Chris Smith: 'I felt like I got better with each start'
Patience is a virtue for some
Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte (2) and Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith (29) during the Bulldogs' game with Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Photo by Mark Cornelison)
Georgia senior defensive back Christopher Smith knew his time would finally come.
Last season, after senior Richard LeCounte was injured in a motorbike incident, Smith started the last five games at strong safety in his place.
Before getting that opportunity, the Atlanta native had only played in 23 games up to that point with zero starts. Now, with five under his belt, Smith is seen as one of the veterans in Georgia’s young defensive backfield. Nevertheless, he feels like there is a lot of room for improvement in his skillset, despite being eager to get back on the field.
“I felt like I got better with each start,” he said. “Those five games were extremely important and great experiences for me. I’m looking to roll those starts into the next year. I learned a lot from then, so I can be ready to go when it’s time.”
During the offseason, the 5-foot-11 defensive back decided that he needed to bulk up for his senior campaign.
"Coach [Scott] Sinclair and the rest of that staff have just been really on me about gaining weight and stuff like that, and I'm still going,” he said. “I'm trying to get up to 195, 200. At corner, I got a couple of reps in today. It was nice to get back into the swing of things and stuff like that. I'm just going to keep going and keep adjusting and make sure I'm improving in all areas on the field."
Even though Smith played safety last season, the coaching staff might be looking to rotate him in and out at cornerback due to lack of experience at the position. The Bulldogs lost three veterans in Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell and DJ Daniel to the NFL Draft. So, the starting right and left spots at cornerback are up for grabs with several contenders.
Senior Ameer Speed might be the best option, although sophomore Smith might get some votes. Then, there’s also redshirt freshmen Daran Branch, Jalen Kimber and Kelee Ringo, who was the nation’s No. 1-rated recruit in the 2019 recruiting cycle. Equally as talented, true freshman Nyland Green is a legitimate option. Lastly, West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith, who is regarded by Pro Football Focus as one of the nation’s top returning defensive backs, is a threat.
Smith admitted that embraces all of his teammates to excel, even Smith, who hasn’t joined the team for practice yet. The former Hapeville Charter School product welcomes competition, especially because he’s been around it so much for the past three seasons in Athens.
“I talked to Tykee [Smith] a little bit before he committed,” he said. “And, on the day he committed, I congratulated him, a ‘welcome to the family,’. From the little bit of film I've seen on him, he’s a spectacular player, he’s real physical, really great in coverage. With things like that, he can definitely help our team. He’s a great player.”
Georgia opens up against a top-ranked opponent in Clemson. Last season, the Tigers ranked No. 6 overall in passing offense by averaging 348.5 per contest. Even though most of Clemson’s 4,182 yards belong to Trevor Lawrence, backup freshman DJ Uiagalelei had 914 and five touchdowns in as many games. The sophomore, who flashed in Lawrence’s absence, will finally be the Tigers’ starting quarterback come September.
In 2020, Georgia didn’t even rank in the top-50 nationally in team passing efficiency defense. And, that was with three veterans in Stokes, Daniel and Campbell, who are all regarded as a lock to be high-round draft picks.
Despite all of that, Smith said he feels like the secondary will be ready by the start of the season.
"We know we can get where we want to go because we know we're always going to be working hard towards our goals and things like that,” he said. “Those guys at corner, they're no slouches. They go out there and work hard and play like everybody else. The whole unit is constantly working to get better, and every unit on this field is going to get better. We can be straight sound all across the board by the time that first game comes."
**Smith has played in 29 career games at Georgia. So far, he’s racked up 39 total tackles (19 solo; 18 assisted) and one pass deflection. Last season, while he saw more playing time, he had 26 total stops and four quarterback pressures. He had a career-high five tackles in Georgia’s dominating win over South Carolina in 2020.