ATHENS — Georgia hasn’t wasted any time testing freshmen early enrollee linebackers Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith.
The trend continued on Saturday in the G-Day Game, with Dean and Smith getting repetitions with the Black Team, which featured the first-team defense..
Coach Kirby Smart said it had to do with how repetitions were distributed.
But it also provided the coaching staff with a look at how Dean and Smith would fare in reps against the first string offense of the Red Team.
Dean proved active, making five tackles with a pass break-up against the first-team offense.
Dean is an instinctive inside linebacker with great acceleration to the football, and he appeared surprisingly comfortable and agile in pass coverage.
Senior Tae Crowder and junior Monty Rice exit spring drills with the upper hand at inside linebackers, both tested veterans.
But Smart left the door open for Dean to continue to compete for a starting position.
“His role could be as much as a starting linebacker, or his role could be as much a special teams player this year, he could be at third down guy,” Smart said when asked by DawgNation about Dean’s role moving forward.
“It’s going to be determined by the other players and himself, and how much he grows and gets better.”
Smith’s day was considerably quieter. The No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2019 signing class was often matched with Outland Trophy candidate Andrew Thomas.
Still, it was worth noting how Smart and other UGA players praised Smith throughout much of spring drills.
The UGA coaching staff talked Smith up to the SEC Network commentators during the G-Day Game broadcast prep.
“Nolan Smith is a highly touted recruit, a guy who came up in a lot in our conversions with coaches,” former UGA lineman and College Football Hall of Fame 2018 inductee Matt Stinchcomb said. “He’s a guy who can bend the edge, but his work ethic was what really impressed.”
Smart said both Dean and Smith have had a great “progression” this spring.
“They are both very bright, they are both very sharp, intelligent, mature freshmen,” Smart said. “But they have not been through a college football fall, they have not been through a college football game.
“They haven’t played in an SEC game, and they both have a lot of growing to do. But I’m pleased with where they are.”
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