Ge­or­gia ex­pects an­other big sea­son

Starkville Daily News - - SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE FOOTBALL -

AT­LANTA — Even six months later, there was no way for Kirby Smart to dodge the ques­tion.

The Ge­or­gia coach just knew he'd be asked if he has re­cov­ered from the Bull­dogs' loss to Alabama in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game.

"Ev­ery­body wants to ask that ques­tion," Smart said Tues­day at the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence's an­nual pre­sea­son me­dia gath­er­ing.

"It's not like I have night­mares about it, no," Smart added.

Ge­or­gia en­joyed mem­o­rable high­lights in Smart's sec­ond sea­son, in­clud­ing the Bull­dogs' first SEC cham­pi­onship since 2005, a win at Notre Dame and a na­tional semi­fi­nals vic­tory over Ok­la­homa in the Rose Bowl.

The Bull­dogs lost their chance for their first na­tional cham­pi­onship since 1980 when Alabama's Tua Tago­v­ailoa com­pleted a dra­matic 41-yard touch­down pass to DeVonta Smith in over­time.

It was a crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment, but Smart said it shouldn't over­shadow the sea­son's other ac­com­plish­ments.

"I think we grow from it," Smart said. "I think the en­tire sea­son is a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It was a con­fi­dence builder for a lot of guys on our team."

The Bull­dogs must re­place such 2017 lead­ers as tail­backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and line­backer Ro­quan Smith. Even so, there are ex­pec­ta­tions for an­other big sea­son.

Se­nior de­fen­sive end Jonathan Led­bet­ter said it's im­por­tant for play­ers to un­der­stand an­other cham­pi­onship run must be earned.

"It's a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and I will say it's a lit­tle dan­ger­ous," Led­bet­ter said. "That thought of com­pla­cency starts to come in there. We kind of have to push it out if we hear 'Oh yeah, they're go­ing to win it this year.'"

Added Led­bet­ter: "You've got to take it one game at a time. If you start look­ing at the fu­ture or the past you've messed up."

As the de­fend­ing SEC cham­pion, Ge­or­gia ex­pects to get ev­ery op­po­nent's top ef­fort.

"We know ev­ery­one is go­ing to cir­cle us on their sched­ule but that doesn't change our men­tal­ity," said cor­ner­back J.R. Reed. "... We know ev­ery­one is go­ing to be gun­ning for us but we can't change. We have to keep the same men­tal­ity."

Ge­or­gia re­turns 13 starters, in­clud­ing eight on of­fense. Sopho­more quar­ter­back Jake Fromm has new com­pe­ti­tion from fresh­man Justin Fields, one of the big­gest names in Smart's top-rated 2018 sign­ing class.

"The mo­men­tum we cre­ated from last sea­son has been tremen­dous for us through re­cruit­ing, through spring," Smart said.

Fields, skilled as a run­ner and passer, will en­ter pre­sea­son prac­tice as the No. 2 quar­ter­back, but it's clear Smart has big plans for the fresh­man. Smart said he has no plans to hold out Fields as a red­shirt.

"He gives us an el­e­ment in our of­fense we don't have," Smart said.

Usu­ally, a team might be ex­pected to struggle to re­place a pair of se­nior tail­backs se­lected in the NFL draft. In­stead, the Bull­dogs are still deep at the po­si­tion now led by D'An­dre Swift. Ge­or­gia also re­turns Eli­jah Holy­field and Brian Her­rien. Two fresh­men, Zamir White and James Cook, will join the depth chart, though White's sta­tus is uncertain as he was held out this spring while re­cov­er­ing from a knee in­jury suf­fered his se­nior year in high school.

Ge­or­gia also should be deep at wide re­ceiver, es­pe­cially if Demetris Robert­son is granted a waiver for im­me­di­ate el­i­gi­bil­ity fol­low­ing his trans­fer from Cal­i­for­nia.

"That's out of my de­part­ment and that will be in the NCAA's hands," Smart said when asked about the pos­si­bil­ity Robert­son could be ruled el­i­gi­ble this year.

Terry God­win, Mecole Hard­man and Ri­ley Ri­d­ley are Fromm's top re­turn­ing tar­gets.

Ge­or­gia hopes a bal­anced of­fense can take the lead while the de­fense rebuilds.

"We know how we did it last year," Reed said. "We want to do it even bet­ter be­cause we didn't get to fin­ish the re­sult."

(Photo by Joshua L. Jones, Athens Ban­ner-Her­ald, AP)

Ge­or­gia coach Kirby Smart signs au­to­graphs for fans at the SEC Foot­ball Me­dia Days in At­lanta on Tues­day.

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