Kirby Still Pushing Michel

ATHENS - The SEC’s third-leading returning rusher from last season is being judged this spring by his new head coach on much more than how he hits the hole or picks up the blitz.

Kirby Smart has made it very clear he wants Georgia running back Sony Michel to influence his offensive teammates by pushing and prodding them when they need someone to do just that. Like he did last Saturday after Smart got on him before the team’s first spring scrimmage.

“People were ho-hum and kind of walking through a little bit and Sony challenged them,” Smart said.

That came days after Smart mentioned wanting more from Michel  when asked about leaders he had noticed this spring.

“I wish Sony would step up and become a little bit better of a leader,” Smart said.

All of this wasn’t news to Michel, who said he has known for some time that he wanted to become a better leader.

“It’s hard,” Michel said of growing into that role. “You actually do something that you’re not used to doing and something that’s really not you, step out of your comfort zone. It sucks being uncomfortable but that’s the position they want you to be in. You’ve got to know how it feels to be uncomfortable.”

It’s not all on Michel. Smart mentioned that offensive linemen Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow try to lead and quarterback Greyson Lambert has also stepped up to attempt to fill that role.

“We’ve challenged them to challenge each other,” Smart said. “I’ve told them over and over. You’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable and leadership starts with that, too. It’s not comfortable to lead somebody a lot of times and a lot of guys aren’t used to doing it.”

Michel said being “called out” by Smart, as the junior from Florida put it, wasn’t surprising because Smart is demanding of the players and doesn’t sugarcoat what he wants.

“He even said today, if everybody is accountable to themselves you don’t really have to have a hierarchy, it’s everybody serving one another,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said Thursday.

Michel was actually one of 25 at Georgia picked for its Student-Athlete Leadership Academy  last October which is intended to encourage leadership development.  Others from football last year were  Blazevich and Nick Chubb.

From those meetings, Michel said he learned the type of leadership style he has.

“I’m kind of avoid it,” he said, naturally sitting back and watching. “I’ve got to try to bring myself to that dominant side and more outgoing. ”

Michel doesn’t mind public speaking and seemed comfortable taking questions from a group of reporters on Thursday night, but leading the way all the time is different.

“Doing it consistently, that’s the hard part,” he said.

Blazevich said Michel has the ability to lead and commands respect with the way he talks.

He certainly has the respect for how he’s played for the Bulldogs.

Only LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd had more rushing yards last season among returning SEC players than Michel did when he ran for 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns.

Michel became Georgia’s workhorse back after Chubb was lost for the season with a knee injury at Tennessee.

Chubb is on the road to recovery, taking part in non-contact “run polish” drills in practice. Michel said he’s “moving a lot faster than we would probably think and than I would think, too.”

But Chubb can’t be in the face of teammates like when he’s full-go so that role falls more on Michel.

“Some kids do lead by example,” Smart said. “That’s what Nick’s been all his life. He’s been a kid that’s led by example.”

Blazevich sees Michel moving in that direction.

“Of course, we’re trying to push him towards that role,” Blazevich said, “and I think he’s stepping up.”

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