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Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia sixth-year head football coach Kirby Smart talks to his team before last Saturday's scrimmage, which began inside Sanford Stadium but had to be moved indoors.

This story was updated on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, at 7:30 p.m. to correct the spelling of D'Andre Swift's name.

Wouldn't it be weird hearing a college football coach during preseason camp exclaim that his program was ahead of schedule?

Georgia seemed to have the necessary ingredients for a comfortable August — eight returning offensive starters headed by quarterback JT Daniels, the return of both coordinators and every assistant coach but one, the addition of proven cornerbacks Derion Kendrick (Clemson) and Tykee Smith (West Virginia) through the transfer portal. Even specialists Jake Camarda, the Pro Football Focus All-American punter from a year ago, and Jack Podlesny, who drilled a 53-yard field goal to win January's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, were back.

"Yeah, I never feel that way," Bulldogs sixth-year coach Kirby Smart said. "I certainly don't coming off some of the years that we've had recently. There were some years there with (Jake) Fromm, Andrew (Thomas), D'Andre Swift and all that crowd where you could say, 'Well, we feel like we're ahead. We've got a lot of guys who know what to do,' but we weren't defensively. We had to go kind of at the defense's pace.

"I would have said this year if we were perfectly healthy that we would have been ahead offensively than we were defensively, but with some of the injuries, it's forced some guys up."

The Bulldogs had the Southeastern Conference's biggest spring setback when junior receiver George Pickens suffered a torn ACL in late March. Redshirt junior receiver Kearis Jackson had his knee scoped this summer and isn't quite back to 100%, while sophomore Jermaine Burton sprained his ankle earlier this month.

Jackson, Pickens and Burton were Georgia's top three receivers last season, and Jackson and Burton are still expected to play Sept. 4 against Clemson in Charlotte. The setbacks, however, have caused the Bulldogs to adjust and also have prevented them from advancing further with Daniels and second-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

"I liken what (freshman receiver) Adonai Mitchell has had to do this fall camp and spring to what Jermaine Burton was going through last year," Smart said. "I thought that (offensive coordinator Todd) Monken made a good decision to throw Jermaine out there and make him go play early — even in the Arkansas game. It was tough, and we went through some growing pains, because he missed some things. He didn't get some signals and jumped offsides, but it paid off in the end because he got a lot more confidence.

"We're trying to go through some of those same growing pains with some of our young guys at wideout, but I never feel ahead. I certainly don't think you feel ahead as a head coach. I do think there is a time where you can dial back the reins and get other guys ready and be smart with the guys who have played two or three years."

 

Changing times

Smart was asked on a recent Zoom call about his program's COVID vaccination rate, his thoughts on Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC, and how his program was moving forward on the name, image and likeness (NIL) front. He was then asked if this was what he signed up for when he decided to get into college coaching.

"It's not what it used to be, and I don't even think it's the same from when I signed up to be a head coach, and that's relatively recent," he said. "I think it's unfortunate, but I also think as our commissioner (Greg Sankey) said, 'Times are changing,' and when things change, you either adapt with them or you get passed by.

"You're not going to get a complaint out of me. I certainly enjoy the joy of coaching more than I do managing, and we find ourselves much more often now as managers than as coaches, and it's not what I got into this profession to do. I got into the profession to coach and affect people."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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