ATHENS — Kirby Smart said it’s “grind” time for Georgia football with a “million battles to face” before the Bulldogs open the season.
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Fall drills are no longer a time for players to be getting in shape — the NCAA allows teams to train together throughout the offseason.
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Instead, Smart said, it’s a time for Georgia to “lock in and lock out,” in terms of getting focused on football and avoiding outside distractions.
Georgia has one of the biggest reloads in recent college football history on its hands, having to replace a record-15 players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, along with 13 transfers that included four former starters.
Here were some takeaways from Smart’s opening press conference on Thursday in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall
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Injured stars returning
Smart said offensive guard Tate Ratledge, who missed last season with a foot injury, has been rotating with the ones and twos and “is in a good spot” in his return.
Safety Tykee Smith, meanwhile, is not yet 100 percent back from the season-ending ACL injury he suffered last season, but he has made good progress.
“He may not be cleared for live tackling yet; it’s how comfortable he feels without his brace,” Smart said. “You have to gain confidence in that and get back in playing shape.”
Distinctive Darnell Washington
The Georgia tight end has served notice in the locker room he is not to be forgotten, to the extent Smart took note of how good Washington looks and how hard he has worked.
Washington has a chiseled 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame that allows him to be effective as a blocker or receiver in the UGA offense, a combination that could prove devastating to defenses.
Fellow UGA tight ends Brock Bowers and Arik Gilbert possess enough speed that the Bulldogs will likely split them out this season to create mismatches.
Washington could get some work out of the slot, too, but he may be more effective coming from inside. Indeed, Washington challenges that he doesn’t know of any linebackers that can jump or match up with him in coverage.
Splendid Smael Mondon
If there’s a breakout name that kept coming up on Thursday it was Mondon, a 6-3, 220 sophomore linebacker who is competing for a starting position.
Smart revealed that he feels good about the linebacker position as a whole, even as UGA is replacing three NFL draft picks from the inside linebacker position.
Safety Christopher Smith noted how quickly Mondon closes on tackles, while Washington mentioned Mondon first when asked who some of the most athletic players are on the team.
Mondon was rated a 5-star recruit coming of Paulding County High School, where his athleticism was such that he also played quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
Smart has recruited one of the most athletic teams in the nation, and Washington indicated that translates to the basketball court where the Bulldogs have been known to play some pickup.
Washington would put himself in what would be the ideal starting five, along with:
• Amarius Mims
• Jalen Carter
• Nyland Green
• Jonathan Jefferson
Special special teams