ATHENS – It’s still early in preseason camp, so a lot of the information you get this time of year is somewhat cryptic and incomplete. But if you listen closely to what Georgia coach Kirby Smart said following practice No. 8 on Tuesday, you’ll pick up a few pearls here and there about what players are standing out and which newbies are beginning to assert themselves.
Again, Smart wasn’t necessarily singling anybody out, but their good work came to light amid other discussions. For instance:
- In addressing Georgia’s unsettled offensive line situation with left tackle Isaiah Wynn being sidelined due to illness, Smart ended up talking a lot about Thomas, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound freshman from Atlanta’s Pace Academy: “He’s an extremely mature kid,” Smart said. “He studies hard, he’s serious, he’s very business-like. He’s got a great approach to the game. … I would definitely say Andrew is a guy that’s catching up quick. He has the athletic ability to play multiple positions, meaning inside and outside.”
In answering a token question about players who might be demonstrating leadership, Smart mentioned McGhee, the sophomore defensive back from Peach County: “I’d say a guy who sticks out to me, who is always challenging his teammates, is Tyrique McGhee. He is a sophomore. He’s not afraid to speak up and say, ‘We’ve got to do better, we’ve got to practice harder, we’ve got to be more physical.’ I like his leadership qualities.”
- Smart was effusive in his praise when asked what he’d seen at receiver from Hardman, who made the permanent switch from cornerback in the spring. “He’s made some plays. First of all, it’s not that he’s faster than he was in the spring but he’s more confident, which makes him faster. He hears the call and knows what to do. He’s had some pretty spectacular plays. I still think he needs to work on his hands and natural catching the ball. But he’s a good athlete. I think he’s found a good home. He’s tough. He plays the game very similar to Isaiah McKenzie, when it comes to the toughness and competitiveness that you want. He’s gotten more comfortable in our system so he’s able to do more.”
- Smart was asked a follow-up question about what kind of packages coaches might be creating for Hardman. That led to some unsolicited praise for the Philadelphia freshmen: Swift, the tailback, and Webb, the wideout. “We’ve got a lot of guys who need the ball in their hands. Y’all got to see Swift the other day. He’s done a good job. He’s a very serious, competitive young man. Mark Webb, he’s a very serious, competitive young man, too. Those guys are starting to hit that Day 8 wall; some of them haven’t had to compete at this level for this long. But we’re going to keep pushing them through because we think those guys can help us this year.”
- Asked whether Eason was more interested in having fun than grinding through his playbook was fact or fiction, Smart bristled and offered a staunch defense of the sophomore quarterback: “I think Jacob is a great quarterback. I think he’s somebody who understands our system. He works really hard. Jacob comes in and meets extra every chance he gets. A lot of the things you have heard about Jacob may not be true. I don’t know who your sources are; you haven’t told me your sources. But I think he does a tremendous job of trying to lead the team, of trying to be the guy. … And he still has a long way to go. I think he’d be the first to acknowledge that.”
- Asked whether the Bulldogs’ ballyhooed defense had answered the challenge he had issued during the spring, Smart ended up talking about how much better they are with Smith participating. The junior inside linebacker sat out the spring while rehabbing a shoulder injury. “I wouldn’t say as a whole but I would say parts have. They’ve played pretty physical up front. “I knew he wasn’t there in the spring, but I didn’t realize how big that hole was,” Smart said. “But he’s done a good job leading, making calls, he plays so hard. He gives everything he’s got every day. I enjoy watching him play.”
So while Smart has groused a good bit during this camp, there is still a lot about the 2017 Bulldogs he likes.