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September 25, 2017

Kirby Smart

Athens, Georgia

KIRBY SMART: All right. We're excited for the opportunity to play a good Tennessee football team that's 3-1. We know a lot about them. They know a lot about us. We get to play each year. Of course that was my crossover game where I was before, so I knew a lot about their program and the game last year.

We'll be traveling with probably over half the guys who have never been to Knoxville, never played in that environment with probably over 35 of our 70 guys having never set foot in that stadium before. So any time you go on the road in the SEC it presents a lot of challenges from a crowd noise standpoint and they always do a tremendous job of being really loud up there. They do a great job. That's a tough place to play.

So our focus is on Tennessee, and trying to get better and improve during the week.

Q. I guess this is Jake's next challenge is you were talking about crowd noise. I guess that's one of the loudest places. He hasn't really encountered that yet. Will that be a whole new thing for him putting silent counts and that kind of thing into the repertoire?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, any quarterback that plays there knows it's tough to play in that crowd noise. Obviously Jacob has played in those environments before when he's played all over the SEC. I'd like to think Notre Dame was very loud at times. We didn't have to go on silent a whole lot, but we had to practice it all week. So Fromm's dealt with that from that standpoint.

Q. Kirby, how much do you channel the outcome of last year's game as motivation this week, or do you say Tennessee's got a new quarterback, the receiver that made the catch is hurt. How much does last year's game from a motivational standpoint factor into this week?
KIRBY SMART: I think you have to be careful psychologically with that. Our guys, we talk about it every Thursday we go over that play, and every Thursday before that play we always have -- that's what you do on Thursday, every college in America works on Hail Mary and that play. So you try to execute it best you can. But more important than that was the discipline to stay on the sideline and keep your helmet on and execute prior to that so that it doesn't come down to that.

But certainly that play is a factor. But there were a lot of plays in that game were a factor. We don't use that as motivation. Our motivation is about us and trying to get better.

Q. Off the subject of the game this weekend, are you addressing the NFL protest with your team, and if so, how?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, with our team we have a leadership committee that we formed and we meet with them regularly. It's a topic that comes up. Came up last year. We talked to them about it. Haven't talked to them about it much this year. We let those guys bring it up and talk about things when they need to and address it as a team, but that's not one that's come up regularly. Of course, we're not out there during the National Anthem anyway.

Q. When you were asked about the crowd noise, you mentioned both Jacob and Jake. Does that mean you could possibly count on Eason being out there this week?
KIRBY SMART: Correct. Possibly count on Eason. That's the deal. We don't know. Possibility, yeah. We'll bring him out there and see where he is just like we did last week. We think he's closer because last week he improved as the week went on. We expect the same thing. Again, I'm coming in here after three days off for him because he didn't do anything Friday. The Saturday he went out and warmed up some, and Sunday he didn't do anything. So we'll find out a lot more today based on practice and the reps he's able to take.

Q. I went back to your playing days and discovered two big wins, Florida 97, LSU 98, where the following week the high went straight to low. How much do you remember that, and are you able to use that as kind of keeping your guys grounded?
KIRBY SMART: I don't go back to my playing days much, I'll be honest with you. I don't remember that far back. I would try to use examples of things, but I've done that from more of a coaching standpoint, not from a playing standpoint. I just don't remember many of those games, and I don't think those games are relevant to now.

We try to preach to our guys that every game has a history and life of its own, and every game is independent of the next game. If you try to relive or live in the past based on your last performance, humility is a week away. It doesn't matter. No team cares what you did last week. The they don't care. Nobody in the SEC cares what you did last week. They only care what you do this week, and that's the focus is this week.

Q. I know you've had a limited time to assess Solomon Kindley. But what is the status on him coming into practice today, and if you can't go, how do you feel about die Sean playing that position?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, we don't know if he'll be able to go or not. We'll find out a lot more today. As I said, we didn't go out and do anything yesterday, so we find out today a lot more. Get to see what they can do. Certainly we have other guys capable of playing guard because we've been through this injury already once.

Q. Do you have enough of a sample size with Guarantano if Tennessee uses Dormady and Guarantano to see does Tennessee change a little offensively with some of the things he can do?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, he's a good athlete. He played a lot Saturday. It's good player. I think they can use both of them in similar ways. But he's certainly a good athlete that can mix it up and do some things like Dobbs did.

