After spending a decade referring to Nick Saban as his boss, Georgia second-year football coach Kirby Smart is not one to spread a lot of sunshine in early August.
Yet Smart, who worked under Saban for Alabama, LSU and the Miami Dolphins, did not need to witness many preseason practices to know his second group of Bulldogs is more mature than his first. Georgia held its fourth preseason practice Thursday and will put on full pads for the first time this afternoon.
"We are more mature, and there is no question," Smart said this week in a news conference. "Yes, we have an influx of this freshman group, but we're no longer like 60 percent freshmen and sophomores. It's a little more like 55 percent. We had two large classes of freshmen and sophomores, but our senior class this time has more guys who are mature, so the leadership factor is a lot better.
"If a guy doesn't come out to practice taped, it's never a senior. It's one of the rookies. If a guy's late to a meeting, it's not one of the seniors. It's one of the young guys getting lost. The mature guys are helping the young guys along."
The Bulldogs were ranked 15th in Thursday's preseason Amway coaches' poll.
Georgia's maturity was enhanced last December when running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter elected to return for their senior seasons. Carter said this week that his goal is to win championships, while others hope to provide an imprint that could potentially go well beyond this season.
"I feel like we're an older, more veteran group now," Bellamy said Wednesday, "so we have to lead and show everybody how it's supposed to be done."
Said Michel: "I want this team to become one family and set the Georgia standard now."
The Bulldogs had four senior starters last season — defensive back Maurice Smith and offensive linemen Tyler Catalina, Brandon Kublanow and Greg Pyke — while this year's team could employ as many as 10 or 11.
Senior safety Dominick Sanders has a team-high 38 career starts, with senior tight end Jeb Blazevich next with 33. Chubb, Michel, Bellamy and Carter have combined for 63 starts, and Smart continues to appreciate several months later the choices they made.
"I didn't really feel like any of these guys should have left early," he said. "I've always had the belief that if you're a first-rounder or maybe mid-second in some cases as a running back that you should, but, other than that, you shouldn't, and none of these guys were predicted to be in the first round.
"They made good decisions because they made informed decisions."
Georgia's fourth practice of camp was also its first in the new $30.2 million indoor athletic facility that encompasses 102,306 square feet.
"Practice seemed to go smooth. Everybody was fresh," junior inside linebacker Natrez Patrick said. "It obviously wasn't as hot as it was outside, and I didn't get as winded as I would have. That's one of the positive aspects of the indoor.
"We still have the same type practice as outside, though. Nothing changed there."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.