ATHENS — Kirby Smart has said what’s best for Georgia football is what’s best to win the next game, but that still leaves room for player development in practices and in game situations.
The No. 9-ranked Bulldogs play at South Carolina at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday looking to avenge last season’s loss, but also, continue their offensive evolution and get the defense back on track.
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Georgia is a heavy favorite on the heels of freshman Jermaine Burton’s break-out performance (8 catches, 197 yards).
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Freshman defensive tackle Jalen Carter and tight end Darnell Washington have also been pressed into meaningful snaps.
Other freshmen are seeing limited game reps, such as Jalen Kimber, Daijun Edwards, MJ Sherman, Nazir Stackhouse and Major Burns. Others are working their way back from injuries, such as Arian Smith, who saw his first action of the season in a limited capacity against Mississippi State.
But getting on the field has been more of a challenge for others.
Smart went down the list of several freshman, sharing his thoughts on each:
OG Devin Willock
“I have been extremely impressed with, recently. So, he’s climbing up the charts in my opinion. He’s really smart. He’s really conscientious—it’s important to him. But, he missed, I mean I forget how long it was. I don’t even know if y’all knew, but he had an MCL sprain the last scrimmage of camp, it was three or four weeks, or something that he didn’t even practice. It was like, ‘Gah-lee, this guy is going to be behind.’ Now, he’s come back, he’s cut. He had to lose a lot of weight. I think he’s lost 30 pounds. He’s in the 330-range, and he is a massive guard that—he struggles in pass-pro right now, but he’s going to be able to move people and that’s what you want at the guard position. You want a massive, big man that is hard to run through. I am excited about him. He’s just so bright—such a good kid.”
OT Tate Rutledge
“Tate was making really good progress, was getting some [reps at] two right tackle—I guess it was when [Owen] Condon was out. Tate had an injury, and he missed about two or three weeks, and he’s just come back. He’s behind a little bit, but we were really pleased with Tate in camp. He’s just missed some time with injury.”
OT Broderick Jones
“Broderick [Jones] missed time early. Broderick has been playing left and right tackle and been kind of the—probably would be our fourth right tackle in the game the last couple of weeks. Now that Owen is back, because Owen had some illness and sickness stuff, so Owen has come back. Owen and Broderick are kind of fighting for that spot behind [Xavier] Truss, Warren [Ericson], and Jemaree [Salyer]. [I am] very pleased with Broderick. Broderick needs a year in the weight room. But, Broderick is a good athlete. He is just going to have to get stronger and more physical in the run game. He can pass-pro and stay in front of people. The beauty is these guys get to go against our outside-backers one-on-one in pass-rush every day, and I love it. I mean there isn’t a day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday where we don’t make them go good-on-good, and have to go block really good people because that’s the only way to get better.
OL Austin Blaske
“Blaske continues to improve. I hadn’t seen a guy as tough and hard working as he is. He really works hard.”
OG Chad Lindberg
“He has been there throughout working at guard—with us on the scout team. When we look across the scout team and you have Cam Kinnie, Linberg, [Devin] Willock, Blaske and Tate across the scout team, it’s good. We get really good work with those guys.”
OC Sedrick Van Pran
“Van Pran, he runs with the twos. He reps with the twos, so Warren [Ericson] can flip at the guards. Warren Ericson goes back and forth at guard. Van Pran works at center—been really consistent. He’s getting better at being fast, really smart—felt like if something happened to Trey [Hill], it would still be close with Ericson and Van Pran who would go in. Van Pran is closing that gap so Warren can play the two guards spots.”
WR Ladd McConkey
“Ladd is another guy that was coming on—it was really exciting because he goes on the scout team and does so many good things. Man, he’s tough. He’s physical. He blocks well. He had a contact-trace that he had to miss 14 days, so it crushed him because when we were down receivers we thought we were going to bring him up and really work him, and then he got 14 days and just got back. We have been limited on what we could do with him.”
CB Daran Branch
“Branch has worked on the scout team. He missed a little time in fall camp, but he has worked with the scout team and been really competitive. Hopefully he grows into a good player. He’s just not ready right now.”
Smart also spoke of another promising freshman in Kelee Ringo, who despite undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in August has stepped up to impress.
“He’s actually been out there in a black (non-contact) shirt doing about 70 percent of the work,” Smart said. “He doesn’t hit anybody, and he doesn’t get to do a lot of drills, but he does individual things. I’ve been really pleased with him trying and fighting to get back out there.
“Guys get injured, and they kind of lose focus, and it’s like they get lost in the shuffle, but he’s been in every meeting. He’s very attentive. He takes notes. It’s very promising to see that out of him, but I don’t think he’s going to be back any time soon or anything.”
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