Q. Has Jake Fromm done enough through four games and practice to warrant him potentially staying as a starter?
KIRBY SMART: Guys, I'm going to say it again. The focus for Jacob Eason is to get healthy and be part of this game plan and learn what to do. The focus for Fromm is to focus on improving and getting better. The point for both of them is to have team vision. To have the goal to make the team better. So both are working on that. It's not just about them individually.

But Jacob has to focus on getting healthy, getting 100%. Jake Fromm has to focus on getting better and improving. While they're both doing that, they both have the team goal and vision in mind.

Q. It seems clearly you are obsessing less over this than probably everybody else in this room and certainly fans.
KIRBY SMART: I'm not obsessing over it. I'm thinking about our whole team getting better.

Q. Just as a coach, obviously the quarterback situation is always going to be number one. But from a coaching perspective, how do you view number one if there is a battle, and just the impact on this team in terms of where you want this team to go? Does it matter in your mind who plays quarterback with the two guys you have?
KIRBY SMART: I'll be honest with you, I want the one that gives us the best opportunity to win to play quarterback. You tell me who is that? Tell me who it is. The I can't answer that. It's based on the performance during the week. How do I look at it? I look at it like Malkom Parrish. Does anybody know? Did you all count the reps or any of that?

Malkom Parrish was coming off an injury. I know he plays a different position, but Malkom Parrish plays some on third down. He didn't play the whole time, but you could argue he's a starter. He's a starter. Why didn't he go out there and start? He's 100%. He's able to do some things but not everything. I view every position the same where competition create asks breeds success. That's what we've sold this program on. Developing competition throughout practice and it will continue to be that way at all positions.

Q. You mentioned after the game the other day about Deandre Baker's play. Can you talk about the challenge of Marquez Callaway and your secondary? Was this one of the better games they've had since they've been here?
KIRBY SMART: The challenge Tennessee presents, Marquez Callaway is a really good player. I think Brandon Johnson is a kid who I've watched practice several times in high school. He's a really good player. He had a big game last week. So I know they've been hit by the injury bug, those two players. I've got a lot of respect for Josh Smith. He's a kid that has played really well for them. When I was at Alabama he was really physical. He plays well in the slot.

They have a good receiving corps. As far as our secondary, we want to continue to improve.

Q. With the secondary there were a lot of times against Mississippi State where as soon as the Mississippi State guy caught the ball and your defenders were right there trying to knock the ball loose. How much of that is just doing what they do in practice versus reacting in that moment?
KIRBY SMART: I would think that we practice that a lot. That's our objective is to knock the ball off of them, tackle them and catch it, get yards after catch. I'll be honest with you, sometimes in practice I get extremely frustrated because we don't do as well in practice as we do in games.

So we've got a really good look squad and a quarterback over there that can sling it pretty good. He's frustrating in practice because they're more open than they are in games right now. So we've got to continue to improve that and that's what we'll keep doing today.

Q. Coach, following up on the secondary, which areas have you seen those improvements in? Do you think the unit is kind of guying into to Coach Tucker's philosophy more than they did a year ago?
KIRBY SMART: Well, they bought into it last year. I don't think it was a situation of against the philosophy, because I'll be dead honest with you, the philosophy didn't change a whole lot. Because the guy that was here before was similar in nature to what we believe in. So there wasn't a change in philosophy. I think they've had a lot of reps on it. I think Baker's playing pretty good. I think we've had a lot of other positions by committee because we've had to rotate some guys all over.

I certainly think pressure and loss-yardage plays, tackle for loss has helped the quarterback make a quicker decision. So the play of Lorenzo and Davin and the guys up front do have an effect on the back end.

But we've got to continue to improve in the secondary because we see lapses every week in practice that can't happen in games.

Q. Why is Neyland such a tough environment?
KIRBY SMART: Loud, loud, loud. They're right on top of you, and they've got two people in every one seat. You know that. It's loud. It's tough.

Q. Talking about Malkom Parrish, you talk about last year about his competitiveness and his toughness. What's it like to get a player like that back that does kind of embody what you guys are trying to do defensively even when he's probably not the biggest guy out there?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, it's a tremendous help in practice because I never got to give Malkom his due credit. Up until he got injured in camp, he was having one of the best camps, and that was the one injury blow that hurt me as a coach because Malkom was number one in effort in practice, number one in toughness. Not all corners like to hit people. He likes it, and he was doing things the right way. To have that happen to him was just bad circumstances. It was part of the game, injuries happen.

