Following are excerpts from head coach Kirby Smart's post-practice press briefing on Tuesday:
‘’Tuesday is finished up. We had a very good practice. The guys seemed to have more energy, with a lot of rest now that school is not in. We’re able to recover a little more, get more treatment. We had good practice spirits. Got a lot of good special teams work in today and we’ll continue on tomorrow.’’
Do you feel like, with some of the things that have gone your way the past few weeks, you’re really improving on special teams?
‘’I think we’ve shown some improvement in those areas. We’ve got a lot of young kids playing on kickoff, punt return. There are 4, 5 or 6 freshmen out there at a time. Inevitably, the more times they do it, the more they get better at it. The returners we’ve got are good returners. They’ve been good all year; it’s just a matter of giving them an opportunity. I think the more opportunities they get, the better they get. Obviously, Rodrigo (Blankenship) has done better, so there are a lot of areas we’ve improved in. Punt team has been a struggle because we’ve had the injury. Right when we thought Marshall was coming along, that thing turned around on us. Those kids work hard in those groups and I’m proud of them.’’
What has Natrez Patrick been able to do in practice, and will he be available on Saturday?
‘’Yeah, he can run, he can do a lot of things. He can’t do a lot of contact right now. So, without doing the contact, he gets behind the defense, he takes all the keys, he gets all the run reads, he runs things exactly like he’s out there. He’s just 15-20 yards back. So when he’s doing that, it doesn’t give him the ability to thump and hit as much, and until he’s cleared to do that, he can’t. We’re still thinking he may be able to go this week. We hope he can. I’m certainly hopeful that he can. We need him.’’
Before the season, how would you have defined success?
‘’To get the most out of this team as we possibly could. I think the critics that are there, the fans, they’ll always do that (see success as Wins vs. Losses). I mean, it’s part of our profession. I certainly respect that because they’ve got a right to do that. But ultimately for us, we’re in charge of doing the best job we can each week to develop these young men, make them into better football players and to show improvement in our team throughout the year. That’s what we judge ourselves on.’’
How much progress have you made from the time you took over?
‘’I don’t know that. A lot of that depends on recruiting. A lot of that depends on the development of our younger players, and I think the younger players have gotten a lot better because they’ve played. I think early in the year, a lot of those younger players weren’t ready to play, but they had to. So we’ll continue to develop the guys we have on our team and go out and recruit other good players.’’
(Former UGA player) J.J. Green is coming back to play for Ga. Tech this weekend. Are these the kind of games that give coaches a lot of thought about the transfer policy? And is your policy the same as when you last talked about it publicly?
‘’I don’t think much about the J.J. Green situation because I wasn’t involved in it. But the stance that I’ve had is not to transfer to somebody in conference or on your schedule. Certainly across the country, I think that everybody has seen some guys leave programs and they go to those types of places, and coaches are OK with it. I think a lot of times, it’s really based on the ability of the player and sometimes that’s not right, either. My stance has been that if you graduate, you should be able to transfer. Otherwise, you gotta go somewhere else.’’
What about Georgia Tech’s defense sticks out to you and what types of challenges do you expect?
‘’First of all (GT defensive coordinator) Ted Roof does a great job. He’s very sound fundamentally. You’ll never watch one of his teams play where they are not in the right place, in the right gap. Very disciplined and very organized. I’ve always had respect for his defenses when he coached at Auburn. I saw a lot more of him when he was in our conference. But they’ve got some big guys and they do a nice job. A couple of their players, we recruited and I’ve known for a long time. And they continue to get better.’’
What kind of role is Brian Van Gorder playing for your program as a consultant?
‘’He’s just that. He’s a consultant. A consultant can watch film, can break down tape, can watch practice, observe, give opinions.’’
How did that develop?
‘’I called him and asked him. I just thought it would be helpful to us for this game specifically. He didn’t come here until late last week and began work on Georgia Tech. He’s a part of that game plan. He’s been very helpful. He’s very knowledgable. I’ve got a lot of respect for Brian. Always have, when he coached here (at UGA). Mel (Tucker) knew him when he was in the NFL, so they had a good relationship. And then he coached at Notre Dame, which plays the academies and also played Georgia Tech.’’
How valuable has Greg Pyke’s leadership been this season?
‘’He’s been great. He’s been really good at our toss plays. He’s a good ‘puller.’ Former lacrosse player. Really works hard. He’s worked hard on his pass pro(tection), to improve that and be able to play out on the edge in a pass-rushing conference. This conference really has some good pass rushers. He’s had to go out there and play. So I think he’s done a tremendous job and I’m really pleased with the leadership he’s given us more than anything. He provides our team with a toughness that your O-line needs to provide.’’
Will there be anything planned for the players that live too far away to go home on Thursday?
‘’Absolutely. We’ve got a lot of our coaches having kids over to their houses to eat, so we’ll have folks over there. We’re going to have a team dinner on Friday, so we can get everybody back for lunch. And then some of the players actually take guys home with them, the players within, like, and hour radius. They’ll take guys back home with them. They enjoy going home and meeting their families.’’