Editor's note: This week we continue to empty our notebook from Georgia's spring practices to tell the stories we didn't get to tell before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. Previously we featured fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Jay Rome, defensive end Ray Drew, safety Connor Norman, cornerback Damian Swann and receiver Rantavious Wooten. Today we recap a conversation with senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Even Garrison Smith, Georgia’s lone returning defensive lineman with any significant experience, had difficulty adapting to a new coach’s methods early in spring practice. So he knew that a new coach and a complex defensive scheme would become major learning obstacles for his less experienced teammates.
“I’m starting over, but I’m just trying as hard as I can and just bringing these young guys up because we’ve got a sophisticated defense and young guys like Jonathan Taylor, Chris Mayes, John Atkins, right now our defense is calculus for them,” Smith said midway through spring practice. “It’s like basic addition and subtraction for me. But for them right now, it’s like they’re doing rocket science. If y’all were to watch some of the film, it would be a funny sight. It would be like they’re creating some type of new defense.”
And it wasn’t just the new defensive linemen who had a lot to learn. Multiple players across the board used the spring as a jumping-off point for their playing careers at Georgia, but the group made rapid progress during that valuable instructional time.
“You can ask [freshman inside linebackers] Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin about the defense. Like I say, it’s rocket science for them, too,” Smith chuckled. “But that’s just a part of the game when you’re just a young freshman. They don’t expect you to know everything like a senior would, but at the same time, the coaches hold you to a higher standard and they get on you, but that’s just to make you better. They don’t want you to get complacent with not knowing enough. They want to push you as fast as you can so you can learn it.”
Having spent his first three seasons working under defensive line coach Rodney Garner -- who in December returned to his alma mater, Auburn -- Smith had to unlearn some old habits to satisfy new position coach Chris Wilson. It wasn’t like learning an entire defensive scheme, but it required some adjustments nonetheless.
“Even though I’m a veteran, I’m kind of like a freshman all over again because I’m learning new techniques of how to play different things because I’ve got another coach that wants me to play a different way, so I’m having to adapt every day,” Smith said.
That process will continue well into preseason practice, as Wilson continues evaluating and instructing the players who were available in the 15 spring workouts and adds to the mix others such as junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who learned just this week that he will be eligible to compete in the fall.
Smith seemed to like the direction things were heading in the spring, however, noting that the young defense was holding its own against the Bulldogs’ veteran offense more often than experience might have indicated.
“We’ve got one of the best offenses in the country, so if our defense with all these new guys can compete and play on the level of this great offense we’ve got, then the sky’s the limit for us because we’re playing against some of the best right now,” Smith said. “Other opponents, we’re going to be able to match up well against them if we can contain our own offense.”