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Head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the press during the Georgia football media availability in Athens, Georgia. The event was held at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo/Sidney Chansamone. @sid.chansa)

Fall camp kicked off for the Bulldogs Thursday, which typically serves as the transition from summer workouts to full-on preparation for the impending season between the hedges. Prior to the first day of padded workouts, Georgia provided an opportunity for media sessions with head coach Kirby Smart and players Warren McClendon, Christopher Smith, Zion Logue and Darnell Washington. 

Kirby Smart on EJ Lightsey and Tykee Smith’s progression within their injuries…

“EJ has been dealing with a knee issue - not related to anything before he got here - just from being here. But he's cleared and he's working with us now. He's missed some summer training and conditioning time, but he's with us now.” 

“Tykee's out there repping, doing things on the field. I wouldn't say he's 100%, but he's doing everything we've asked him to do and may not be completely clear to live-tackle just yet. It'll be up to head trainer Ron Courson and how comfortable Tykee feels, with or without his braces and gaining confidence in those [on-field activities]. But he's doing all the drills without limitation. With every ACL [injury], just because you're doing it without limitation, it doesn't automatically put you where you want to be in your work. You have to gain confidence while you get back in plain shape.”

Continuing on concerns, or lack thereof, about complacency …

“I don’t worry about it because we don’t have a reason to be complacent. I mean, I’ve been on national championship teams that won it all that I was concerned about complacency because there was a lot of back. We don’t really have that problem. So it’s not a problem inherent to us in terms of complacency. Okay, I worry about complacency every year for a guy that started and played for two years. But that was regardless of the record. Like, it didn’t matter if you won 8 games, 10 games, 12 games or 15 games. You worry about a guy being comfortable that has started multiple years and can he grow. So, a lot of that is intrinsic of him. How good does he want to be, how great does he want to be, does he want to continue to grow, develop, does he want to improve his opportunity to for the NFL, does he want to be the best he can possibly be? Because I know the guys who haven’t played are hungry. We have to keep the guys who have hungry. It has nothing to do with complacency. It’s not that -- I mean, whether we win or lose every game this year, it’s not going to be because of complacency. It’s going to be because of the outcomes and what we did on the grass to make that possible. But it won’t be because of complacency.”

On the growth and progression by the defensive line…

“Every day that we’re out at practice we make those guys go over and go against the first offense. That’s what we call our developmental squad or scout squad. They got a lot of work in, they get a lot of bowl practice in. And this year, they got the extra week for the championship game. I mean, that’s a lot of work put in to get those guys prepared. They’re not Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt and we’re not asking them to be. If they were those guys, they would have been out there last year a lot more often. So we’re excited about where they are. Optimistic that those guys will be very productive. We’re asking, you know, Zion, Jalen, Naz, Warren Brinson, Bill Norton, Jonathan Jefferson, all those guys. The two young guys, Bear and Christen, they’re going to get thrust up there and have to go out and compete and give us a depth and give us snaps. Because we play a lot of guys upfront. So I’m excited to see what all those guys can do on the defensive line. We certainly need some guys to step up at that position.”

On the running back room… 

“We know enough about Kenny [McIntosh] and Kendall [Milton] to know their strengths. They’re both talented guys and played featured roles within drives within their careers here. But never the featured guy. They’re both talented and improved immensely. I think Dale’s done a great job developing those guys as pass protectors, route runners. I think the more unknown is Daijun (Edwards), who’s been able to get in a lot of games, mop up. And has really done a good job. He’s going to play a larger role this year. And then finding out the two freshmen. Both Branson (Robinson) and Andrew (Paul) have got to help us from a depth standpoint. So I’m excited to see what those guys can do.”

On Darnell Washington…

“I gave Darnell a lot of credit. He’s worked tremendously hard putting himself in the best health possible. When he got injured, which I think was over spring break, going into spring practice, we thought he was in the best shape he had been in since being here; both body fat composition, body weight, conditioning level. I mean, he was really running well in our offseason conditioning program and we were looking forward to spring. He reinjured his foot. And from there, he couldn’t train the same and he couldn’t do the same things. And he’s really in a good spot. You know, he’s a guy that I came in on Sunday, and he’s out there running on his own on a day that was off. He’s got a purpose. He’s practicing to be driven. And excited to see, you know, what he can do. It’s going to be important that we get him in good, physical conditioning shape to be good to go in this training camp.”

On Tate Ratledge…

“Tate has been great. He’s worked really hard at his conditioning. Ron feels like he’s in a position where what we did in summer training would have been tougher on him coming off the injury than actual football practice. So the football practice piece should relieve some of that. Now, the strain and effort to push off and double teams, as we put on pads, may increase that. But he’s in a good spot. He’s been rotating in with the first group and the second group. I do think there is a matter of coming back where you haven’t, you know, passed off or twist, you haven’t passed off a stunt. There’s some quick back guys inside that he’s going to take some reps to get that back. But certainly feel good about where he is and his toughness.

