ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football has major holes to fill on defense after losing seven starters from last season’s SEC Championship team, but Kirby Smart sounds optimistic.

Smart detailed three specific players that will key the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense following Saturday’s 150-play scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.

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The coach of the No. 4-ranked Georgia football program was decidedly upbeat after the scrimmage, a good indication his team is making the desired progress through this juncture of fall camp.

The progress the following three players are making likely has a lot to do with Smart’s healthy vibe. Here’s what he said about the following players after Saturday’s scrimmage:d

ILB Natrez Patrick

“Natrez has always been a good leader. The biggest thing with Natrez is having the stamina level himself to perform at an SEC level.

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“He has to be able to play 30 plays in a row, but his leadership has always been a good quality because he’s not afraid to speak up, he’s not afraid to challenge guys that aren’t playing the right way, but his ability to sustain and do it for 40 plays has been the biggest part he has to improve on.”

NG Julian Rochester

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“Julian was dependable last year, I’m looking for him to be a difference maker, I’m looking for him to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s not quite like John [Atkins] — he’s faster and more athletic — but he may not be as good as john at what John did, which is controlling the center in an odd front.

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“Julian can do a lot of other things John could do, but that’s one of the things he’s worked hard at,  he’s gotten better in balanced body control, when he gets hit to stay on balance.”

FS Richard LeCounte lll

“He didn’t give up any big plays, but he didn’t make any big plays, so that might be the best he’s done yet, because I’m looking for a level of consistency. I’m really just about the process with Richard: did you look at the right thing and did you do it right? If you do that, you’ll be successful, where he thinks about, ‘did I get an interception, did I get a tackle?’

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“That’s not the important thing at safety. The important thing is, did you look at the right thing, did you do the right thing [because] If you don’t it can cost us dearly, and I’ve repeated to him over and over that it’s not your job to make those plays, it’s your job to do your job.”

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