the early periods in practice. He looks much better than he did last week. He’s moved around and escaped some. Even yesterday, he took reps and a couple of times a D lineman broke through and he was able to get away, moving comfortable. So he’s much closer to being able to play.’’
Describe the matchup between your defensive backs and Tennessee’s wide receivers, and also how Malkom Parrish’s return affects that matchup.
‘’Malkom had a much better day today. We pick his volume up each day. He’s starting to get some of his stamina back. He looks really good in ‘individual’ and then as the day goes on, he kinda wears down a little bit. But we’ve given him more reps every day. He’s done better with each rep. He’s getting back to his old self. I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent, but he’s much closer than he was.
‘’As far as their wideouts, Marquez Callaway was a guy that, man he’s a good player. We watched him a lot on tape in high school and thought he was a really good player. He’s played above and beyond, this year, than I ever thought he would. He’s just a really good player, great punt returner. Good size, great hands. And then the kid that really shows up to me is Brandon Johnson, who is from south Florida. He had some big catches in the last game. And of course Josh Smith is always in there for them. They’ve got some good wideouts. It should be a good matchup. Our DBs are hopefully up for the challenge. I tell you, the part you don’t recognize at Tennessee is the physicality with which their receivers play. Kevin Beard, who was here last year, is coaching their receivers and he’s got ‘em blocking like they’re mad. They do a good job with that.’’
We saw your cut blocking drill today. How effective is Tennessee’s cut blocking when they try to run outside on offense?
‘’We do that cut blocking drill every Tuesday. It’s kind of like our weekly fundamentals, so we do that all the time. But we do have live cut periods during practice because Tennessee does a tremendous job on some of their perimeter runs of cutting you. So we always think it helps. If they cut us live, we’ve got to practice cutting live. That’s an asset for them. If you count the number of times, over the last 10 years, that I’ve had a defense play them, where you get cut, it’s higher in the Tennessee game than it is in any other game. So we emphasize it this week.’’
What’s your impression of Tennessee’s pass rush?
‘’They’ve got great athletes up there. They’ve got size. To me they have more size than Mississippi State had when it comes to weight in the inside guys. Really good speed on the outside. Of course they had that last year and it certainly affected us. They do a tremendous job with it, and you have to find a way to negate it. Their defensive coordinator is a good friend of mine and he’s always done a good job with the pass rush.’’
How do you think your team has performed in the red zone so far this year, with it being a point of emphasis in the offseason?
‘’I feel like the work there has paid off offensively pretty good. Statistics can lie in that, too, because sometimes you’re 100 percent but you may not be scoring touchdowns. We have our own way of measuring statistics in the red zone. It’s different from the SEC’s numbers. Sometimes those are misleading, but defensively I felt we should have kept them out of the end zone a couple of times, or held them to field goals but weren’t able to. We’ll continue getting better at it. We emphasize it, so hopefully we’ll get a return on it. But humility is a week away.’’
Are you satisfied with the progress that your freshman defensive backs have made so far?
‘’Some are, but I’ll be honest with you. Some aren’t. Some can’t handle the not playing. When the first game comes, you think you’re gonna play. Second game comes, you figure you’re going to play. By the time the third and fourth games come, and you haven’t played, you tend to lose focus. And we’ve got a group of those guys that can’t stay focused, can’t stay involved, can’t carry over from meetings. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not disappointed in them. I’ve just come to realize that some kids mature faster than others. They’ll get it. I mean, there are guys that are juniors here now that didn’t get it their first year. So they’ll get it eventually, but not all of them are improving. Some of them aren’t learning like they need to. But the ones that can help us, we’re gonna make ‘em improve.’’
In your experience, how common is it to lose some of them, engagement-wise?
‘’Very common. They’ve got to stay involved. I tell them all the time during camp, 100 times we tell them, that you’d better get involved in special teams, or you may not be on the bus. The bus only has 70 people on it, and it’s tough to make a 70-man roster here now, because they competition has increased a lot.’’
What are the challenges facing Tennessee’s quarterback (Dormady)?
‘’He does a great job. I mean, the guy makes a lot of throws. I haven’t seen him up close in person, but he makes a lot of great throws. He has very good arm talent, makes good decisions, so it’ll be a challenge. They do a great job with their offense. They mix it up a lot. They’ve got a lot of great things they do. They always have. Butch has done that since he was at Cincinnati.’’
What’s your assessment of (Tennessee TB) John Kelly and how does he compare to some other backs you’ve seen?
‘’He’s one of the best backs I’ve seen, really in a long time. This is what I think of him. He runs through arm tackles. He’s extremely physical. He’s violent in his blow delivery. I mean, this guy stiff-arms, he’s hit people all over the place. The guy has incredible leg drive. I thought that last year about him. This year he’s like Alvin (Kamara) and (Jalen) Hurd altogether in one. The guy runs hard and he doesn’t seem to get tired. The more carries he gets, the more physical he runs. Some of those runs he had at the end of the game against Florida were really impressive. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a competitor.’’
What does John Atkins mean to your defense?
‘’He’s the heart of the trench. He really is. Without him, the guards and centers are getting up on Roquan (Smith). He does a tremendous job of block recognition. When the center turns to go block somebody else, he immediately knows who’s blocking him. He strikes, he holds the point down. A lot of our defense is predicated off not being able to move him. And the less people move him, the more success we have. He takes a lot of pride in that. There is no glory in what he does. He’s got thumbs, ankles, wrists. He’s battered, but he loves it and he never complains.’’
How much did you work on getting your team’s minds right, coming off the win last Saturday?
‘’We worked hard on it Monday. We had conversations about it. We didn’t do a whole lot today. Tuesday is a work day. You can rah-rah ‘em every day. I mean, they’ve got to take ownership of it, and the leadership of this team has done a good job with that. I was worried today wouldn’t be a great day. I thought it would be a little lackluster. But it wasn’t that way. They got out there and worked and competed, and I hope it’s the same way tomorrow.’’