ATHENS Garrison Smith was the only senior starter on last years Georgia defense. That places him in unique position to judge the upheaval that has occurred since he left campus.
He doesnt know Jeremy Pruitt. But he does know the situation Pruitt inherited. So as Smith has watched from afar, with Tray Matthews being the latest talented player to depart, Smiths thoughts can be summed up thusly:
This was needed.
I heard he aint taking no crap, Smith said of Pruitt, hired as Georgia's defensive coordinator in January. So thatll be a good thing for them. Get the defense to step up. Guys arent gonna be able to get away with stuff no more.
Smith spoke from the Miami Dolphins practice facility, as the defensive lineman tries to make the team as an undrafted free agent. There were a lot of problems last year on Georgias defense, which gave up a program record for points, but Smith and the defensive line werent one of them. In fact most of those issues were concentrated on the secondary.
It may not have been Smiths position group, but as the only senior he tried to take a leadership role on the entire defense. After the season Smith was chosen as the permanent captain for the defense. As Smith saw it, talent wasnt the secondarys problem. It was a sense of entitlement from young players, as well as leadership.
When I was first here, we had guys like Brandon Boykin, and Sanders Commings. (Bacarri) Rambo and guys like that were leaders. They were able to speak up and be vocal, Smith said. Whereas once they left we didnt have any more guys that were vocal like that. Everybody was so laid back. And that was one of the big things that happened last year.
Smith declined to talk about any player specifically. But he agreed that a couple of them came to campus believing too much in their recruiting hype, and were able to quickly earn playing time because of the lack of returning starters.
When you already get slotted into a position and you never played a down, and youre already starting when you come in, you get a big head, and thats what happened to a lot of guys, Smith said.
Matthews started six games at safety last year, including the first four. Brendan Langley started the first four at cornerback. Shaq Wiggins started eight of the final nine games at cornerback. All were freshmen last year.
None will be on defense this year: Matthews was dismissed, Wiggins transferred over what he described as a personality conflict with the new defensive coaches, and Langley has switched to receiver.
There was also Josh Harvey-Clemons, who started 11 games as a sophomore at safety or nickel-back last year. He was dismissed in February. Matthews dismissal on Tuesday made it six at Georgia since 2012: Nick Marshall, Chris Sanders, Sanford Seay, Isaiah Crowell, Harvey-Clemons and Matthews. Several other players transferred with a push, notably tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith. All but Seay were four- or five-star recruits. All were on campus less than two years.
Naturally, it raises the question of whether Georgia is erring in recruiting evaluation. But Rusty Mansell, the recruiting analyst for Dawgs247.com, discounted that as the issue.
Georgia didnt take any chances in signing these kids. There were no red flags with them. These kids were recruited by everybody, Mansell said. I knew all those kids, covered every one of them. I knew them at an early age, and nothing really told me this guy is going to be an issue.
So why is Georgia having more of these dismissals than other schools? Those who have observed this program know well the answer: Head coach Mark Richt has adopted a low tolerance threshold, mostly in reaction to the rash of arrests from 2009-11.
Mansell raised another theory: Players such as Matthews are built up so much via recruiting by coaches, media and fans that when they get to campus some react badly to what is called de-recruiting. Thats when coaches begin knocking them down a peg, and ideally the players have to practice hard, show up to offseason workouts and play their way into a starting spot.
De-recruiting is something that youre going to hear more and more about because these kids are getting more and more attention at an early age, Mansell said. Colleges are having to spend a good bit of the summer time and freshmen year having to de-recruit these kids.
That got to Smiths point.
He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, the fourth-ranked player in Georgias recruiting class, per 247Sports. He didnt play much as a freshman, then was mostly a reserve as a sophomore. It wasnt until his final two years that he emerged as a starter.
No matter what my star was, I knew I had to come in and prove myself to everybody, Smith said. That was just something in me that wanted to do that, you know what Im saying? Whereas other guys just came in, got handed a starting position, didnt have to work for it, and all of a sudden they thought they arrived.
In their position group they didnt have leaders, so they didnt have anyone speaking up and saying: Hey you aint doing this right, you aint doing that right. They just let them get on with the bad stuff they were doing.
So if Pruitt wants to knock some guys down a peg, and in the process some talented players leave, then Smith isnt going to criticize.
Its just a combination of guys moving on, doing whats best for them, and guys gotta grow up and mature, Smith said. Just gotta be men. Youre not in high school anymore. You cant be babied anymore.