Georgia Bulldogs will ‘Assume Nothing’ this spring

Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his staff have their hands full bringing 33 newly arrived players up to speed during the Bulldogs' 15 spring practice sessions at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex this year. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his staff have their hands full bringing 33 newly arrived players up to speed during the Bulldogs' 15 spring practice sessions at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex this year. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

ATHENS — Well, we know what the Georgia Bulldogs’ mantra is for the 2024 football season – “Assume Nothing.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart shared some thoughts about it Tuesday as he met with reporters for the second time this month to discuss spring football practice.

“I didn’t choose it myself,” said Smart, who has developed a reputation for establishing themes for each Georgia football season. “We get help and outside support for things like that. So I’m not taking credit for that.”

Credit, he said, goes to Nike founder Phil Knight. It’s something he picked up from the running shoe and sports apparel magnate as Smart and his wife, Mary Beth, have attended the Nike coaches’ retreat for the past several years.

“I have a close relationship with Phil Knight and Nike and been on a trip with him for six or seven consecutive years and have so much respect for him and his wife and what he’s done with his business,” Smart said. “I thought it was really cool when the opportunity came up to study his success. If you want to be successful, study successful people, and they have certainly been that. So that’s really where that came from, from outside sources.”

Add that one to “Better Never Rests” and “Eat Off the Floor” and “Attack the Day” and “Chopping Wood.” Smart has borrowed most of those phrases from other sources, too, such as the Navy SEALs and the New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team.

It has worked. The Bulldogs have gone 42-2 the past three seasons, with two national championships and an SEC title. Georgia enters the 2024 as the prohibitive No. 1-ranked team.

More on that this fall. In the meantime, the Bulldogs were conducting their fourth practice of 15 this spring Tuesday afternoon at the Butts-Mehre football complex on a busy day for UGA Athletics. The baseball team was playing Wofford at Foley Field across the street from the Payne Indoor Facility, and the Bulldogs’ basketball team was getting ready to tip off against Xavier in an NIT game across the way at Stegeman Coliseum later Tuesday night.

As for football, Georgia’s starting lineup is very much settled at most of its positions. The challenge for Smart and his staff is bringing up to speed 33 new players participating in their first practices with the Bulldogs.

“The overall feeling is we’re a little younger than I remember in the past,” Smart said. “Maybe it’s the total number of new players. In terms of midyears, we’re up a little bit (with 24). We’ve broken a record every year (for midyear enrollees). And then the addition of the portals, it’s just a lot of new faces out there. That’s the biggest difference. But they’re progressing well and practicing well.”

Chief among those new additions is transfer running back Trevor Etienne. Having arrived at UGA from Florida, where he played the past two seasons, Etienne is being counted on to be a major part of the Bulldogs’ offensive package next season. The good news is that he is coming from an offensive system somewhat similar to Georgia’s.

Smart said that transition is going well for the 5-foot-9, 185-pound back.

“I think running back is one of those positions you can pick up really quick,” Smart said. “There’s some similarities between our offense and theirs, a lot of the same runs, the same words, in some cases. So he has not struggled to transition from that standpoint. I think he’s pretty comfortable in the offense.”

That’s not the say it has been flawless.

“There’s nuances, and I’ve met with him about it, but he’s picking up on it,” Smart said. “He’s very bright, and it’s not going to be a problem for him. There’s been some mistakes and things, but nothing that can’t be corrected.”

They will need to be, as things are ramping up rapidly. The Bulldogs had their first full-pads practice Saturday and were going with another full-contact workout Tuesday. On Saturday, they will conduct the first scrimmage of the spring at Sanford Stadium.

In the meantime, the football complex is covered with coaches this week as Georgia is conducting its annual coaches’ clinic. There are between 700 and 800 attending seminars and watching the Bulldogs’ practices. Coaches Jamey Caldwell (Liberty) and Willie Fritz (Houston) are among the guest speakers this week.

On the field, Georgia’s priorities continue to be to identify at least three new starters in the secondary and to continue to develop players and add depth to a young linebacker corps that is missing senior Smael Mondon this spring because of foot surgery.

Smart said he’s very pleased with an offensive line group that added six signees in this year’s class, all of whom are huge. The goal for the whole unit, he said, is for them all to get down to 330 or fewer pounds.

As for the backfield, all of the Bulldogs’ hopes aren’t locked on Etienne. While he’s expected to add depth and some dynamism to the position, there also has been a buzz this spring surrounding sophomores Andrew Paul and Roderick Robinson.

“There’s competition in that (group),” Smart said. “He’s enjoyed that, being pushed by the competition. But Trevor’s a sponge, and I’m very encouraged.”

So are Etienne’s new teammates.

“He’s meshed really well with everybody,” Georgia senior guard Tate Ratledge said last week. “He came in, he’s a good personality and he’s really gotten along with everybody. We’ve really brought him into our family. Looking forward to seeing what he can do this spring.”