ATHENS – Informed of the gaudy number that was posted next to his name on the final stat sheet from G-Day, Georgia linebacker Monty Rice just shrugged and sighed.
Others might’ve been impressed to see 14 tackles posted there. Rice wasn’t.
“Nah, because I missed a few assignments that I feel like cost the team,” said Rice, who started at Will linebacker for Georgia’s Red team, which lost to the Black 21-13. “On defense, me and Natrez [Patrick] and Juwan [Taylor] and all the linebackers, we’ve got to contain better, we’ve got to be better on signals, we’ve got to communicate better, we’ve got to know what the DBs are doing so we can all be on one page and work as a unit.”
Reminded that 14 is an awful lot of tackles in a game of 12-minute quarters in which he wasn’t on the field for every series, Rice conceded that maybe he didn’t stink.
“I thought I played all right, I guess,” he said. “I just want to play at my best all the time. I’m going to need to be my best in the fourth quarter [of] SEC games, so I’ve just got to be much better.”
Indeed, too many of Rice’s tackles were probably too many yards down the field. But that’s what happens when offenses are throwing the ball around like Georgia was on Saturday. Between them, the Red and the Black offenses attempted 81 passes in the annual end-of-spring game.
And Rice has an exceptionally high standard for himself. That tends to happen when one spends a year playing behind the Butkus Award winner in college football. Rice apprenticed last year for Roquan Smith, who led the SEC with 137 tackles and made the extraordinary seem routine.
Rice distinguished himself well in a backup role, playing in 14 games and even getting one start. He finished with 22 tackles. But having learned from the best, he now has seen up close and personal what it takes to be the best. And Rice knows he’s not there yet.
“He’s just a phenomenal player,” Rice said of Smith. “I remember a play in the Rose Bowl where he got pushed down, but he maintained his balance and still made the tackle. He’s just a freak athlete, and I’m glad I got a year with him by getting here early. When I first got here, we’d have pre-practice walk-throughs, and he was telling me what to do and what calls to make. So he’s a very helpful guy.”
Based on his comments about Rice after the game Saturday, it sounds like Georgia coach Kirby Smart might see a little of Roquan in Rice.
“Monty showed up,” Smart said during his postgame remarks. “He was sideline-to-sideline. … He’s a great kid, man. He’s one of those when the lights come on and he gets a chance to play in front of somebody, he flashes more. He just loves the game. He loves contact. He loves to hit.”
Smart said the linebacker suffered a pulled hamstring late in the game. But Rice managed to finish, and he wasn’t using the injury as an excuse afterward. And with spring practice over now, Rice said he’s eager to get back on the practice field.
Rice said one of the best things about the experience Saturday is having a better idea of what he needs to work on.
“Keep working hard, become more sharp in the playbook, make checks when they need to be made, communicate to the DBs better, a lot,” he said.
Rice said Georgia’s linebackers are planning a get-together for Thursday night to watch the NFL draft. Smith is expected to be one of the first off the board as an early first-round selection.
“All us linebackers, we’re all happy for him being able to play at the next level,” Rice said. “Being able to play on Sundays is going to be cool.”
That’s Rice’s goal as well. But if he makes it to that level, it won’t be because of anything Smith did.
“I don’t look at it as stepping into anybody’s shoes,” he said. “I’m Monty Rice.”