ATHENS — Georgia football is in its team-building stages, looking to discover its “Team DNA,” its “connection,” and how to grow better via “incrementalization,” to quote a few of Kirby Smart’s newest program buzz words.
Smart, entering his sixth year as the Bulldogs’ head coach, is approaching the program’s national championship ambitions for 2021 one step at a time.
“We never shy away from that being our goal, but it’s not something we have to talk about every day,” said Smart, who has led Georgia to four consecutive Top 10 finishes and run up a 10-6 record against Top 10 teams — three of those losses coming to Alabama.
“You need to focus on how you’re going to do that. How do we get that net sum to positive over negative, and that’s by pulling everybody in the right direction. That’s our goal.”
This season’s Georgia football team has the potential to set offensive records with a decorated SoCal gunslinger at quarterback, a historically deep and talented receiver arsenal, a loaded stable of versatile backs and an offensive line stacked with Top 100 prospects.
But as Smart alluded, it takes more than talent to win a national championship — or beat Clemson on opening day on Sept. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., for that matter.
Smart keeps things fresh in his program every season and part of his methodology involves finding different ways to reach players.
That can mean saying some things in different ways, such as replacing “personality” with “DNA” when it comes to characterizing his football team.
“I think we are defining our DNA a little better — every team has its own DNA, right? You’re not going to have the same exact team as you did the year before; the personalities are different,” Smart said.
“It doesn’t matter if you are talking about running or throwing the ball, but the makeup of what is between the ears of your players, that dynamic changes.
“I think defining that every year is really critical. Know who you are. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be intentional about that with your players where they can set the standard of demands of what it is.”
The Bulldogs offense took flight the final three games of the regular season, averaging more than 40 points and nearly 500 yards per game with JT Daniels under center at quarterback, and bigger things are expected in Year Two under offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“You can imagine this time last year it was a whirlwind in terms of trying to figure out (Todd) Monken is here, this guy is here, he is here, this guy’s is here, and trying to install different things,” Smart said.
“The pace at which we are doing walk-throughs and being able to things offensively has been much better. JT (Daniels) obviously getting the spring to go through this …. he has come a long way in terms of the volume of information he has gotten.”
And, Smart said, Daniels and the other UGA quarterbacks are growing more connected with the receivers.
“I think the rapport with the receiver group for all the quarterbacks is going to be extremely important in terms of developing our offense and getting timing in the passing game.”
Secondary transfer portal
Georgia’s challenge in the defensive backfield is obvious with nine players having turned professional or transfer since the end of the 2019 season, and Smart didn’t attempt to hide it.
“The cornerback position is completely open,” Smart said. “We have a lot of guys that could be working at cornerback. Every guy on the team is a potential cornerback right now. We are in search of finding guys that can play that position at a high-level in a really tough conference.
“We are one of the conference’s teams that plays more man-to-man than anyone else; so, you need have guys out there that can function. That position is up for grabs.”
And yes, that could mean adding a player from the transfer portal, and Smart used Maurice Smith’s addition to the 2016 team as an example.
“We would not decline the ability to look at the option there,” Smart said. “I want to coach the players we have because that’s the one thing I know I can impact. I don’t control the portal.”
Georgia brings back nine offensive starters and five defensive starters from its final regular-season game, giving the Bulldogs a core of experienced players.
But as a whole, UGA has great youth, with only two projected starters carrying senior eligibility status this Eason.
“We had a team run and I asked everyone to stand up who had not been through a spring practice at Georgia, and I’m going to venture to say it was 65-70 percent of the team that stood up,” Smart said. “That’s a scary thing. It just shows you the youth you have, the lack of practices and experiences your team has. Sixteen midyears (enrollees), a lot of new walk-ons, nobody that was here last year for the first year had gone through that.
“So when you look at all of those things it kind of combines and you say, ‘Wow, we have a really young group from that perspective”.
Clemson, according to Dabo Swinney, has its most veteran team since 2018.