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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Georgia, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (Photo Tony Walsh/ UGA Sports Comm)

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart spoke to the media virtually on Tuesday following Georgia’s 17th football practice of 2020, less than two weeks before the Bulldogs’ first game at Arkansas. Smart discussed the Bulldogs' quarterback situation, concerns leading up to the season opener and who’s leading at kicker and punter.

Daniels still not cleared, Mathis developing at QB

Quarterback JT Daniels continues to practice, but Smart said the redshirt sophomore transfer is still not cleared for contact while he recovers from ACL and meniscus tears suffered in Southern California’s first game of 2019.

Smart added more context to Daniels’ injury on Tuesday, adding that Daniels had another surgery on his ACL in either December 2019 or January of this year that put him behind “a little bit.”

“We certainly expect him to get cleared and think he will be cleared, but that’s not my decision,” Smart said. “It goes into flexibility, strength, how far is the left knee from the right knee, the girth [and] muscle mass of the knee.”

Will Daniels be cleared before the Sept. 26 opener at Arkansas? Smart said it’s likely a “game-time decision.”

Given the uncertainty surrounding Daniels, redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis continues to generate buzz as a potential starter. Smart deflected speculation that Mathis received a significant number of reps in a scrimmage held last Saturday.

“It was part of the rotation,” Smart said. “Each day, we’ve rotated guys that have gone with the [first team offense], and that’s the day that his fell on.”

Mathis spent much of 2019 recovering from emergency surgery on a brain cyst last May. Once cleared to play, Mathis took over as a scout team quarterback, which Smart said was probably “the best thing that happened to him” last year.

Smart said Mathis also worked hard in the COVID-19 interim period, sending videos of passes while continuing to develop.

“He’s a bright-eyed, talented kid,” Smart said. “There’s a lot of guys that have confidence in D’Wan.”

This year’s quarterback competition harkens back to the Jake Fromm-Justin Fields quarterback conundrum in 2018, where Smart would start Fromm and occasionally put Fields in for a series or two. Smart said the Bulldogs could use both Daniels and Mathis’ strengths in tandem, but he’s also learned from previous quarterback competitions in Athens.

“I think any time you do something a couple times you get better at it,” Smart said. “We’ve been through this a couple of times. The interesting thing for me is I’ve kind of been through it with a different [offensive] coordinator. Each time I’ve done it, it’s been with a different coordinator. You learn what each one wants, what each one commands and try to figure out what gives you the best chance to win.”

‘All kinds of concerns’

To Smart, Saturday’s scrimmage felt more like the end of a spring practice period than a practice two weeks before the season opener.

“I’ve got all kinds of concerns, but I’m not going to put them on a platter for [Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman] to worry about,” Smart said. “I’m constantly worried about our ability to perform. We’re going to have a lot of young men that didn’t get that spring game under their belt. … That’s like an extra game for our guys to get used to it.”

Conditioning is a primary concern with the absence of spring practice and the lack of a full summer slate in Athens.

“We’re behind, but we’re even with everybody else,” Smart said. “We’ve got to do a good job with what we’ve got.”

He said various worries jumped out at him while watching games last weekend, noting punts he saw returned for touchdowns and blocked field goals. Smart said he’s working to turn his observations into learning opportunities for Georgia.

Kicker and punter clarity

It’s become a two-man battle between redshirt sophomore Jack Podlesny and freshman Jared Zirkel for the field goal and kickoff job, Smart said.

He said Podlesny has won in terms of hang time and depth in kickoffs, while Zirkel has also been consistent. Smart said Podlesny and Zirkel were even with field goals in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“It’ll probably go down to the wire,” Smart said.

Junior Jake Camarda has taken on the role as Georgia’s primary punter for two years, and Smart said he has been solid this year as well. He said other punters, such as junior Bill Rubright and redshirt freshman Noah Chumley, have also had good offseasons.

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