On his inside linebackers…

“Excited about the guys that we have at inside backer. I was excited about those guys last year. They didn’t get an opportunity to flash and show their talents because of the three guys we had. But Smael Mondon is as good an athlete as I’ve seen. He has to increase his physicality, his toughness. He missed spring because of a shoulder surgery. But he’s put on some good, solid weight. Played a lot of snaps on special teams. Core linebackers get valuable experience on special teams before they’re the featured guy. So both those two guys got a lot of experience. Trezmen (Marshall) and Rian (Davis) are healthy. Jalon Walker is out there doing a good job. Then you got (E.J.) Lightsey. So when you start looking across at the inside linebacker group as a whole, I mean, I’m fired up to see what the guys can do.”

On how he plans for each team and his memories from camp as a player…

“No, it’s changed every year. I think you change your plan based on your team. You know, we had a different team last year than we had this year. Yesterday was our first report day and it looked a little different than what it was last year. Now, to the eye, to you guys, it probably wouldn’t be any different. But it’s different to us because we have different stages. You know, we’re younger in some spots, we know more of this, less than this, more lifting, less of that, more walk. I mean, there’s different things we tweak. But I start with the foundation that these are the days we’re going to work, the schedule we’re going to keep. But trying to make it work better.”

“And as far as memories of camp, you know, I talked to the team last night about, you know, my memories of training camp. Because everybody has to get into training camp mode. And I always said I would never be the coach that talked about how hard you had it, and you had to walk four miles up the hill in the snow and we had it tougher than them, and Shockley and them had it made and we had to go grind and do all this. But, you know, it’s very evident when you see the old schedules and the format of two practices a day, full pads, picture day in the middle. I mean, these guys are never going to have two practices in the same day. And required off time is different. So the demands were certainly more.”

On how this year’s offense compares to last year’s offense, particularly at the tight end position…

“Yeah, we’ve got a very talented tight end group this year. I thought we had one last year. It just was not always present. I think part of that is staying healthy. You know, with your quarterback coming back and a lot of the skilled positions coming back and a lot of the young players coming back, a lot of the offensive line coming back, there’s not going to be huge changes. What there is going to be is maybe higher execution. Maybe the capacity to handle a little more information and do a little more than we’ve done in the past, because guys are in the second year and third year, some cases, of doing it. So, you know, we’re going to challenge those guys to embrace the thought of doing more and embrace being better at your execution. It’s not what play you call, it’s how much better you do it than they do it.”

On Chris Smith and other defensive backs…

“Chris has done a great job leading that group. I think he sets the tone each day for the work ethic. He’s been a hard worker since he’s been here. Tough guy. He plays bigger than he actually is. So we’re very lucky and fortunate to have Chris back to help lead that secondary unit. As far as who will be opposite him, a lot of guys are in that mix. Tykee’s worked there some, Dan’s worked there some. The two freshmen will factor in there. David Daniel will factor in there. We’re not looking to find the starter opposite him. We’re looking to find the best four safeties we can find. We didn’t have enough DBs. We don’t know what that’s going to look like this year in terms of, Do we have six effective DBs or are we more talented at the linebacker position that we have to have more linebackers on the field?”

On the strengths his team has at the guard position… 

“Yeah, the why would be based on how they practice. So I think that’s hard. Because going into fall camp -- training camp, they might have strengths in the eyes. One guy may be better at pass pro, one guy more powerful. One guy may be more intelligent. One guy may be more dependable because he’s there every day because he’s able to practice every day and he’s not out for injury. But we’re going to base the decision on how they practice. And I don’t have that body of work to say what that is. But the guys will roll in there. Warren Ericson will be in there. Tate will be in there. Truss will be in there. Willock will be in there. Fairchild will be in there. I mean, all these guys are factors and they’re there to compete for this job. And we want the best one to win out. But at the end of the day, we’re going to have guys -- Micah is going to be another guy in there competing for it. So there’s a lot of guys that have played some football. But guard’s a unique position because it’s different than tackle. You can get attacked from all angles. You got to play with power, play against the best defensive tackles in the country who line up across from you, the Jordan Davises and Devontes are in our league. So you got to be able to withstand their pressure and them pushing the pocket. So you got to be able to generate power and be able to communicate outwardly to your tackle. So the factors that go into playing guard for us are endless. And we’re going to find out who the best guys are based on practices.”

On Kearis Jackson …

“Kearis is a leader. He represents our university the right way. He’s on part of so many committees and boards. And it seems like he’s been here forever. So I really appreciate what he’s done in that regard. He’s been a team player. He’s got to continue to improve. He knows the competition to create value is -- you know, he’s also competing with the tight ends. Because when he’s on the field, one of them’s not. So for him, it’s very important that he knows his role, he understands his role, and he creates value in the way he plays, whether it’s special teams or at wide receiver.”