Bulldogs Beat

UGA’s Kirby Smart talks position battles, season expectations ahead of Vanderbilt

With just 10 days remaining before the Bulldogs open the season in Nashville against Vanderbilt, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart met with the media on Wednesday night.

Among the topics were the team’s expectations and position battles, as well as Smart’s thoughts on the early start to the college football schedule.

Here’s what the Georgia head man had to say:

‘It’s wide open’

As the season draws near, several position battles are still raging for the Bulldogs.

One spot is the offensive line. While some, such as junior left tackle Andrew Thomas, are entrenched, other starting positions are still up for grabs.

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Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (71) during the Bulldogs’ session on the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. Steven Colquitt Georgia Sports Communication

Smart said there is very little separation on the two deep at some spots, adding that not winning a starting job by no means indicates a player won’t see the field.

“There are some guys that deserve to play that we hope to be able to play,” Smart said.

At receiver, the competition is also fierce. Senior Tyler Simmons has established himself as a starter barring injury and after that, Smart said, “it’s wide open.”

On the defensive side of the ball, junior Mark Webb and redshirt freshman Divaad Wilson are vying for the STAR position. Smart described the pair as having some differences, but being similar in both body type and physicality. He hopes this will allow the two to rotate at the spot and stay fresh.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to go with the hot hand, and sometimes you’ve got to go with the guy that had the best week of practice,” Smart said. “But the good thing is you can’t relax because the guy behind you is just as good as you and he’s trying to win a job too.”

Finally, Smart said the team still isn’t ready to declare a kickoff or punt returner. Several players, including Simmons, Kearis Jackson, Demetris Robertson, D’Andre Swift and Dominick Blaylock are in the mix for the returner role.

No such thing as championship or bust

Smart said it himself.

Explaining his team’s 2019 mantra of “Do More” at SEC Media Days on July 16, Smart said the team’s success over the previous two seasons didn’t mean they had met expectations.

“Although 24-5 the last two seasons is good, it’s not good enough,” Smart said in Hoover. “It’s not where we expect to be at the University of Georgia. Our mission is to bridge that gap by the actions we take, hence the words ‘do more.’ Those words require action.”

That statement makes it seem like the standard in Athens is championship or bust. But as Smart said Wednesday, that’s not the case.

“I’m not going to measure success and failure on one thing,” Smart said. “That’s not fair to these kids that give everything they’ve got to the program, blood, sweat, and tears, and all the people in the organization that gave everything they’ve got. To measure success and failure on one thing, I’m not going to do that.”

Smart said that he will never be satisfied with where the program is. If that 24-5 record was instead 29-0, he said he would preach to his players that the margin of victory in those games should have been greater.

“You show me a person that’s satisfied with what they’ve done, and they’re done. It’s called retired,” Smart said. “That’s just not the way I look at things and that’s not the way that this program’s going to be run. You’re in constant pursuit of excellence, not perfection.”

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The Bulldogs’ session on the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Chamberlain Smith Georgia Sports Communication

Earlier, not necessarily better

Smart doesn’t know if he’ll watch the Florida-Miami game to kick off the college football season on Saturday night. He will if he gets home in time, but there’s also practice and work that has to be done to prepare for Vanderbilt.

As for the general concept of starting the season earlier, Smart said he didn’t really have a preference. He did, however, express concern for the effect of having players report back to campus earlier.

“People will argue bring them in earlier, give them a break,” Smart said. “If you bring them in earlier, you reduce their summer. You reduce their opportunity to be with families, you reduce the coaches’ opportunities. I’m kind of either way on that.”

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