ATHENS — Kirby Smart continued to offer praise for the Georgia offense as a whole and for quarterback Jacob Eason and tailback Brian Herrien in particular as the Bulldogs conducted their first controlled scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
“He’s come a long way,” Smart said of Eason in a post-scrimmage briefing back at the Butts-Mehre football complex. “He’s more confident in the pocket, he’s more confident in protections, his decision-making is better, and his accuracy has been better.”
Just as quickly as he said that, Smart quickly added a qualifier that should keep him from getting overconfident.
“But he’s getting challenged because the other guy did well, too,” Smart said, referring to true freshman backup Jake Fromm.
The Bulldogs did not share statistics from the two hour, game-simulation practice. Also, no players were made available for interviews.
Offense outperforming defense
However, indications again were that the offense is generally out-performing the defense to this point. Smart complained of the defense giving up too many four- and five-yard runs and not executing “enough knock-back tackles.”
“You know, when you hit a guy and splatter him and knock him back and where he doesn’t get a lot of yards after contact,” Smart said. “We didn’t have a lot of that. We still have to improve defensively.”
Much of that could be owed to the Bulldogs’ strong running game, which was led Saturday by the sophomore Herrien.
“He was a guy we were going to get the ball to in scrimmage situations and he did pretty well,” Smart said. “He ran the ball really hard, had a couple of long, explosive runs. He’s a tough competitive guy. If I had to say somebody stood out I’d say he did.”
Smart also singled out safety J.R. Reed on the defense for having “quite a few” tackles. Then again, he added, it’s generally not good when a safety leads the team in tackles.
But asked if he saw a role for Reed on this team next fall, he said “absolutely.”
“Right now he’s flashing speed and athleticism,” Smart said.
Eason’s progress talk of day
But the talk of the day was the progress of Eason, even though Smart remains reserved in his praise.
“Jacob is in a better spot right now than he was this time last year,” the second-year head coach said of the second-year starter. “… Most of the guys out there now with the exception of J.J. Holloman he has worked with before. I don’t know if it’s the factor of working with him or just working period.”
Eason’s overall mastery of offensive operation is the area most improved, Smart said.
“He is much more experienced, so when the call comes in he’s knows he’s looking for this, this and this. Where it used to be, ‘what’s this call and what do I do?'” Smart said. “So he’s come a long way.”
As a unit, Georgia’s offense committed just three turnovers in what amounted to about 130 snaps between the first-, second- and third-string units. Those came on two interceptions and one fumble, Smart said.
As for special teams, Smart said none of the kicking was live but that Rodrigo Blankenship performed well on field goals and Cam Nizialek punted well.