Georgia football: Kirby Smart calls Richard LeCounte’s spring performance ‘up and down’

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Richard LeCounte entered the spring as the odds-on favorite to start at free safety, but he hasn't nailed it down yet.

ATHENS – Richard LeCounte may line up as the starting safety when Georgia takes the field this September. That still could happen.

In the meantime, however, it’s becoming apparent that the highly touted sophomore still has a lot to learn and lot to show his coach.

Kirby Smart made that clear when asked how he thought LeCounte was doing this spring.

“Sometimes I think Richard really wants to be good. I don’t know if Richard knows what it takes to be good, like the demands it takes, the study it takes, the seriousness it takes,” Smart said. “He’s a very talented young man, but he’s got to meet the demands the position requires, which is come in, learn, make the calls, make the decisions. Sometimes I don’t know if he wants that responsibility on him. We certainly are counting on him and we are continuing to coach him until he gets it.”

This doesn’t mean LeCounte is forever in Smart’s doghouse. The old saying is coaches only tend to get after the players they know have the ability to be really good players. And LeCounte fits that bill.

LeCounte came to Georgia in the spring of 2017 with plenty of accolades. A Parade All-American. A 5-star prospect, according to 247Sports and ESPN.

And while he didn’t crack the starting lineup last year – save for one game in a specialized lineup – that was mainly because of experience ahead of him. When 4-star starter Dominick Sanders’ eligibility was up, it was widely assumed that LeCounte would step into that role.

But Smart wants LeCounte to use more than just his pure talent.

“Do I like what I see on the football field?” Smart said. “Five minutes, I’d say yeah. Another five minutes, I’d say, ‘What the hell?’ It’s up and down.”

Richard LeCounte saw snaps in the SEC Championship Game and other important games in 2017. (DawgNation/file photo)

There are times this spring where LeCounte has made some “wow plays,” as Smart referred to them. But it’s not consistent enough.

“He covers a lot of range but he can cover the range in the wrong direction really fast, if you know what I mean,” Smart said, beginning to demonstrate with his hands, moving one way to signify the wrong direction and the other way to signify the right direction. “So if you go the wrong way really fast, you have to recover that distance to make it up to go back the right way. So when he’s going the right direction, it’s really good. When he’s going the wrong direction, it’s not good.”

Lest this sound like Smart just singling out LeCounte for the sake of singling someone out, a fellow safety sounded a fairly similar theme.

J.R. Reed, who is Georgia’s returning starter at strong safety, was asked about LeCounte after practice on Tuesday, considering he was supposed to be playing beside him this season. Reed began by saying that LeCounte had learned a lot and come a long way, but then echoed Smart’s comments, if in more gentle terms.

“He’s just like a lot of the younger guys. Really the main thing with these younger guys is they’ve gotta study,” Reed said. “They’ve got to put in extra work to study this playbook. It’s just like school, it’s like another class. So he’s just got to put in more work to get the plays down.”

LeCounte’s one start last year came at Notre Dame, when the defense opened in a dime package and didn’t have cornerback Malkom Parrish, who was injured. LeCounte went on to appear in 10 games, making 15 tackles. By the end of the season, he was appearing more frequently on the field in other formations.

It’s expected to be even more playing time this season.

“He’s got to take ownership in knowing what to do and if he does that, he’ll be a really good player,” Smart said. “We’re counting on him. The other players are counting on him. Dawg nation is counting on him. We want him to learn what to do, and I promise you we will meet with him every day we possibly can, but until he commits to that, I don’t know that he can reach his full potential.”

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