Life as a young defensive lineman playing for Rodney Garner is not always easy.
It's no cakewalk for seasoned vets, either.
If ever there was a coach who demanded and expected total adherence to proper fundamentals and technique, it's Garner, whose track record for putting defensive linemen into the NFL is a long and prestigious one.
Just ask sophomore Garrison Smith.
"I'm still learning the game, get these things down. God blessed me with the talent. But just like I always say, I'm still trying to get it down, learn the technique like Coach Garner wants it. I'm learning from Abry (Jones), (DeAngelo) Tyson and the older players and I think it's finally starting to click a little bit. I'm just giving it everything I've got to try and make some contributions."
Slowly but surely, that's just what Smith has started to do.
As a freshman who saw his first action in week 5 against Colorado, Smith saw very few snaps in 2010, but with graduation, he's been thrust into a more prominent role as the top backup behind Jones at left defensive end.
Garner, never one to delve much into hyperbole, said Smith still has much to learn.
"He's making progress. I still think there's room for a tremendous amount of improvement, especially on a consistency basis. I still see so much inconsistency up and down," he said. "He's got to become a better practice player, but he's got a lot of ability. Some of the basic fundamental things are the things he battles daily. He's definitely adding to the depth, he's playing his role, but he definitely needs to be more focused, focus on the little things so they don't become bigger things."
Still, Smith appears to have started earning Garner's trust.
The 6-foot-3, 293-pounder was in the game often and early last Saturday against Ole Miss, as Garner rotated his defensive line more than he has in any game this year.
"I got quite a few snaps, it just felt good to play and go play with the best of the SEC, just be able to be a player," he said. "It's a great confidence boost, because it makes me feel good that they trust me to go in there. I feel free to play now. You're going to make mistakes, but as long as you do it 100 percent, it doesn't matter, so when I go out there I try to go as hard as I can. That's all I can do."
Smith certainly contributed to the cause.
His three tackles tied Tyson for the most by a Georgia defensive lineman, which also received solid efforts from Jones (one sack), along with nose tackles Kwame Geathers and Jonathan Jenkins.
"This was one of our better games," said Smith of the defensive line, which arguably faces its most physical challenge Saturday against Mississippi State. "It's a joint effort. Everything is coming together, just putting together what we learned. I think we're going to be all right."
But Garner wants more than "all right" - especially where Smith is concerned.
"There are things he got away with at Douglass High School that he can't get away with in the SEC," Garner said. "It doesn't matter how big and strong he is, he can't get away with it and you can't play in this league if you're not conscientious in the fundamentals - bottom line."
Smith says he intends to do just that.
"He challenges us always to get after the quarterback, try to make plays, be a ball player, don't just be out there taking up space and standing around," he said. "He says to be a ball player, that's why you are here; be a good ball player. That's what I'm trying to do."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]