Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith and defensive tackle Jordan Davis spoke to the media virtually following Wednesday’s practice. Smith and Davis described how the Bulldogs are avoiding complacency, their added depth on defense, and their preparation this offseason.
More depth on defense?
Depth will inevitably be more of a factor than usual while playing through the COVID-19 pandemic this season. Some teams inside the SEC have already experienced setbacks, like SEC East rival Tennessee, who notably had 44 players miss practice on Sept. 5 due to either a positive coronavirus test or contact-tracing protocols.
So, it would be appropriate for Smart to have players practice at multiple positions to enhance versatility, resulting in more options at each position. Smith said he’s practiced at other positions besides outside linebacker, although he didn’t specify where.
Davis said he’d been impressed with some of Georgia’s “young players” and that they’ve become deeper on defense than the Bulldogs were last season.
“We have to [maintain] the next man up mentality because, with everything [concerning the] coronavirus, anything can happen,” Davis said. “But I can say that the young boys are really buying in and chipping in. It’s been fun to coach them and play with them.”
It’s a strong claim to declare Georgia’s depth is more robust than last year, but Davis carried plenty of conviction.
“[We’re] even deeper, we’re in too deep,” Davis said. “That’s how it is.”
Since head coach Kirby Smart’s first season at Georgia in 2016, the defense finished inside the top 15 nationally in points allowed per game three times. Georgia’s 2016-17 season was the only exception when it tied for No. 35, conceding 24 points per game.
The bar was elevated last season after allowing just 12.6 points per game, which was second to none in the country. Georgia is returning more than half of its starters from last season, so expectations are high.
After Georgia’s scrimmage on Sept. 5, Smart said he was concerned about complacency within the defense, which he said didn’t improve much between scrimmages one and two. It’s a good problem to have following such a productive season, but a problem nonetheless. Smith, who’s entering his sophomore season, recognizes that it’s an everyday battle.
“You gotta get up and get better [every day],” Smith said. “If I have an opportunity, if I have a class at [noon] and I don’t meet till 2 p.m., then I have enough time to get treatment and come in and meet [with staff] a little more and get in my playbook.”
Complacency is easier to avoid with an abundance of talent at nearly every position, which Georgia has on defense. Davis — listed at 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds — can attest, considering he started in eight of Georgia’s games last season and half as many as a freshman.
“Everybody’s gonna push. It’s a competition every day,” Davis said. “I don’t think anybody’s complacent on this team … anything could happen.”
Improving upon last season
Entering Georgia after high school, Davis and Smith didn’t offer many commonalities as recruits. Davis was a three-star recruit and the lowest-ranked defensive prospect of Georgia’s 2018 class, per the 247Sports Composite. Smith was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 overall player of the 2019 class.
Yet both are expected to step into meaningful roles this season after finishing with 2.5 sacks and 18 tackles.
For Davis, losing weight has been a battle since he arrived in Athens prior to his freshman season, and he said the pandemic didn’t make it any easier. But he said his weight is “back down, regulated,” which has impressed even himself.
“I look at myself in the mirror sometimes, and I’m like ‘Dang, you’re really slimming up,’” Davis said. “It’s just good to see progression.”
Davis said he spent much of this offseason trying to improve his technique to take advantage of his size and strength.
“I've looked at a lot of game film from last year [and] my freshman year ... I feel like I played too loose,” Davis said. “I just want to tighten down on my technique and keep the power and strength that I also have naturally to just push the pocket.”
Last year, Smith was more concerned with learning the playbook and enduring the transition from high school to college. Much of his playing time was filled on special teams and in a reserve role at outside linebacker.
Former Bulldogs Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter were involved in his offseason training this year.
“[Lorenzo] and Bellamy … they’re a package deal,” Smith said. “It’s always a great time to see those guys.”
Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens, Georgia; redandblack.com/sports