Georgia coach Kirby Smart and three assistant coaches — running backs coach Matt Luke, wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton and offensive line coach Matt Luke — to preview Georgia’s upcoming spring practice.
Much was said, whether it be about the second year of Todd Monken and JT Daniels on offense or about the lack of depth at the cornerback position.
But the assistant coaches also provided some insight into where things are with current players on the team. Below, we dive into what the assistants had to say about some of the bigger names on Georgia’s 2021 team and where they are at heading into spring.
1. George Pickens
Quote: “It’s just one of continued growth and maturity, and he has embraced it. When you look at our entire team and you talk about altruism, I think there’s this aura of selflessness and a positive vibe, which has really continued to grow. It really shines brighter. For him, he’s embraced that, so I’m looking forward to how he continues to move forward.” — Hankton
Context: Like Daniels, this will also be the first set of spring practices that Pickens will participate in. Talent has never been a question for the now junior wide receiver. But maturity, as Hankton mentions, has. Whether it be the water bottle incident against Tennessee in 2020 or the ejection in the Georgia Tech game in 2019, there have been times when Pickens has not been totally focused.
Quote: “I am excited to see him compete in the spring. He does have a lot of ability. I’m just excited to see him get in there and compete and get the reps. Going against quality guys on defense, I think that will be key as well.” — Luke
Context: Like Luke, many Georgia fans want to see how Jones looks on the field in 2021. The former 5-star recruit entered the program with high expectations. But a summer arrival and a preseason injury kept Jones from really making much of an impact. Add in that he entered the program at just 285 pounds, and you can see why he redshirted in his first year on campus.
Now up to 310 pounds, Jones has an opportunity to earn a starting spot on the offensive line with a strong spring. He’ll be competing against the likes of Xavier Truss and Amarius Mims, who Luke also spoke about, to see if they can allow the next guy on our list to move from left tackle to guard.
Related: An early deep dive on the most important position battle for Georgia’s 2021 team
3. Jamaree Salyer
Quote: “His leadership. I think that is huge. Coach [Kirby] Smart has done a great job this offseason preaching unselfishness, preaching about culture and Jamaree is a huge part of that with him coming back. With his flexibility, he is going to play guard, and he is going to play tackle.” — Luke
Context: Salyer was one of three Georgia players Luke brought multiple times along with Justin Shaffer and Warren Ericson. That gives a pretty clear inclination of what he thinks of those three players.
Salyer showed in 2020 that he is a capable left tackle. If needed, he could play the position for Georgia in 2021. But there’s a thought that Salyer’s long-term future is at guard and Georgia’s best offensive line might be with Salyer at guard. Either way, Salyer will be a key piece of Georgia’s offensive line. The question, which will start to get answered this spring, will be whether that is at guard or tacke.
4. Arian Smith
Quote: “Just like any young receiver, it’s just about understanding the technique of how to play to position and continuing to grow from a football awareness and a knowledge of the playbook and how he fits in the grand scheme of things. He’s really embraced it this off-season. When you look at it, really with all of our guys, we didn’t have an opportunity for spring football last year. Now, these guys get to learn from cutups from last year of what we put on tape. That’s really big with all of our guys, and we’re looking for Arian to grow as a receiver.” — Hankton
Context: Georgia does not have another player on its roster like Smith. Other than defensive back Kelee Ringo, no one really seems to be able to match his speed.
That should make Smith a valuable weapon in Georgia’s 2021 offense. Injuries prevented the redshirt freshman from reaching his potential in his first year on campus. A healthy spring from Smith should allow Monken to find more ways to incorporate Smith and his speed into the Georgia offense.
Related: Georgia football needs to find a way to consistently use Arian Smith in 2021
5. Warren McClendon
Quote: “I just want to see him build off of what he started. He got a lot of experience. He played a lot of football last year, and just really build off of that. Getting bigger and stronger in the offseason, and then improving this spring, this summer and then fall camp. He built a solid foundation this year, so now, let us take the next step.” — Luke
Context: That quote from Luke does sounds like something you would say about a guy who is looking to go from a good player to a great player. McClendon didn’t have the recruiting pedigree that Jones, Mims or even Truss had as a prospect.
What McClendon does have though are nine starts at right tackle and Freshman All-American honors under his belt. If he can go from being a good right tackle to being a true difference-maker, Georgia’s offense as a whole should really benefit.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation