ATHENS — Thank goodness for Lorenzo Carter.
Everybody who follows the Georgia Bulldogs has an opinion about the towering outside linebacker from Norcross and his relative football skills, and we’ll touch on that in a bit. But strictly from the media side of the equation, he’s a go-to guy.
The kid is smart and eloquent and, well, honest. So we always appreciate the opportunity to talk to him.
That was the case again Monday as the Bulldogs held their annual preseason news conference at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. It took place hours before Georgia took to Woodruff Practice Fields for its first of 29 practices over the next 34 days.
I was milling around in the second floor atrium where player interviews are conducted trying to get some straight talk about the goals and expectations for this season. You wouldn’t think that would be such a difficult proposition but, the truth is, when you get try to pin down football types about their hopes and dreams, you tend to get a lot of rhetoric and talk-arounds. That’s the way coach Kirby Smart wants it.
Case in point: Linebacker Roquan Smith’s answer when I first asked him about it.
“It’s about being the best that we can be,” Smith said. “At the end of the day if that’s what it is, then that will be what it is. We’re just going to take it one game at a time and let everything else take care of itself.”
Here’s a succinct translation: “We’re going to try hard and take whatever we get.”
We’ll come back to Smith, a player for whom I have great respect and one I believe will be a difference maker this season. Let’s just say that wasn’t his final answer.
But Carter didn’t require any prodding. You’ll recall that the former 5-star prospect was one of four draft-eligible juniors who chose to come back to Georgia for their senior seasons. The others are, of course, Davin Bellamy, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. I think I’ve mentioned before that’s a big deal.
Monday was our first chance to hear from Carter since the G-Day Game. The simple question was, with his fourth preseason camp hours away from commencing, what was his ultimate reasoning for wanting to put himself through these rigors again without compensation beyond board and books?
“I need to win something, man,” Carter said emphatically. “I finished high school with four rings. Coming here to Georgia and having the legacy of the ‘G,’ it’s been a minute. It’s been a minute since Athens has had something to celebrate. So that’s it, trying to come back and give people a reason to be happy.”
Indeed, Carter won four state championships in high school, two in basketball and two in football. So he’s accustomed to seeing his effort rewarded with jewelry and trophies. But for how long is it cool to wear your high school championship rings in college? Not much more than a week, I’d guess.
Besides, Carter probably couldn’t fit any of those rings on his fingers any more. While he may not be playing in the NFL this year, physically he looks like a pro. Long an issue for this naturally lanky athlete, Carter has finally be able to put some significant weight on his 6-foot-6 frame. He said he weighed in Sunday at 254 pounds. That’s up from 242 at which he played last season.
Carter knows he needs to add some weight to his statistics this season as well. The way the Bulldogs are configured on the interior defensive line and at inside linebacker, there is no excuse for him and Bellamy to not add significantly to their quarterback sack totals. Granted, it’s a different game these days, but Carter’s 9.5 career sacks and Bellamy’s 8 are still insufficient at a position designed for pressuring the passer.
Georgia’s veteran secondary should help with that, and vice versa. Defense, after all, is the main reason there is so much expectation surrounding the 2017 Bulldogs. There are 10 starters back from the 2016 squad, and a bunch of young talent is poised to fill the gaps.
Even the soft-spoken Smith — who wears on his left wrist a rubber wristband that reads “HUMBLE BEFORE HYPE” — admits that he likes the makeup of this team. After some prodding, of course.
“I know we have the pieces here to be something special,” Smith said.
Smith is one of those big pieces. He’s a junior this season and infinitely more experienced than he was coming into the last one when he recorded a team-best 95 tackles. And that’s the case in most areas of this team, with the notable exception of offensive line.
As Carter rightly pointed out, Georgia hasn’t had a lot to celebrate lately when it comes to football. The Bulldogs have won five SEC championships since 1980 and played for eight in that span. But the one common denominator all those teams had was veteran leadership.
Of those eight teams, only the 1981 (7) and 2003 (5) teams didn’t reach double-figures in number of senior starters. But all of them were heavy on juniors and seniors combined, including 21 on the national championship team of 1980, 21 in 1992 and 23 on the 2005 squad.
The 2017 squad, thanks to the decisions of Bellamy, Carter, Chubb and Michel, should have in the neighborhood of 20. Whether that produces similar effect, we won’t know for another four months.
But as a wise man once said, “it can’t hurt.”
“There’s a lot more urgency. You’re hungrier,” Carter said of being back for one more shot. “There’s a lot of things you took for granted before that you know you have to take advantage of. There is a lot of information here that I can absorb and take advantage of. It’s our last year and we’re looking forward to doing a lot of big things.
“It’s kind of like your back is against the wall. We made the choice to come back. We came back to win games.”