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UGA coach Kirby Smart

Even with major absences, Kirby Smart is expecting more from Georgia’s defense

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Kirby Smart has been hard on his defense this spring and his expectations won’t be lowered anytime soon.

Track: No Expectations | Artist: The Rolling Stones | Album: Beggars Banquet

Great Expectations

It’s not news to anyone that coach Kirby Smart is disappointed with his Bulldogs defense this spring. He made it clear at the end of March that he wasn’t happy with its physicality or progress at the outset of spring practice. He continued to lament about a lack of toughness last week and continued to express his disappointment with the defense — especially in its tackling and against the run — after the scrimmage on Saturday.

“Probably the most disappointing thing is the defense,” Smart said, according to Jason Butt of The Telegraph. “Knock-back tackle is what I call, when you hit a guy and you splatter him and knock him back and he doesn’t get yards after contact; we didn’t have a lot of that. We still have to improve defensively. I don’t hide behind the fact that we’re not where we need to be.”

One reason for a poor showing this spring could be a couple of significant absences: DL Trent Thompson and ILB Roquan Smith. The Bulldogs are tackling worse than last season because two of their best tacklers aren’t on the field. Smith’s 95 total tackles were tops on the team, while Thompson ranked third with 56 tackles, as well as a team-leading 9.5 tackles for loss. That’s a lot of missing production in the gut of the defense, the most important part of the defense to stopping the run.

None of this, of course, is lost on Smart. He knows he’s playing without a full deck at the moment, yet he keeps hounding his defense to do better and better, knowing full well the simple presence of two players will make the Bulldogs better by the time the season rolls around. But he keeps pushing the guys who are there and doesn’t let on for a second that the defense is definitely better than it is playing in the spring.

This is part of the culture change that is happening within Georgia football at the moment: an unwillingness to accept anything less than the best.

So, while the struggles of the defense this spring may be chalked up to the absence of two of the best players on the team who will likely be back when actual games are played, that just doesn’t matter to Smart. The thing that separates teams like Alabama and Clemson from the common rabble of college football is their ability to lose little or nothing when going from the first to second string, especially on defense. That’s how they can stay fresh and attack, attack, attack for a full 90 minutes. An exceptional first team no longer gets the job done. Every player has to play to a standard and he doesn’t get a pass just because he isn’t the starter.

So, don’t expect Smart to lay up on the defense anytime soon. Even if it is playing lights out, he’ll expect more. As he should. I have no doubt that the absences of Thompson and Smith are negatively affecting the defense. And I have no doubt that when they get back, the defense will be much better. Smart doesn’t care, though. His job is to create the expectation that no matter who is on the field, Georgia’s defense is one to be reckoned with. I’d say he’s well on his way to doing just that.

Advice from the Champ

If there’s anyone who knows what UGA rising sophomore Mecole Hardman is facing while trying to play both offense and defense, it’s Champ Bailey. The former Georgia standout was a two-way star himself and, like Hardman, wore the No. 4 jersey. Here’s the advice he said he’d like to give Hardman, via Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald:

“One thing you’ve got to do is gain as much knowledge as possible,” said Bailey, a teammate of coach Kirby Smart at Georgia. “Do what you can do well. One thing you don’t want to do is take on much more than you can handle. Whatever you’re doing you’ve got to make sure the results are there. If you don’t like your results or you don’t feel like you’re getting better, scale back. You’ve got to make sure you’re producing at the same time.”

Another Dawg in the NFL

The Atlanta Falcons signed a Georgia Bulldog, just not one you’d expect.

Former Georgia decathlete Garrett Scantling signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent wide receiver. Scantling, a multi-time SEC champ, competed for Georgia from 2012 to 2015. He vied for a spot on the U.S. Olympic track team ahead of Rio 2016 but fell short of qualification. He’s now looking for a new career, and football seems like an obvious potential avenue for a 6-foot-3 speedster such as Scantling.

Rise Up!!! I'm an Atlanta Falcon! Truly a dream come true, gotta go to work now. #momigotajob #RiseUp #WideReceiver

A post shared by Garrett Scantling (@gscant_) on

Scantling does have football experience, but that came back in high school. He attended Episcopal High in Jacksonville, and, from his highlights, he looked pretty dang good.

Run the state

It’s time for some clean, old-fashioned (baseball) hate. Georgia (14-19) faces Georgia Tech (16-14) at Foley Field on Tuesday night. It’s the first of three games against Tech this season, with a game at Tech on April 25 and another at SunTrust Park on May 9. The Bulldogs went 2-1 against the Jackets last season.

ICYMI

Good dog

Very good dog.