ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Three weeks into the season, Georgia’s competition for starting jobs and playing time is as intense as in preseason practice.
Perhaps especially in weeks like this, when No. 3 Georgia (2-0) is heavily favored in Saturday night’s game against Middle Tennessee (1-1).
Coach Kirby Smart addressed his team on Monday about those battles for playing time at each position.
“It’s really about that alone,” Smart said Monday of his message to his players.
“It’s not anything about who we play nor any disrespect for Middle Tennessee. It’s totally about us and competing within practice. We’ve got some really good competitions going on where guys are battling for playing time, guys battling for spots.”
Smart cuts into traditional practice snaps against Georgia’s scout team to make time for what he calls “good on good” situations designed to highlight those battles.
The depth is especially impressive at wide receiver and offensive line, as was obvious when left tackle Andrew Thomas left last week’s game after hurting his left ankle but the offense kept moving with freshman fill-in Cade Mays.
“No look back, next man up,” defensive tackle Julian Rochester said Monday. “Andrew is a great player and will get back the best way he can. However, we have no issues when someone else steps in. Cade Mays did really well stepping up.”
Impressive depth at receiver means junior Tyler Simmons can’t relax even after earning compliments from Smart for his key blocks on D’Andre Swift’s 17-yard scoring run and Mecole Hardman’s 34-yard touchdown catch in last week’s 41-17 win at South Carolina .
Simmons, listed as a starter on Monday, could still find himself in a battle to be on the field by Saturday. He said receivers had to worry about making the cut to be on the traveling squad for last week’s trip to Columbia, South Carolina.
Simmons said that competition is ongoing at every position, “especially receiver right now, with how many we have and how much depth we have. When it comes down to who travels, it’s all about who contributes the most on the team as far as special teams, offense and how you’re doing on and off the field.”
That depth was bolstered by this summer’s addition of California transfer Demetris Robertson, who scored on a 72-yard run the first time he touched the ball in the Bulldogs’ 45-0 opening win over Austin Peay.
Despite the speed Robertson showed on the run, he’s still looking for his first catch. Quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields have a long list of other targets including Simmons, Hardman, Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley, Ahkil Crumpton, Jayson Stanley and Jeremiah Holloman — plus the tight ends and running backs.
Smart seemed surprised when asked how Robertson could earn more playing time.
“I thought Demetris played a good bit and will continue to,” Smart said. “He’s going to have to compete in practice. … Those guys are at the top of their game. We’ll have a good rotation going.”
Georgia returned six of its top seven receivers.
Smart likes his depth “because we have guys that can do different things, a lot of guys that are really physical, maybe a fast guy, maybe a vertical threat guy. But at the end of the day, when you turn the tape on, the guys that get open are going to be the guys that play.”
But Simmons’ blocks were not overlooked.
“You get a couple ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ every now and then,” Simmons said. “People love the touchdowns more than blocks. But nothing goes unseen.”
Smart said the current battles are Georgia’s path to repeating as Southeastern Conference champion and earning a repeat trip to the national championship game.
“That’s where I think we can separate ourselves because we can improve during the season,” Smart said. “We have enough depth to go against each other and continue to improve and that’s the end goal for us.”
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