NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — JT Daniels’ idea of a good time is football, so no one was surprised when he invited Georgia teammates back to his home state for a spring break of sorts.
Daniels has trained with quarterback guru Jordan Palmer since he was in ninth grade, so his return to the West Coast during the team’s break from classes was planned well in advance.
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So, Daniels apparently figured, why not see if some of his Bulldogs’ teammates might want to throw the football around and take in the SoCal sights during the semester break?
Georgia receiver Braxton Hicks posted this photo with his UGA teammates from Newport Beach, Calif.
The group of UGA players spending vacation time with Daniels swelled to nine or 10 by the end of the break, with running backs James Cook and Kendall Milton getting in on the action with receivers and tight ends.
Jermaine Burton, Braxton Hicks and Adonai Mitchell were the last group hanging out this week after other Georgia targets came and went, among them Kearis Jackson, Justin Robinson, Ladd McConkey and John Fitzpatrick.
All of the Georgia football players are expected to report back on Tuesday and begin their voluntary offseason workouts by the end of the week.
The Bulldogs, as has been well-documented, are aiming for a College Football Playoff Championship this season.
Daniels, who led Mater Dei High School to the first unanimous high school national championship (2017) since Valdosta accomplished the feat in 1986, has made no bones about it the high goals.
“There’s no denying you want to win a natty,” Daniels said this spring, “and I think we have the team to do it.”
Daniels, who entered the transfer portal out of USC last spring, arrived at Georgia last June 1 and did not leave Athens until coming to California in mid-May.
“So not much of a decompress thing, but that’s never been something I’ve needed to much,” Daniels explained, asked about why he hadn’t taken a break from Athens. “I play the game because I love it, and I really don’t need much time away from it.”
Indeed, and inviting teammates back to California for fun in the sun allowed Daniels time to pull them aside to polish things up.
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“There are things we have to focus on and develop,” Daniels said this spring, “and we have the team to do whatever we want.”
Daniels’ time spent with Burton was particularly valuable, as the speedy second-year player figures to lead the team in receptions with George Pickens out indefinitely with the torn ACL he suffered early in spring drills.
Georgia WR Jermaine Burton and RB Kendall Milton pose for the shot while in Newport Beach, Calif.
Here are the three things Georgia got out of the time Daniels spent in California over the past 10 days:
Jordan Palmer is known well for his quarterback training, to the extent his clientele includes NFL quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Joe Burrow and Kyle Allen.
Daniels has worked with a handful of other well-respected quarterback coaches, too, but Allen’s NFL network is one that will likely soon apply to the Georgia quarterback.
As strong of a spring session as Daniels had — impressing coaching Kirby Smart and earning DawgNation “Game Ball” honors for his 28-of-41, 324-yard 3 TD performance on G-Day — there were still things to get ironed out.
Daniels completed 67-percent of his passes the final four games of the 2020 season, but he sometimes compensated for his right knee not being completely healthy when looking for the necessary torque to put velocity on the ball.
That wasn’t the case in spring drills, as Daniels appeared to have complete mobility and a more fluid throwing motion.
Still, Daniels is like a PGA golfer working with his swing, constantly looking for minute adjustments to get the most out of his abilities. Georgia players commented on the value of such involvement, as it kept the team on the same page.
The 9-foot tall "Silver Surfer" statue is a well-known landmark in Newport Beach, a memorial to fallen lifeguard Ben Carlson.
Every coach and football team claims to have it each time the leadership question comes up, but few truly possess the sort of synergy needed for a unit to reach peak performance.
The on-field execution is what everyone sees and evaluates, but there’s a lot more than Xs and Os and repetitions that go into it.
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Do the players truly play for one another and put the team ahead of themselves? Are they accountable to one another — and do they hold one another accountable?
Smart, to his credit, looks for different and creative ways each spring and fall session to keep his team engaged and team build.
This spring, Smart designated time for “skull sessions,” with players having meetings to discuss whatever is on their minds.
Daniels’ vacation time with receivers was a microcosm of the same concept. The players getting to know and like one another beyond the bounds of the football field makes it that much easier to invest and sacrifice for one another.
The time Burrow spent with what proved to be a national championship LSU team prior to the Tigers’ 2019 run has been well-documented, to the extent Smart once said it was the hardest offense he ever had to prepare for.
Todd Monken’s Pro Style Spread involves Air Raid concepts and includes a number of nuances, from timing to spacing.
Where and how a player lines up can make all the difference, with two or three feet often determining whether or not a play will be successful.
It’s why Monken is known to be a very strict stickler — to the point of being downright edgy — about proper alignment and depth route.
Spending time at a park in California or during voluntary offseason workouts back on campus with receivers gives Daniels the time to help get the routes and timing dialed in in a more relaxed setting.
Those alignments, assignments and little details make all the difference with Daniels’ adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage after making the pre-snap reads.
Georgia’s practices, because of the 20-hour time limit, are strictly budgets with no time wasted. Smart’s efficiency and ability to get the most work done in the shortest amount of time is one of the things that separates him as an elite coach.
But there’s no time for hand-holding an explanation, thus adding value to any time Daniels and his receivers can spend together away from the field.
A handful of Georgia football players spent vacation time with JT Daniels in Newport Beach. The Pier at Balboa Peninsula is another famous landmark in the area.