Georgia football defense called out by Kirby Smart after first scrimmage: ‘I’m a little disappointed’

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Photos from Georgia’s practice session on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, April 2, 2022. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

ATHENS — It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Georgia offense had a better day than the Georgia defense on Saturday’s scrimmage. That is to be expected at this time of year, according to Kirby Smart.

Add in that it was the first day of live tackling for the Bulldogs and you can see why the quarterbacks had a successful day moving the ball.

But there were areas where Smart felt the defense should’ve been better. Even if this unit has to replace eight draft picks from last season, five of which went in the first round.

“I’m a little disappointed in the energy, enthusiasm and leadership from the defense. There wasn’t a lot of support there,” Smart said. “When things go bad, there wasn’t a guy to pick them up and grab the bull by the horns, we didn’t have the right direction. But I felt the kids played hard, especially early in the scrimmage, we had guys really play hard, physical, came out with the right mindset.”

Related: Scrimmage One breakdown: Kirby Smart’s sharp comments, promising and concerning takeaways

Consider the inside linebacker room, led a year ago by Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. All three players are now off in the NFL. Having to replace their intangible abilities has proven to be just as much a challenge as replicating their playmaking, speed and agility.

Jamon Dumas-Johnson has earned consistent praise from Smart to date. But beyond that, Smart still wants to see more from a promising yet unproven group of linebackers.

“We’re looking for some mental and physical toughness out of that group. (Xavian) Sorey flashes, but he’s got to do it more consistently,” Smart said. “He knows that, he has some ability to make some really big flash plays, but he’s got to do it more consistently within the defense. Smael (Mondon) has got to play better, too. That’s a group, that group has got to step up and play better, and the defensive line has got to help them play better by keeping the blockers off of them.”

It’s a similar situation out at the cornerback position for the Bulldogs. Kelee Ringo is a known quantity at the position. He’s not the most vocal player so he has to lead by example.

Competing to replace Derion Kendrick right now is Kamari Lassiter and Nyland Green. Behind them, you have three freshmen in Daylen Everette, Jaheim Sinlgetary and Julian Humphrey.

Saturday was their first fall scrimmage in Athens. It’s understandable why Lassiter and Green are out ahead of the younger trio. It also seems like Lassiter has created some separation from himself and Green.

“We won’t get through the year with just those three (Green, Lassiter and Ringo) though,” Smart said. “We are going to have to have four and five corners to survive the season.”

Offensively, Smart took time to praise freshman Dillon Bell, as the wide receiver has continued to make plays for the Bulldogs. Stetson Bennett, Kenny McIntosh and Gunner Stockton were also complimented for their efforts on Saturday.

Related: Kirby Smart updates injury status of Arian Smith, Kendall Milton and other Bulldogs after first scrimmage

If there was one defensive player who seemed to fit what Smart was looking for, it was Jalen Carter. The junior defensive tackle could very well be the best player on the team.

But it wasn’t Carter’s talent that drew praise from Smart. It was his mental approach, the kind he wants to see from other members of the team.

“I think he knows that people’s eyes are on him, in terms of our other players and he knows he has to be a leader for our defense,” Smart said. “I am proud of what he’s done. Most practices he’s given us a full day’s work. He competes not like a guy that has been there and done that. He competes like he’s hungry. That’s what we challenge him to do. He just has to do that every day, day in and day out, and then maybe affects somebody else with him.”

Georgia will go through the same song and dance next Saturday, as the Bulldogs will hold their second scrimmage. The team will get a day off on Sunday to recoup after nine practices in 10 days.

Perhaps the rest will help the Georgia defense regain its focus.

“We have a long way to go to get where we need to go, and that has nothing to do with Oregon, that has nothing to do with anybody we play, that has to do with the Georgia Bulldogs,” Smart said. “We have to look ourselves in the eyes, as coaches, and figure out what guys we have to do the best and get them to go execute that at the best. We have good football players on this team, we didn’t necessarily play with the right energy and enthusiasm across the board as a whole today.”

Kirby Smart ‘a little disappointed’ with Georgia football defense after first scrimmage

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