FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–UGA Sports Communications
ATHENS — The 12th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs worked out for a little over two hours on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for their SEC matchup this Saturday at No. 23 Ole Miss.
Following are excerpts from head coach Kirby Smart’s post-practice press briefing on Tuesday:
On Riley Ridley’s injury and availability
‘’It happened in the Nicholls game. He broke a part of his lower thumb. He’s back. He’s worked out now. He’s trying to figure out how comfortable he is catching the ball and playing on special teams. The faster we can figure that out, the faster we’ll know whether he’s going to play this week. It’s just whether or not he can deal with the pain.’’
On Isaiah McKenzie
‘’We didn’t recruit him when I was at Alabama. First time I noticed him was when he returned kicks here. Some friends of mine told me that he was a late signee that Coach Richt stood on the table for. A lot of the guys on staff didn’t want to take him. He (Richt) stood up and said ‘we’re taking the guy. It’s my call and he’s a special player. I’m glad they did. I’m very grateful. He was a teammate of Sony’s, obviously, but from what I heard he never even came on a visit.
‘’I won’t say it’s a concern physically because he’s a really tough guy. I just worry about the wear and tear. At 175 pounds you can’t take too many of those deals. He practices the same way. He’s so competitive in practice. He returns every punt. He returns the punts for our ‘looks’ squad and then he returns the punts for our return team. Then he goes back on kickoff coverage and returns kicks. He catches every ball, he wants to get in every rep sometimes, and he’s in for the ones and the twos. I love guys that just want to play. We had a guy at Alabama just like that…Javier Arenas. He just wanted to play, and the game on Monday through Thursday was just as important as the game on Saturday, which is crazy. Isaiah’s that way. We watch his GPS. We try to see what his yardage is and his miles per hour, and when they decline we shut him down, which he doesn’t like.’’
What has allowed McKenzie to take a big step forward?
‘’He’s gotten better. He understands the offense. He’s a year older. He’s bigger and tougher. He’s gotten open and the offense has catered to him. We’ve got a lot of plays that we’ve designed for him. That doesn’t always continue. When you become a feature, you can ask Nick Chubb about that. People start keying on you. I’m very thankful for the way he works and that Jim and the offensive staff use him in the way they do. My biggest thing with him is ball security, and we work hard on that every day. He’s gotta continue to get better with that.’’
In-game adjustments that you’ve made that stick out so far?
‘’You’d like to think so, but there are other people making adjustments, too. So it’s like, you make them and sometimes you make them and they’re right. Sometimes you make them and they’re not. They make a chess move and then we make a chess move. You try to create advantages for yourself, but there’s nothing that I can point to that was the greatest thing ever. If you run inside, you run outside. If you can throw it over the middle, throw outside. Try to find a way to protect certain guys on defense. Where’s their best receiver? Where are they hurting you the most? We always try to do that at halftime. I really try to challenge the coaches because that’s something I learned from my old boss of always trying to be ahead of the curve in that area. So, what are you doing up in the box? Are you watching the game or are you trying to help the offense?’’
On Eason in the pocket
‘’He’s done a good job of maintaining his composure in the pocket. Sometimes the pocket breaks down and he’s gotta move. We really work hard on that. Coach Chaney works with the quarterbacks each day to move within the pocket and try to use the pocket to your advantage, because when you escape the pocket nobody can help you. They (Ole Miss) are ferocious rushers. They disrupt the pocket. They really have some unbelievable rushers. You’ve gotta do a good job of building the pocket so that you can throw from it. They challenge that in everything they do.’’
On simulating Chad Kelly in practice…
‘’You don’t simulate that. I learned last year. It doesn’t matter. They’ve got so many RPO’s built into their offense. They’ve got three options every play, none of which is the triple option like Georgia Tech. It’s run, bubble, throw. They can throw at any point in time during the game, and the guy (Kelly) has a great release. And when all that breaks down? He’ll take off running. They’ve got four options and he’s really good at all four. It’s what makes him hard to defend. I really think, in my time in the SEC — even the embarrassment that Johnny Manziel put me through and put us through at the University of Alabama, throwing the ball — this guy’s got it all. He can make all the throws from the pocket. He can run the ball. He can run bubbles. And he’s got moxie. He’s got a moxie about him where he’ll stand in there and take a shot. He’s not afraid.’’
Concerned about penalty on Kirby Choates last week?
‘’It concerns me for his safety. It concerns me for the safety of the kid that he hit. Kirby didn’t mean to do that. It was not an intent. He was just trying to join in and make a play. He feels terrible about it. It’s something that we’ve got to make sure we do a good job of making sure doesn’t happen in practice. We challenge them in practice to cover punts and go fast because if you don’t, they’ll break down and the guy will have a miss. We certainly don’t want to ever do what he did. Just no smart and he could have injured himself just as easily as the next guy.’’
On working with secondary to avoid big plays:
‘’Well, you’ve got to stop the run. I would love to say that we’re not going to give up any deep plays, but when you have four wide receivers out there, you have to cover them all. You can’t cover all of them with double coverage. Somebody’s going to be one-on-one, so we either get really far off of them… 8 or 9 yards and say ‘don’t give up anything over your head.’ Or we get up there on them, and get our hands on them, and we say ‘don’t give up anything over your head.’ But when you get really far off of them, they catch it short, like 7 and 8 yards. So you can either die a really slow death, with little paper cuts, or go after them and be aggressive. That’s the dilemma we face as coaches. Which one do we do? It’s hard. So I can’t tell you how we don’t give up big plays. I know this: we’ve got to look at the right things, play the right technique, play the right coverage. Do that and we have a chance. But with this guy at quarterback, it’s gonna come down to a ball being in the air on a receiver and a DB, just like it did last week against Alabama and just like it did against Florida State. You win some and you lose some, and gosh I hope we win ‘em all. But it’s not realistic. It’s what you’re gonna do after that that makes me feel more confident. I’ve seen guys like Juwuan Briscoe give up a 70- or 80-yarder, and then he came back and made some good plays. So I’m hoping to see that.’’