ATHENS — The sun was shining brightly on the Georgia football practice fields behind Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, a picture-perfect 74-degree afternoon for the halfway mark of spring drills.
“Do not walk on my field!” Kirby Smart said, sounding very much like a drill sergeant in directing and motivating players through the open portion of the Thursday practice.
Listening to Smart’s voice boom out over the practice fields it’s easy to understand how the Bulldogs’ players stay pumped up and motivated for two hours of drill work, with him often imploring them to stay “on the hop.”
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The head coach’s messages are intense, filled with challenges and sprinkled with a few PG-13 expletives to keep the players’ attention.
“Punt team, punt team!” Smart yells, triggering a mad scramble of bodies racing to find their proper groups and get lined up accordingly.
“Boom, boom, boom, gotta go, gotta go, gotta go, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it!”
It’s a reloading Georgia team in search of leadership with at least 14 of the departing players headed for the NFL, including a handful of likely first-round picks that often served as game captains.
“A lot of holes,” Smart says. “There are a lot of questions to be answered from our team for guys leaving.”
Smart is pushing hard, and no one is above being called out on the practice field or in the media, as Stetson Bennett learned last week.
The Georgia head coach chose to put the team’s projected starting quarterback on blast and under public scrutiny over going to class, doing the “right thing” and avoiding “bone-headed” decisions.
It was tough, to say the least, but Smart isn’t playing when it comes to maintaining the championship standards that have been six years in the making.
The practice field tone at the start of practice on Thursday was more playful.
“(Oscar Delp) you ever tackled anybody? Your brother?” Smart said playfully to the gifted early enrollee during drill work. “Your tackling scares me.”
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Moments earlier, Smart was telling Arik Gilbert he needed to “shimmy more” on the punt cover team.
Then it was A.D. Mitchell’s turn to get challenged on the punt cover team.
“A.D. you need to hit 19 (mph) on the GPS … Coach Sinclair go get the GPS!” Smart said, before turning his attention to one of his defensive backs also on the punt cover team. “Kamari (Lassiter) you can’t hit 19.”
The only thing missing was a laugh track, but the players hear it all, ears perked up to make sure it’s not them Smart is calling out.