5 things we learned about Georgia at SEC Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. – The Georgia Bulldogs, represented by coach Kirby Smart, quarterback JT Daniels and defensive lineman Jordan Davis, made their appearance at SEC Football Media Days on Tuesday. Here are five things we learned from their visit:

Most Bulldogs are vaccinated

Commissioner Greg Sankey on Monday said the SEC’s goal is to achieve a 100 percent vaccination rate among the athlete population for the coming season. He also revealed that eight of the league’s 14 schools currently are below 80 percent.

Georgia is not one of them. According to Smart, the Bulldogs are above 85 percent at the moment, and he expects that number to increase before the season starts.

“We want our players to get vaccinated because it’s the right thing to do,” Smart said. “And it’s safe. It can be a competitive advantage. If one school loses three players for a game and another school doesn’t, that’s a competitive advantage. Our drive is to get to 100 percent, and we’re not there yet.”

That said, Smart emphasized that at UGA it will remain a personal choice. He has left it up to Ron Courson, the director of sports medicine, to do the convincing. But the players themselves tend to be the most influential.

“It’s definitely a conversation in the locker room,” said Davis, a senior. “It’s not really mandated, but we’re encouraging players to get vaccinated. I knew I was going to get it. After G-Day I got mine because I definitely want to stay protected. I want to protect myself, I want to protect others. We don’t want to be contact-traced during the season. So, you know, I think vaccinations are a good way to go. But everybody has a choice.”

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart says the team has met the 85% vaccination threshold and explains how leaders on team helped push Bulldogs' rate.

Pickens on the run

Smart revealed that star wideout George Pickens is back to running, but he stopped short of predicting a return this season. The junior from Hoover suffered a torn ACL in the second week of spring practice in March.

“When you see George out there running it gets you excited, but you also realize that running straight line is a lot different than playing football,” Smart said. “He’s still a ways away.”

Pickens is one of six receivers who are at different stages of injury recovery. Smart revealed that senior Kearis Jackson is recovering from an arthroscopy procedure in one of his knees. In addition, sophomore Dominick Blaylock (ACL) also not yet cleared for contact. But Smart indicated that Jermaine Burton (hyperextended knee), Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle) and Arian Smith (wrist) are able to practice at the moment.

“The receiver position has been the one that we’ve had the most injuries occur,” Smart said. “We’re also at a little bit of a deficit there in terms of our numbers because of the portal guys that left. It’s not that we don’t have good receivers, we just don’t have a lot of depth.”

Smart quotes Thoreau

Who knew that Smart, the consummate hard-nosed SEC football coach, reads Henry David Thoreau? The Bulldogs’ sixth-year head coach quoted the 19th century American poet and philosopher when addressing how Georgia was going to deal with yet another season of high expectations from both inside and outside the program.

“Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it,” Smart said, repeating the phrase a second time for emphasis.

“For me, that’s it,” said Smart, who is expected to open a fifth consecutive season as a top-10 team. “I’m too busy working; I’m too busy trying to do the next thing; I’m too busy trying to take the next step to give our team a competitive advantage to really worry about expectations. That’s usually what people want to know about. But, for me, I’m too busy working to worry about that. We want our team to think the same way.”

Gilbert should be eligible

Not that the eligibility of Arik Gilbert was highly in question, but Smart left little doubt when asked about it in a scrum with beat writers before his appearance in the main ballroom at the Wynfrey on Tuesday morning.

“I fully expect for him to be ready to start the season,” Smart said. “He’s currently enrolled in summer school. He should be eligible.”

Gilbert, a 6-foot-5, 248-pound sophomore from Marietta, transferred to Georgia from LSU in June. He actually left the Tigers with games left to be played last fall, then was attending neither LSU nor Florida – a program to which he was for a while committed – in person during spring semester. SEC and NCAA rules still require a minimum of class hours be passed toward a specific degree each academic year in college to maintain eligibility.

Credit: AJC

Here's a quick look at JT Daniels' stats during his brief time as Georgia's starting quarterback.

O-line progressing

Georgia is expected to field a revamped new offensive line this season after center Trey Hill and right guard Ben Cleveland entered the NFL draft after last season. Having Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer return for their senior seasons will help considerably, but there’s no guarantee any one of the eventual five starters will play the same position they did last season under coach Matt Luke.

“That’s the hardest decision we’ll make as coaches,” Smart said. “We’ve got a few guys who have experience. We’ve got a few guys who have talent, and we’ve got to blend those two to put them in the right spot. Where that’s going to end up? I don’t think we know that yet. Jamaree worked all spring at guard and tackle because we think he has the flexibility to do both. Shaffer is exclusively a guard, and he’s got a lot of experience, but we’ve got some talented young guards. So those guys are going to be in for battles to keep their positions.”