Nolan Smith ‘100% not worried’ about a drop-off in Georgia’s defense

Based on the eight starters it lost from last season, will Georgia’s defense look any different this year, outside linebacker Nolan Smith was asked Monday?

Just different numbers on jerseys, Smith said.

“... That’s all I’m gonna say,” Smith said. “Georgia’s defense, it’s been, since I was a little boy watching Jarvis Jones playing, it’s always been a high level at which Georgia defense played. People came to see Georgia’s defense. Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and that’s the ultimate reason why I came here.”

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Smith, a senior, is one of three returning starters for the defending champion Bulldogs, in addition to defensive backs Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith. With Georgia having so much talent to replace, including five first-round NFL draft picks, it presents the question whether the defense will be a weak spot for the Bulldogs this season.

But Smith isn’t expecting any drop-off, confident in the talent Georgia has on the roster.

“I’ve been a Georgia fan all my life, and that’s one thing that’s been great around here is Georgia defense,” Smith said. “So I’m 100% not worried about a drop-off. Again, like Coach once said, it’s a standard. Just because we had a lot of guys leave last year, it’s a standard of Georgia defense, and we play at a high level.”

The only difference is, of course, Georgia will call upon many more young and less experienced players this season, as opposed to last season’s upperclassmen-heavy squad. The younger guys are still learning and ask questions about X’s and O’s including formations, Smith said. It’s not a matter of physicality or not being capable, it’s just a learning process.

To be fair, it’s not as if the Bulldogs will exclusively lean on freshmen – they have players who played plenty of snaps but didn’t start, such as junior defensive lineman Jalen Carter and sophomore linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson.

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It’s hard to know exactly what the Bulldogs have to work with on defense until they start facing opponents, coach Kirby Smart pointed out Monday. The first test arrives Saturday, the season opener vs. Oregon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“They’re inexperienced, young, and hopefully as talented as we think they are, players,” Smart said Monday of Georgia’s defense. “At some positions more talented than others, but they’re in need of playing a game. I guess you could say that’s experience, right? So they’re in need of experience, but more so than experience they need to play in a game. They need good things to happen and reaffirm their good habits, and some of them need maybe something adverse to happen and see how they respond.

“I’ve never coached a defensive player that didn’t give up a play or get beat. How are they going to respond to that in a game atmosphere? It happens every day in practice. How will they respond in a game atmosphere? I don’t know if we know that yet, and that’s going to be the resiliency factor of where is this group, because I don’t think you really know until you go out in the game and have to execute it in front of the fans and against a really good opponent.”

The young guys on the defense aren’t lacking motivation to prove themselves, though, Smith said.

“I feel like our young guys are hungry,” Smith said. “Just because a lot of people doubt them and say that, is there going to be a difference or is it going to be a different change of numbers or stuff like that. And I’m just really excited to see that kickoff and those first couple plays.”

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