Andy Staples visits Athens (nice thumbs up for Pulaski Heights BBQ at the end) and comes up with some terrific quotes from some of Georgia’s players about last season. I’m gonna list my favorites.
- Imagine for a moment being a Georgia Bulldog at 12:08 a.m. on Jan. 9. Rodrigo Blankenship has just kicked a field goal from across the South Carolina border to secure a three-point lead in overtime of the national title game. Davin Bellamy has just sacked Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for a loss of 16 yards. Never has a true freshman backup quarterback looked more like a true freshman backup quarterback than Tagovailoa did on that play.Now imagine being a Georgia Bulldog at 12:09 a.m. on Jan. 9. Tagovailoa has picked himself up, taken the next snap and launched a rocket. DeVonta Smith has zipped past the cornerback, and the safety on that side doesn’t have enough time to rotate. Smith catches the ball and crosses the goal line. Confetti falls. Just like that, it’s over.
Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney described the feeling perfectly to tight end Isaac Nauta earlier this month. “He said it was like getting just one bite of filet mignon when you’re starving,” Nauta says. “You want to taste it again.”
- “It just kind of happened so fast,” defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter says. “We looked at it one game at a time for so long. Then you looked up and you’re like, ‘Whoa. We’re playing in the SEC championship.’ And it kind of wasn’t even like the SEC championship. Auburn beat us, and we just wanted to play them again. … Even when we played Oklahoma [in the Rose Bowl], it felt like a regular season game.”
- Blazevich, the tight end who was one of the more respected seniors on last year’s team, said something illuminating as he stood in front of his locker following the Bulldogs’ SEC title game win against Auburn in December. He listed the goals he had for his final collegiate season when it began. “We need to get Tennessee back. I need to beat Florida once in my career. I want the chance to play in Atlanta,” Blazevich said. “Those were my three things.” By that point, Blazevich had realized his expectations were far too modest. “How much did I underestimate myself and this team?” he said. “It taught me a lot. It revealed a lot to me.”
Wow. Smart did some kind of work managing last year’s team’s expectations and focus. The trick, of course, is finding what works for this year’s bunch.
Here’s an example. Coaches select a handful of players and place them into two teams. Players from competing teams pair off. They then stand facing one another and hold a 45-pound plate straight out in front of their chests. The first player to drop his weight in each one-on-one matchup loses. Once the rest of the players learn what the competition is, they must decide which team they think will win. There are punishments for the losing team and those who back it that serve as motivation for next time, but more than anything, the coaches are watching to see which players their teammates gravitate toward. The competition described above is less a test of strength than a test of will. The players who win support from their teammates again and again probably are the ones those teammates will listen to in the fourth quarter.
If that sounds intense, this spring’s practices might be even more cutthroat. Nearly every coach says every position is open. That isn’t usually the case. When Smart says it this spring, it’s mostly true. “That’s when you know you’re starting to get your program where you need it to be—when there’s not that first level of ones and a huge drop-off,” Smart says. “We’ve got more up in the air out of the 22 than we’ve ever had as far as the jobs go.” Says defensive back J.R. Reed: “It just brings the best out of everybody. If you have no competition and people think their spots are secure, they get lazy. They start to get complacent and practice starts to get sloppy. Here, you’ve got guys that are fighting for positions. Practices are going to be great.”
“Practices are going to be great.” I think these guys are gonna be alright.