Smart, players update preparations for Ga Tech

Noon kick Saturday in Atlanta, television on ABC

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 24: Watts Dantzler #78 of the Georgia Bulldogs walks past Brandon Watts #11 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with a quartet of players previewed Saturday’s rivalry matchup against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets kick off at noon ET in Atlanta, Ga.

On Tuesday, Coach Smart, juniors Lewis Cine and Warren Ericson, and redshirt freshmen Ladd McConkey and Kelee Ringo offered the following comments after practice...

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the overall assessment of offense this season…

“I’ve really been proud of what those guys have done in terms of the injuries we’ve had. We just had had a countless number of guys in and out, in and out, and revolving to our receivers. You know, tight ends are the most consistent position but even Darnell (Washington), was a lot faster before the injury. He had to really work himself back into shape. So overall, I’m pleased with those guys. We’ve been explosive, we’ve avoided some third downs because of our efficiency and our explosiveness. I think that’s a big part of it. There’s a lot of things we can work on too. There are some games we haven’t been consistently running it. We turn the ball over more than we should and those are all things we can’t afford to do in the future.”

On Broderick Jones…

“I’m very pleased. I think Broderick is an extremely hard worker. I’ve said repeatedly he buys into the team concept as good as any player I’ve been around. He’s so happy when you do well, regardless of his role. He’s embraced his role. He’s become more coachable. We used to tell him something, he got offended by it. Now he embraces it and says I’ll work on that. I’ll continue to grow and get better. We want him to be more physical in the run game. Wanting him to work on getting stronger at the point of attack and getting movement. But we need him to be more consistent in his assignments but that comes with experience.”

On Derion Kendrick, Kelee Ringo, and the defensive backs….

“Both have good size. Both have good ball skills that’s helped up in terms of holding the point tackling so much of football now is playing on the perimeter. And that’s where I think we’ve been able to hold up nicely in terms of point of attack blocks and hands on people because they’re both 200-pound kids and they both have good length. They both have given up some plays and they both been protected by a pretty good front at times in terms of maybe when they got beat. The quarterback got rushed, and that’s helped them some but they did everything we’ve asked and they take all their walkthrough reps very seriously. We’ve really been impressed with DK’s maturity in terms of leadership in that DB room. He’s played in a lot of big games. He provides a lot of confidence for the other guys.”

On defensive coordinator Dan Lanning…

“He’s doing a tremendous job. I think he’s very detailed, very organized. He’s a very good motivator. He has a lot of energy. He invest in the players. He thinks outside the box teaches in a way that keeps it interesting. And I think that’s really important in today’s day and age of all the guys on social media and things. They enjoy his intensity. And he’s done a tremendous job. He’s done a great job since he had the job. I mean, he’s not really grown into the role, he’s embraced the role and he’s had a lot of help and we’ve had other experiences, experience guys in the secondary. It had a lot of consistency and continuity, which I think helps him be successful and good players improve well. We all recruit well, and we all take ownership in that. So that part’s been really good for him. He’s embraced it. As far as coaching opportunities, I help anybody, at anytime. I don’t get into the advice because I think that’s an independent decision. If they asked me my opinion, I’ll certainly will tell you what I think because I think that there’s some really good jobs out there and the number one thing is can you get good players and can you win your conference, and those opportunities will present themselves if you just be where your feet are. I tell him to worry about that and rest to take care of itself.”

On the secondary and zone defense…

“I feel it has much to do with our past defense being maybe improved is the front guys that are playing in a second year. We probably weren’t as good all the way around last year. Devonte (Wyatt) was not the player last year that he is this year. He shed 15 or 20 pounds. Jalen Carter was not the player last year that he is this year, he was a true freshman. We had some guys on the edge that can rush but we have guys on the edge now that can rush. So I think the biggest change itself was to be successful in the rush, in combination of some things we changed. We’ll win on a lot more on first and second down to create third and longs than we did last year and we’ve given up less explosives, which helps to I don’t know what you can attribute it to exactly. I don’t think we were as deepest as we were last year in the secondary, I can assure you that.”

On the offense going into the last regular-season game…

“I just want to see improvement. Stetson, we’re getting targets each week, you know, decision making, quick decisions, not holding the ball. When you start extending the plays, the good things can happen and the bad things can happen so you’ve got to be wise about the way you go about it. You got to practice it that way. We got to have 11 guys on the same page. So many of our plays that fail when you go back and look at them, what caused that play to be unsuccessful. One got into his job. They do what they’re supposed to do. We tend to have a positive gain or no gain. It’s the lost yardages and sacks as turnovers that come back to haunt us the most so we’re trying to remove that. Continue being explosive and being dangerous. We want to be on the attack.”

