It wasn’t the spectacular highlights by the freshmen that impressed Kirby Smart the most against Murray State.
In a game that saw running back Zamir White score his first touchdown and receiver George Pickens haul in an incredible diving catch, it was instead the little things Smart was happiest to see.
For White, that meant stepping in and picking up a blitzing linebacker. In Pickens’ case, it was blocking a safety to spring D’Andre Swift for a long run. It is these types of plays that will result in more playing time for White and Pickens, along with the rest of the young players on Georgia’s roster.
Smart said it’s not hard getting young players to buy into that concept. Once they learn that’s the reason they’re not playing as much, they’ll do whatever necessary to get on the field.
But it’s not always that easy. For example, Smart said talented high school running backs like White aren’t always asked to protect the passer in high school, meaning their skills in that area are rusty when they get to campus.
Young players also have to be willing to do things like pass protecting and blocking downfield. With Pickens, Smart has already seen glimpses of that enthusiasm.
“He has to do a good job of position blocking, fit up, sustain blocks and not try to go for the big hit all the time,” Smart said. “But his willingness to do it is what has allowed him to play at this point because when he’s willing to do it and he knows who to block he’s pretty good.”
Pickens wasn’t an early enrollee, so his acceptance of blocking has come after just a few months in Athens. This is largely due to the guidance of the older receivers on the team.
Senior Tyler Simmons said he learned from players like Javon Wims and Reggie Davis. Fast forward to today, and he’s known as one of the best blockers on the team. Now, it’s his turn to be the teacher.
“We let them know as soon as they walk in the door, if you want to play, this is not just an Air Raid offense,” Simmons said. “We run the ball too, and that requires us to block. For those short runs to become long runs downfield, we’ve got to block those safeties, block those corners.”
Similarly, junior Prather Hudson said he and other running backs like Swift and senior Brian Herrien have been helping White with all the nuances of pass protection, such as identifying where the Mike linebacker is lined up.
On defense, tackling is about as fundamental as it gets. According to junior defensive back Mark Webb, it’s something every defensive back has to get used to no matter what their high school highlight tape looks like.
“You might be a finesse queen, you might want to guard people, you might think it’s all about interceptions,” Webb said. “The first thing you’re going to do is tackle.”
Webb came to Georgia as a receiver but switched to defensive back in 2017. In what he called his “initiation” to defense, he was first run over by Elijah Holyfield (Webb made sure to note he still made the tackle by grabbing Holyfield’s foot), then he had his shoulder go numb after a sideline collision with Charlie Woerner.
Tackling is still something Webb said he needs to work on. However, he’s progressed enough to see the field plenty and make 13 tackles in the first two games of the season, even forcing a fumble with a bone-rattling hit against Murray State.
These players have all done what they have to do to earn playing time. For White and Pickens and the rest of the freshmen to earn even more consistent playing time, that’s the next step.
“If you do the little things, that turns into big things,” Hudson said. “That’s how you perform on Saturdays, that’s how you’ll be ready on Saturdays.”