But he's not complained once. He's been in every meeting since. He's out there cheering guys on, coaching the younger guys. So it's great to get his spirit back, his energy back, because he has an impact on it. The other night a lot of players would not have done what he did, not be 100%, but be cleared and be willing to go in the game and go play at the risk of possibly getting beat or looking bad. He didn't care. He was like, "I'm going to give you all I've got, Coach," and that is a consummate professional to me.

Q. Running back question real quick. You've got so many guys that you can use. Is it a fun challenge to find a way to get these guys in the game is this and Elijah Holyfield looked like he didn't play last week.
KIRBY SMART: I think anytime you have the backs we've got, you do have to find ways to get them the ball. And some of them are better in some ways than others, and we leave that to the opponents and you guys to figure out what that is. But each one of our guys is probably a little better at something than the other one.

The thing I'm most proud of is the job Coach McGee has done of getting those guys to buy into special teams. People don't notice, but D'andre Swift is on punt. He's on punt return. Sony is a starter on punt and he's elite. There is a play the other night, you don't know it, he's standing down there in front of the guy's face, and he does that every day in practice. Nick's always been really involved. He's not as involved this year, but he always has been. I'm really proud of the way they're doing, and Elijah can help us on special teams in the future.

Q. Why didn't he play last week?
KIRBY SMART: Just never got an opportunity to. The lot of guys didn't play. Shoot, we want to get him on special teams, get him involved, we just didn't get an opportunity.

Q. Composition of the defense, first off, I guess, two-part question, J.R. Reed, at what point did you all know you had something in him? As for a lot of these other guys, did you know walking into this last year that you all had a lot of talent on defense, because you recruited a lot of these guys too when you were at Alabama?
KIRBY SMART: No. The J.R. Reed question first, I can answer it easy, spring practice is when we knew. Because when he got here, I guess, in the fall of last year, we knew he couldn't play. So we didn't put him out there in a bunch of situations. He was kind of confused, figuring the defense out. Then the spring came and he did a good job on the scout team last year. Coaches saying hey, man, this J.R. Reed's going to be a good player. But he's looking at a card. Then when the spring came, and it was like this guy's a starter. So we were proud of that.

As far as the second part of the question, I mean, I think there are good defensive players at Georgia for a long time. It's getting them to play good, putting the right package together, and putting the perfect storm together with the talent that we had, and getting these guys to play well. I'll be honest with you, I didn't think we played really good in the spring. I told you all that repeatedly and I don't change that.

We still have not played our best. We still have guys that do not strike blockers the right way and do it the right way consistently. We have a couple guys that turn down hits. I know to you guys we're looking at stats and the numbers, but there are several plays in that game that are this far from being the other way that we depth do it right, and we've got to make those plays.

Q. You came from a program that had enormous success without being necessarily quarterback centric, quarterback driven. How much did you take out of that in terms of your philosophy in terms of how you wanted to build a program and how you wanted your team to play?
KIRBY SMART: That's a hard question to answer. I look at that program as being in the past. I'm trying to build this one on the philosophies that we believe in, which is toughness, effort, being physical, being dominant at the line of scrimmage. Having big, physical people, winning on special teams. The quarterback is a piece of that puzzle, right? Some people would say he's the centerpiece of that puzzle. To who it is, that to me is each and every year it will be independent of the previous. Who is the best quarterback? No.

But really, the program does not revolve around the quarterback, it revolves around the culture. When you get the culture right, it takes care of the other.

Q. Fromm had come off arguably his best game of his young career. What are some of the challenges that you expect him to face in his second room game?
KIRBY SMART: Well, the obvious to that would be the crowd noise because it is going to be loud. I understand the multiple defense. Coach Stoops does a great job. He always has of changing it up and doing some things. They present a lot of challenges with their defense. So he'll be focused on attacking them, not necessarily living in the past. I think Jake does a good job of game planning and aspect of watching film and studying tape.

Q. Can you talk about your team's tackling, just in general. It looks like from the press box your guys have been pretty consistent on that. Are you pleased with their effort in tackling so far this year?
KIRBY SMART: No. Thanks.

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