ATHENS, Ga. — The emerging narrative so far this spring for Georgia’s defense is an experienced group that may be a bit complacent.
Coach Kirby Smart has harped on it for a second week in a row.
“Overall, we’re not where we need to be on defense,” Smart said.
He’s not seeing the type of hunger he wants out of a group that lost only Alabama grad transfer Maurice Smith at nickel back.
“This defense has not taken on its true identity yet,” Smart said. “I don’t think they’re sensitive to criticism because they get criticized at practice. I can assure you of that, but we’re not playing where we need to be. The offense is playing more physical than us. I call it like I see it. They can watch the tape. They know.”
Some Georgia defensive players said a few days earlier they didn’t see the team having to combat players getting too comfortable in their roles.
“I can only speak for myself,” safety Aaron Davis said, “but, just as a group, we have to pick it up and really execute. I think that’s the thing that was really lacking. … A lot of times, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it can be looked at as complacent or just not focused for whatever reason. Guys just have to lock in and know what to do and translate it on the field, so that we can be sharper in what we do.”
That didn’t show up in the team’s first practice of this week on Tuesday.
“I don’t know if we’re playing softer up front or we’re more physical on the offensive line,” Smart said. “I don’t know which one that is because it’s hard to tell when you go against yourself all the time.”
So how much concern should there be about the defense? Smart will be able to know more after Saturday’s scrimmage.
There are extenuating circumstances.
Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, perhaps the unit’s best player, isn’t practicing. He withdrew from school for medical reasons, but is expected back this summer.
Inside linebacker Roquan Smith, the team’s top tackler last season, is out with a torn pectoral muscle.
Spring showing may or may not be indicative of what’s to come in the fall.
“I’ve been around some really unique ones where there were great defenses coming back at Alabama, and maybe they underperformed for the spring, but they stepped up when they had to,” Smart said. “Then there were other ones that were really hungry and they didn’t perform great early in the season because maybe they had butterflies, nerves.”
Davis and safety Dominick Sanders said having so many returning starters hasn’t given the defense too much of a comfort factor.
“We’re not worried about all that ‘10 starters back,’” Sanders said. “As a defense as a whole, we understand we’ve got to come out and dominate this year. We’ve got to have a better year than last year.”
Davis said, “Each season is really its own season. You can have teams where they come in and they have a lot of freshmen who play and they’re still successful.
“You have teams who return a lot of people and they end up being as successful as they want to be.”
Smart will have a better read on his defense between now and the April 22 G-Day game.
“Either (the offense is) hungrier than us,” he said, “or our guys are not responding to the fact that we’re challenging them.”