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Nolan Smith will be a key member of Georgia's 2021 team.

Kirby Smart shares thoughts on key defensive performers from first spring scrimmage

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart doesn’t believe in having winners and losers following a scrimmage, much less one that takes place during the spring.

He wants both members of the offense and defense to go out and make plays on both sides of the ball.

Related: Georgia QB JT Daniels ‘very serious’ in Scrimmage One that ‘nobody won’

When pressed, Smart fell back on the fact that he still had to go back and watch the tape to confirm how his Bulldogs performed during their first scrimmage and ninth practice of the spring session.

Smart did though take note of a couple of key defenders following Saturday’s practice.

“I thought Nolan (Smith) had really good energy today. I can’t say how he played but he had good energy and he was present,” Smart said. “Travon (Walker) had really good energy and played hard.”

Walker and Smith figure to be key players of Georgia’s defense during the 2021 season, emerging from the supporting roles they occupied in previous seasons.

Both players arrived as 5-star recruits in the 2019 recruiting cycle and have already made a handful of impressive plays during their Georgia careers. With Walker having to replace multi-year starter Malik Herring and Smith taking the mantle from top pass rusher Azeez Ojulari, Georgia is going to need them to make more than a few plays in 2021.

Related: Travon Walker knows Georgia needs a big year from him and he’s ready for it

The defensive player Smart gave his highest praise to was one who couldn’t even fully participate. That would be inside linebacker Nakobe Dean, who is limited this spring due to labrum surgery.

The recovery process isn’t slowing Dean down at all though.

“I’ve never had a player in all my career coaching that has been more engaged,” Smart said of Dean. “You have to stay on certain guys when they’re injured. Nakobe is calling things out. It’s like he’s playing linebacker every play and making the call from the sideline.

“You can hear him, he’s engaged. He’s on top of it. Plus he gets reps when he’s in individual and walkthroughs so I feel good about the work he’s putting in.”

Related: Georgia football 2021 spring practice updates, injuries and news

Dean led Georgia in tackles last season and seems like a safe bet to do so again in 2021. Dean has already played so much football for Georgia a few missed reps this spring won’t deter him from starting the 2021 season as one of the best linebackers in the country.

It wasn’t all positive though from Smart on Saturday. He made it clear multiple times the Georgia defensive backs were not up to the usual standard, which is to be expected with all the departures Georgia has had at the position.

“A lot of them it was their first real live action with LC (Lovasea Carroll) out there playing some corner and Nyland (Green) and Kelee (Ringo), just a lot of young guys that haven’t played a lot of college football,” Smart said. “They’ve played a lot of football and they’re good football players but we’re a long way from being ready in terms of what we need to do in the secondary because we’ve just got a lot of inexperienced players.”

Much is expected of Ringo given his former 5-star status as a 2020 prospect. Smart is still waiting to see Ringo live up to that promise, as he missed the 2020 season due to preseason labrum surgery.

“Kelee hasn’t really done anything in terms of earning the reputation that he came in with,” Smart said. “He’s in the process of doing that, he’s trying to do that. He’s working hard and learning and staying really engaged.”

Georgia has now completed nine of its 15 practices this spring. Georgia will conclude its spring session on April 17 as the Bulldogs will hold G-Day. The scrimmage is set for a 2 p.m. ET start and will be broadcast on SEC Network+.

Nolan Smith, Travon Walker earn praise from Kirby Smart following first scrimmage

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