ATHENS — Nobody has done more to improve his NFL stock since last season than Georgia’s Nolan Smith.
A 6-foot-3, 236-pound outside linebacker from Savannah who missed the second half of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, Smith continued to turn the heads of NFL scouts during UGA’s Pro Day on Wednesday. He demonstrated uncanny quickness, bend and flexibility during field work and position drills inside the Payne Athletic Center.
Smith skipped that portion of the workouts at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February, when he clocked a blistering 4.39-second 40-yard time and posted exemplary vertical-leap and broad-jump numbers. As a result, Smith left the session as a consensus first-round prospect, according to draft analysts who continue to rave about Smith’s athletic ability and attitude.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has identified Smith as his “biggest riser” and now considers him a possible top-10 pick.
“I love Smith’s closing burst to the quarterback and the way he can create havoc in the backfield as a run defender,” McShay said. “If he works on his pass-rush moves and the way he formulates a plan on every snap, he could be a problem off the edge for opposing offensive coordinators.”
So, Smith’s football future looks bright. The question now is what happens to the outside linebacker position he is abandoning at Georgia. Not only is Smith gone, but so is fellow senior Robert Beal, who also had a successful showing before scouts Wednesday.
Meanwhile, two of the Bulldogs’ brightest young stars at outside linebacker are going to be sidelined for the spring. Marvin Jones Jr. and Jalon Walker are recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries.
“It’s probably the youngest position on the roster,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I think we have five players in their first spring or their first year – the three mid-years, CJ (Madden), and Darris Smith. I’m counting those five guys.”
Smith, for one, is confident the Bulldogs are going to be fine. Rising junior Chaz Chambliss is the veteran leader of the group after playing in 12 of 15 games last season, and Jones and Walker – both former five-stars – will be back for preseason camp.
“The ‘Wolfpack’ of Georgia will always be great,” Smith said confidently. “If one wolf eats, we all eat. The outside linebackers are going to be amazing with Chaz Chambliss leading.”
If Smith sounds like a coach when he talks, it’s for good reason. The Georgia star revealed Wednesday that’s what he wants to do for a living when his football career is over.
And he doesn’t plan to enter the profession lightly. He wants the Georgia job.
“Yeah, I told coach Smart I’m coming for his job,” Smith said. “Hundred percent. I’m gonna try and run it better than he did, try and get some 4-’peats, 5-’peats. He did amazing things, he’s an amazing coach, but, yeah, I’m coming for his job.”
Smart didn’t discount it.
“Nolan is going to be successful at whatever he does,” Smart said. “He told me he’s going to come back and be the head coach at Georgia, and I told him he could have it.”
In between an enlightening spring football news conference Tuesday and UGA’s Pro Day on Wednesday, the Bulldogs actually returned to their practice fields for the first time as two-time defending national champions. They worked out for two hours in unseasonably cold and blustery conditions.
“We had really good energy, enthusiasm,” Smart said. “A little windy, so we probably didn’t have the day you’d like to have as far as passing the football. But with 25 mile-an-hour gusts, that probably played a big part in that. I expect those guys to bounce back on that side. We didn’t have pads on, so it’s hard to evaluate that. But I did enjoy the energy and enthusiasm the guys had competing against each other.”
The conditions are expected to be considerably better as Georgia returns to Woodruff Practice Fields on Thursday for practice No. 2 of 15 spring sessions. Over the next 30 days, the Bulldogs will try to identify new starters at quarterback, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety.
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