ATHENS — There were a lot of little treasures Kirby Smart dropped on the members of The Touchdown Club of Athens during their members-only spring football meeting Monday night at Athens Country Club. But the one that seemed to create the most buzz was when he answered a question about Mecole Hardman early during the Q&A session.
Smart didn’t hold back in his praise of the rising sophomore from Elberton and he gave every indication that we’ll be seeing No. 4 on the field a lot for the Bulldogs this fall.
Asked whether he expected Hardman’s primary contributions to be on defense, offense or special teams, Smart responded excitedly, “I hope he can play all three!”
“I love Mecole,” Smart said. “I’m excited about Mecole. It’s going to be a really tough decision for us mainly because of the dilemma we’re in at wide receiver. We don’t have a lot of depth there. And when you rate the team 1 through 85, where is Mecole? If he falls in the top 22 — and I’m not saying he does or doesn’t — you’ve got to find a place for him.”
Hardman signed with Georgia as a 5-star prospect out of Elbert County, where he starred as a quarterback but was expected to play cornerback in college. Hardman is currently running second team at that position with the Bulldogs, but he has been getting regular work daily at wide receiver. He is also a leading candidate to replace Isaiah McKenzie as a punt and kick returner.
“He’s continuing to develop at corner, and that is his first passion. But I do think we’re going to have to be experimental and do a really good job of a coaching staff of utilizing him. … As coaches spend 20 to 30 minutes a day figuring out how we’re going to use Mecole in practice. We’re trying to be organized. This period he needs to be here, this period he needs to be there, and make sure we don’t overuse the guy.”
Smart said there are already are concerns that they may be over-extending the 5-foot-11, 183-pound athlete. He said the GPS device Hardman wears during practices showed that he traveled more than 9,000 yards in the Bulldogs’ full-pads practice this past Saturday. I don’t know how far that is (5.1 miles) but I know it’s a lot and it’s more than anybody else we’ve got. So we have to monitor that and be smart.”
Georgia hasn’t had a true two-way player since Champ Bailey played both sides of the ball for Jim Donnan in 1998. At other times the Bulldogs utilized defensive players on offense occasionally under Mark Richt, such as it did with Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith.
Smart is indicating Georgia may need Hardman in all three phrases. Chiefly they’re seeking to replace the play-making dynamism of Isaiah McKenzie, who turned pro after his junior season last fall.
“I do think he has a skillset that we’re missing right now, so we’re just trying to find the right use for that,” Smart said. “You know, he played quarterback in high school. He hasn’t played receiver either. Everybody says just throw him in there and throw him a tunnel screen. I’ve had 800 emails about him catching tunnel screens. Hey, man, it ain’t that easy.
“But he is a talented guy and we’re going to try to find a role for him on our team.”
Likewise, Smart didn’t back off on his continued praise for quarterback Jake Fromm, a true freshman early enrollee from Warner Robins.
Smart scoffed when an audience member asked whether there was any chance Fromm would be redshirted. “I would not think that at all,” Smart said. “We want him to play. We need him to play.”
Whether that is as a backup to incumbent starter Jacob Eason or as a starter has not been determined and won’t be for a long while yet, Smart said.
“Throughout his career he has been special at leading teams,” Smart said of Fromm. “He’s continued to do that. He hasn’t shied away at all at our place to step up and lead. And I think him pushing Jacob is a really good thing. If he sits in a meeting and answers something that Jacob can’t answer, it bothers Jacob. That’s really good. Competition, guys, is what drives us all. It’s the fact that somebody is lighting a fire under him. You can’t get comfortable, by no means.”
It was an extremely long and entertaining program that the TD Club put on for its membership. It included UGA lettermen David Andrews and Malcolm Mitchell, who are both now members of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Each spoke briefly and then took questions from the audience, which filled the main ballroom at Athens Country Club.
Smart originally was supposed to speak after the two spotlight honorees but went first instead because he “needed to get back to do some football things.”
Among the other “subjects” Smart addressed were:
- This year’s spring game: “Nobody’s saying 93K this year. I don’t think we should have to say that. We should all be at that game because that affected about 10 of the guys we recruited last year. The impact it had was great and it gave us great momentum. I think that’s important, and I think everybody should always be at the spring game.”
- On the new indoor building: “Every recruit who comes to our indoor says, ‘Coach, you have the best indoor in the country.’ It is beautiful. They did a great job with that building. It’s one of the highest ceilings there is, we can kick in there, it’s a first-class facility and it was a wow factor for a lot of these kids.”
- On continued facilities improvements: “If the indoor impacts them, so does the weight room, so does the stadium, recruiting room, other places. So all those things do matter. That’s why we’re very appreciate to everyone who helped us by donating to the indoor. That was so huge for us.”
- On spring practice: “We’ve only had three practices, so I can’t say we’re going to have an unbelievable team. To say that right now is crazy. I’m a big advocate for the pads being on for a while and finding out about guys. That’s our job as coaches, to give them a little adversity and find out how they respond.”
- On junior college transfer lineman D’Marcus Hayes: “He’s making a big transition. He’s been playing right tackle where in junior college he played left. We may look at him at left tackle some as well. He’s a big kid, a large kid. We’ve got to make sure his weight matches his strength and he can move well enough.
- On freshman Deangelo Gibbs working a first-team safety: “We have deficit. People are reporting that he’s already a starter, that’s what the media is writing about, him going with the 1s. He’s going with the 1s because we don’t have anybody else right now. So it’s by default, not because he beat anybody out.”
- On kicking game: “We’re hoping that we kick it higher and farther in a bunch of situations. We need higher hang times, deeper for touchbacks and longer punts. … I just want the ball kicked farther. Our new punter has done a nice job punting the ball so far and Rodrigo (Blankenship) right now is doing a good job with our kicking game and our field goal situations.”
In all, Smart spoke for more than a half hour and took nearly 15 minutes of questions. Check back to DawgNation.com on Tuesday for more on what Smart, Andrews and Mitchell had to say.