On the College Football Playoff…

“No. I don’t have time. I’m trying to go do third down right now in the red area and do everything else. I don’t have any time for it. Between recruiting, worried about our players, and trying to get ready for a game. It’s the least of my worries.”

On the traits of defenses and defensive players…

“Traits haven’t changed much. Size and speed will never change and football is a tough sport. When you have small people, they struggle sometimes. Every one of you can mention the small guy that’s good, but you can’t mention a lot of them so size and speed is what it takes. I think more and more intelligence and desire to be great becomes critical because no matter how talented you are, if you don’t have the ability to listen and learn and have discipline, you won’t be a good football player. There’s so many I-discipline things, I think one of the most critical factors is can you run, do you have size, and is it important to you? Because you won’t make it here if it’s not important to you. I promise you we’ll demand so much excellence from you that you’ll either leave or you’ll just decide to play somewhere else before you stay here. It’s way too important to the coaches and the leaders on the team to hold that standard and that standard will eventually weed guys out so I just want to get the right guys here so I don’t have to go through that.”

On the offseason…

“The COVID offseason was just altogether different, we didn’t have a spring, we didn’t get that. So you know, a lot of those kids are responded to the fact that didn’t do anything last year. I’m talking about the year before last so when you compare it to that, obviously it was tougher. But we did make some decisions as a staff after the Cincinnati game and said hey, we’re not doing our early morning workouts in the indoor, we’ll go to the stadium and we’re going to do it in the stadium at 5:30 or 6:00 and get out in the elements and see if we can make this team a little tougher. I think we did eight of those or something like that just to say, well it was cold and wet. We’re just trying to make it tougher and they would get the same things they were doing in the indoor but we just try to change it up because I didn’t feel like we were getting where we needed to go. I certainly don’t think that’s the only reason we’ve been successful. I just think some of those kids think of it as a little tougher.”

On the punt return unit…

“Yeah, that unit’s been a disappointment. We haven’t done what we needed to do We haven’t held up as well as we have in the past Last week’s not a great measure of that so I’d love to tell you where we’re going in the right direction but those guys were overmatched.”

On injuries with Christopher Smith, George Pickens, Kendall Milton, and Jamaree Slayer….

“Yeah, it’s all over the place. Chris is still with us. He was not able to go the other day. He wasn’t able to go today and we’re trying to rehab him and get him back hopefully for this game. I know he knows what to do but he has not been able to practice. Ya’ll saw Jamaree after yesterday. He was out there today. Then George has been practicing with us doing more, repping with the threes and the twos some. Still waiting to get him cleared but we didn’t have him with the scouts. We’re getting him working with the offense, trying to kind of integrate it back into getting calls and doing assignments. But he was still black jersey, no contact today. We were hoping to get Kendall back for this week, it’s still a process. I had two of those injuries, two MCLs in my high school and college career, and their confidence injuries. They’re like, man, do I have my stability? Do I feel normal? You know, and he’s going through those emotions of really pushing through what I like is his toughness and he does rehab two, or three times a day. He’s gone. He’s been a black shirt and been able to do some things rep wise he’s much better than he was. But to say that he’s ready to play right now. I don’t know that he’s there yet.”

On no longer playing against the triple-option...

“I didn’t enjoy dealing with that. I did not enjoy that, whatsoever. That’s not a decision I make. I don’t get emotional about it. I just do what I have to do. It’s very different. It’s like going away from your calls for a week, so I’m glad we don’t have to do that.”

#16 | Lewis Cine | Jr. | DB

On Derion Kendrick and Kelee Ringo...

“For one, they have been strapped on their men. You give them an assignment and tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got this guy for you to lock down, or we’ve got this guy for you to put on clamps,’ and they do exactly that. They play assignment ball. They know what they’re supposed to do. They know where their help is. They’re just smart guys, and they do what they’re supposed to, which makes it easier for me because I have faith in their skills and their game.”

On tough workouts that help the team bond...

“We might talk about the fact that we worked out at 5:00 in the morning. I don’t think anyone brings up the fact that we had to run up the stadium stairs 15 times. 15 times for every number of games that we’re going to be playing, which says a lot. We have a goal, and we’re going to see it through.”

On how the defense has changed since last year...

“The playbook shrunk, so now, the coach has allowed us to just play ball and do less thinking. Teams nowadays are doing a whole lot of shifts, a whole lot of motions. The way our plays are set now, it cancels all of that. It stays the same. We don’t have to constantly keep running around for people. It causes fewer mental errors and prevents big plays. That helped in a major way. Other than that, everything has kind of been the same other than the playbook. Our mindset is different for this year than it was in past years. We are more connected. We decided to go deep in the roots of how we can be better from past years. It all came down to how close we were with one another and how well we knew each other. It started from that really.”

