ATHENS — It was only one fall scrimmage, but it was about as big as an one fall scrimmage Kirby Smart has been a part of as a player or coach.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all of Georgia football’s designed spring practice dates and limited offseason work to conditioning sessions, Zoom meetings and walk-through activity.
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Finally, on Saturday at Sanford Stadium, Smart and his team were able to play 11-on-11 football in full pads for the first time since their 26-14 win over Baylor on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl.
Smart discussed the scrimmage on a Zoom press conference with select reporters, and impressions and news items trickled out.
Here’s a “Stock Report” on the ups and downs from the Georgia football scrimmage and start of fall camp.
• Todd Monken has established enough of the new offense that the first team was able to thrive against the second-team defense and sustain a drive against the first team defense, per Smart. WR Kearis Jackson said earlier in camp players were playing fast and were where they were supposed to be. Better execution will come with reps and talent, but being assignment-sound and finding early success was a big step.
• Jamie Newman brings promise to the quarterback position, even though it’s an entirely new scheme with new terminology. Newman handled the offense and showed he could make touch throws, a question some had about the rifle-armed graduate transfer from Wake Forest.
• James Cook was not utilized as much the past two seasons as Smart hoped, but Monken does not figure to have that issue. Cook could prove the central figure in UGA’s new offense, as he has improved physically and shown the skillsets to thrive as a ball carrier or receiver.
• Matt Luke has quite an overhaul with four starters departed on the O-Line, but Smart made it clear he has confidence in how Luke is managing this deep, capable unit. The fact the first unit held its own against the UGA defensive front says something.
• The Georgia first-team defense is supposed to be one of the best in program history, but from the sounds of Smart’s report it did not overwhelm a reloaded first-team offense like many might have expected. There were some three-and-outs versus the first-team offense, but not complete domination.
• The Scott Cochran hire drew a great deal of attention and expectation. Cochran obviously impressed Smart enough to get a contract extension through the 2021 season, even though the head coach says special teams are behind schedule, just like the offense and defense.
• George Pickens remains a gifted receiver who might be the best in the SEC with Sunday’s report that LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase is opting out to go pro. Pickens played well enough but continues to have issues containing his emotion, an indication he’s still maturing.
• The receiving corps showed it could make some plays, including Matt Landers, Demetris Robertson and Kearis Jackson, but Smart said the younger players were hitting a wall. This group is pivotal to the success of the offense, which counts on attention to detail and consistency.
• Team focus and program morale took a hit with some parents and boosters disappointed a former player was allowed to watch the closed scrimmage from within while some player parents and Magill Society Donors were turned away. Smart and UGA were in a tough spot; there was bound to be criticism no matter how the former player’s presence at the private, invitation-only event was handled.
• Linebacker play has come into question. Georgia needs more forced fumbles and interceptions from the corps. Of the three position groups on defense, the linebacker group has the most questions to answer this season from a production standpoint.
• Defensive depth was not what many expected, as Smart explained that explosive offensive running players were the result of defenders not fitting their assigned gaps or playing their roles. For the Georgia defense to live up to the standard that was set last season, the second- and third-team players must become assignment sound.
• Smart made the surprising disclosure that practice effort was not good the first week in pads leading up to the scrimmage, saying “We’ve been harping on mental toughness and practice effort, and we really haven’t had good practice effort.” The good news is Smart saw an effort more in line with UGA standards in the scrimmage.
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