ATHENS — Georgia’s top-ranked defense is on the verge of getting even better with former West Virginia All-American Tykee Smith getting closer to 100 percent.
Smith, who had foot surgery in August, made his Georgia debut in the 34-10 win over Auburn last Saturday. He recorded three tackles in the limited time he spent at the “star” position in the secondary and on the kickoff team for a UGA team that leads the country in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense.
“He knows the defense, he’s very bright, he’s intelligent,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ practiced on Tuesday. “I don’t know that he’s 100 percent. He’s been out there practicing and competing, but it’s just tough when you come back from that injury.”
The No. 1-ranked Georgia football team (6-0, 4-0 SEC) will put its perfect season on the line at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday when it plays host to No. 11 Kentucky (6-0, 4-0) at Sanford Stadium.
RELATED: Kentucky keyed by transfers, but has a couple key players banged up
Smith developed a reputation as a force in run support, something that would come in handy against a physical Wildcats team that features the SEC’s leading rusher in Chris Rodriguez.
“Dude is one of the hardest runners in our conference,” Smart said. “His pad level, his strain, his drive, his power, it’s like hitting a brick, man. People bounce off of him and they have for years.
“I told our guys, ‘you have to get his cleats out of the ground,’ because he is not stopping.”
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Smith could provide some discouragement for the 5-11, 224-pound Kentucky back.
Latavious Brini, who has been playing the star position with Smith out, has also been cross-training at safety along with former walk-on Dan Jackson.
The Bulldogs need all the healthy bodies they can get in a secondary rife with injuries.
Smart announced on Tuesday that senior safety Christopher Smith, another starter, was back at practice in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday after suffering a shoulder injury against Auburn.
“He’s non-contact right now, but he’s moving good and staying in shape,” said Smart, seeming to leave Smith’s status for the game Saturday in the air.
The Bulldogs also continue to be without senior cornerback Ameer Speed, who injured his ankle last week and missed the 34-10 win over Auburn. UGA lost projected starting cornerback Jalen Kimber to a shoulder injury earlier in the season.
The offense also has its share of injuries.
RELATED: Kirby Smart updates progress of quarterback JT Daniels
Smart said receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, “looks good this week” and “has taken a lot of reps.”
Georgia freshman Adonai Mitchell has filled the shoes of Rosemy-Jacksaint at the X-receiver position and has not missed a beat.
The receiver ranks are relatively thin, too, after five wideouts transferred in the past season and George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock have remained sidelined by injuries.
Smart said Blaylock, who suffered a torn ACL in August of 2020, is still not back from the hamstring injury that has complicated his return.
Receiver Jermaine Burton, who Smart said missed two-thirds of the offseason work with a hyperextended knee in spring drills and then an ankle in fall drills, is still getting limited reps while dealing with a groin injury.
“Jermaine has done well and worked reps, he hasn’t taken the volume he would normally take,” Smart said. “But he’s hitting his speeds, so we feel good about him.”
Ladd MConkey stepped into Burton’s role a the “Z” receiver and turned in one fo the most explosive and effective performances of the season. McConkey, who didn’t get nearly the hype that Burton did in the 2020 signing class, had 5 catches for 135 yards and a TD, making his bid to win the position.
Smart indicated senior offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, who has started each game this season at left tackle, is likely to play against Kentucky after leaving the game against Auburn with an ankle injury.
“He’s conditioning, working out and watching the periods ‚” Smart said, “and we think he’s going to be good, but he’s not able to take all his reps.”
Smart said quarterback JT Daniels is taking limited reps and improving, but he was non-committal about his status for the game on Saturday.
Here’s an updated list of injured Georgia players
DB Tykee Smith (foot) probable
TE Darnell Washington (foot) probable
WR Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle), probable
OL Jamaree Salyer (ankle,) probable
WR Jermaine Burton (groin), questionable
QB JT Daniels (strained lat), questionable
RB Kenny McIntosh (hamstring), questionable
SS Christopher Smith (shoulder) questionable
WR Arian Smith (shin), questionable
CB Ameer Speed (ankle) out
WR Dominick Blaylock (hamstring) out
CB Jalen Kimber (shoulder), out
LB Trezman Marshall (knee), out
DL Julian Rochester (knee), out
WR George Pickens (knee), out
OL Tate Ratledge (foot), out
L:B Rian Davis (quad), out
WE Arik Gilbert (personal), out