#50 | Warren Ericson | Jr. | OL

On Andrew Thomas’s touchdown...

“I did see it. He got up. That was pretty impressive. That was one of the most athletic big man touchdowns I think I’ve seen. That was super cool. I haven’t reached out to him, but, as soon as it happened, our O-line group message just completely blew up. We were so pumped to see that. In primetime, you got to love to see the big man touchdown.”

On the team’s stair workout at Sanford Stadium...

“One, I remember it, because it was number seven. I got down at the bottom of the steps, and my legs could not stop shaking. I couldn’t stop. I said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I don’t how I’m going to get eight more in.’ Then, I had James Cook, Jamaree (Salyer) and other guys in my steps just pushing me and saying, ‘Hey man, let’s go. We got this. We got your back.’ We were spread out across the whole side of the stadium, and you saw everyone doing that. Everyone was pushing each other. At one point, Coach Sinclair said, ‘Maybe this is too much.’ He even tried, for the big guys, to cut it down to only going halfway instead of going to the full top, but everyone said, ‘No, we got this together. We’re all in it together, and we’re going to push each other. We’re going to push ourselves.’ We went back up to the full top, and that’s when I kind of knew that this was a special thing that, when times are tough, I have my brothers to lift me up and push through.”

On offensive line depth...

“I think that the great thing about being an offensive lineman at Georgia is that we have so many talented guys. That just fuels the competitive drive every day in practice. I love (Xavier) Truss, and I love Broderick (Jones), and I love all of the offensive linemen. I also know that if I’m not bringing my best every single day, they could replace me. I think we all have that same competitive drive. We love each other, and we’re going to fight for each other, but we got to go out there and do our job to the best of our ability. It’s been great to see Broderick come out and play. He’s gotten a lot of really good-quality snaps. He’s gotten better each time, and you can really see that. Of course, you hate to see Jamaree (Salyer) out, and he’s a strong leader on our offensive line and the offense in general. He’s one person that, even though he’s not physically playing right now, when we get to the sideline, he’s always there keeping us up. He’s always there telling us something, maybe that we missed or telling us to pick things up. He’s still the same Jamaree, the same strong leader and person that we can always lean on the offensive line.”

#84 | Ladd McConkey | RFr. | WR

On Brock Bowers...

“He’s phenomenal; to be that size, have those ball skills, and run as fast as he can is crazy. It really is crazy that he is able to do that. It’s really like having someone who can block like a tight end but also having another receiver on the field at the same time. When he’s out there, just watching some of the things he does, it really is special.”

On Kelee Ringo and Derion Kendrick...

“Going against guys like that every single day, I’ve said it, but if you can’t get better going against those guys, something is wrong. They’re going to give you their all every single day, and we’re going to give them our all. If one of us isn’t going hard then you’re going to be able to see and notice that. Going out there and getting those looks from those guys - knowing the caliber of player they are - if you can do some good things against them, you can do it against anybody. I’m getting confidence from going against those guys and getting reps against them every single day.”

On offensive lineman during stadium runs...

“Obviously, we knew it was going to benefit us and be good for us in the end, but there were times where we thought, ‘Is this worth it, and is this it?’ In the end we knew it was all going to pay off. The crazy thing is we actually ran from our facility to the stadium before them [the stadium runs], so for them [lineman] to be able to do that and run those 15 bleachers speaks on the kind of players they are, the heart they have, and their willingness to just keep on going no matter what. Even when they’re tired, there are other leaders who they can lean on and say, ‘I need some help.’ They’re going to be the first there to pick you up and carry you if you need to.”

#5 | Kelee Ringo | RFr. | DB

On tweaks to the defensive system...

“Our schemes have been really complicated as you guys can see. Being able to use different players in different spots, and how we can help each other throughout the defense and not be on islands the entire time throughout the game. It’s definitely been able to help us execute our plays and be more successful.”

On summer workouts...

“I feel like everything we did throughout the summer definitely prepared us for the season. It made the games and practices much easier. Actually, the practices were not even much easier, but the workouts were definitely closer to what the practices were going to be like throughout the season. It made the games much simpler by thinking when you’re tired and fatigued to help execute plays.”

On preparations for future opponents...

“In all aspects of the game in every single day of practice - and also after the games - we speak on not necessarily the things we did well in the game but things we can work on. Definitely in the DB positions, specifically the deep ball, that’s something that you will get throughout the entire season. I’m consistently working on that; I feel like we have been able to enhance our skills in that and other specific areas.

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