ATHENS — Kirby Smart often says he wants his players to feel comfortable when they’re uncomfortable, but in Arik Gilbert’s case, that’s only true on the pitch.
Smart said he was pleased with Gilbert, a dynamic talent who transferred from LSU but sat out last season while dealing with personal issues.
“Arik has done a good job, he understands his assignments,” Smart said after Georgia’s Scrimmage Two at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
A scrimmage observer said Gilbert still looks like a rising star, making some great catches in scrimmage action.
Smart said football is taking care of itself with Gilbert, whose rare blend of size, strength, speed and receiving skills make him a potential breakthrough player this season.
“I’m always much more concerned with Arik’s mental well-being than with his well-being, just by knowing what to do and what to do,” Smart said, revealing a softer, more compassionate side of him that isn’t often. emerges in his public dealings with the media.
“That’s the most important thing, he feels comfortable with our team and can help us.”
Smart explained that there are plenty of other talented players back in the mix after missing the spring with injuries.
“In the spring, he got a lot more into things, in terms of reps and rep count,” Smart said. “(Now) with the other guys who are healthy and (Oscar) Delp who is further along… we’ve been able to do more two-spot so that helped.
“Darnell (Washington) is coming from the injury, Brock (Bowers) is coming from the injury, Delp is coming in mid-year and also Arik, we’re getting a lot more reps. He has to be able to keep it up.”
Smart, who prompted Gilbert to work at a fall camp in Georgia, is also training the former Marietta 5 star to be more NFL-ready with special team skills.
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“He’s also developing as a special team player,” Smart noted. “It’s something he hasn’t done that often.”
Finding elite players like Gilbert to contribute to special teams was one of the priorities for Smart, who noted that many of the players who made up the NFL-record 15-man draft class made significant contributions to special teams.
One of the most talented players in college football, Gilbert will continue to adapt to playing at the championship standard that Smart has brought to Athens.