|Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner admits he can be a little on the stubborn side.|
For example, when he finds an athlete with the ability to consistently play his position correctly and execute his assignments consistently, Garner will stick with that player through the proverbial thick and thin.
In the case of junior Garrison Smith, that hasn't necessarily been the case. But that's about to change.
"Look at the Tennessee game. I think I made the statement that John (Jenkins) and Abry (Jones) played 67-68 snaps apiece," Garner said. "Looking back at it now I should have taken 10-12 plays off of each one and gave them to Garrison. It was the same thing in the South Carolina game. Even though Abry was trying to suck it up and play, I probably played him too much and should have given Garrison 10-12 more."
Garner indicated that won't be the case moving forward.
When the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1) visit Kentucky (1-6, 0-4) on Saturday night (7 p.m., FSN), Smith figures to play a more integral role.
"That's what I should have done and I told Garrison that. I'm kicking myself but when you're in that type of game (against South Carolina) you're going with that guy that you trust, who you know is going to execute the assignment, who you know is going to do this and do that. But even though he (Jones) was wounded and trying to suck it up, we still probably should have went with him," Garner said. "It's a comfort zone but I should also have the confidence in Garrison because he has proven that he is a trustworthy guy and I really should have played him more in those two games."
Smith said he's ready for whatever role he's called on to play.
"As far as how much I've played, I'm under the some pretty good seniors," Smith said. "By no means have I played like I want to. There's plenty of room for improvement. I'm just doing what I can to get better, that's my mindset."
Smith has been productive when he's been in the game.
His 20 tackles are second among defensive linemen behind Jenkins' 23 and three ahead of Jones, who has been slowed the past two games by the sprained ankle he suffered against Vanderbilt.
"Garrison is making progress and is playing pretty solid. He's a guy who definitely stepped when Abry got hurt in the Vanderbilt game with his ankle, so he's really had to step in a fill a large role with that," Garner said. "We all feel like we've always got to continue to improve to get where we want to be, but he has the right attitude and is working toward that."
Head coach Mark Richt has taken notice.
During a recent session with reporters, it was Richt who suggested that Smith might be in line for more playtime time based on how he's performed through the first six games of 2012.
"He's done well for us. He's been very productive and pretty stout against the run," Richt said. "He's had some quarterback pressures, and we think he's an SEC-caliber defensive lineman and we like what he's doing for us."
Smith beamed when reminded what Richt had said.
"Someone told me that when it happened and I just smiled. It just gave me even more motivation," Smith said. "I'm just going to do all I can. I might not be the greatest player, and I'm nowhere near where I want to be. But I can play hard and that can make up for some of the ability I may lack. I'm going to play my hardest and play with the heart I've got."
Smith figures to get his chance at a starting role next fall, although if Garner had it to do over again, the former Douglass High standout would have two.
"As I look back second-guessing myself, I wish I had been able to redshirt him as a freshman," Garner said. "It was an adjustment for Garrison at first. He had a lot of raw ability, but fundamentally he had a lot of work to do. The power, the explosiveness, all that was there, but some of the fundamental development he didn't have like some of the other kids we've had some through."
Smith admits that initial year was about as difficult as it could get.
"It's been a long journey," said Smith. "Technically and fundamentally, you can't do the same things you did in high school so it was a tough transition. I've had to change my whole game. It's been a challenge, but I think I'm getting used to it."
Garner has certainly been pleased.
"You get enjoyment out of all of them, seeing them mature and grow," Garner said. "It's just like your kid. You watch them goo-goo, then they start crawling, then they start walking, running, and all that that stuff. It's all those phases. It makes you feel good."