ATHENS – Reaction to the incendiary comments from Georgia safety Shawn Williams about the Bulldogs “soft” defense and what players should be playing and how much fell mostly into two categories for teammates and coaches on Tuesday: One, there was a level of truth in what he said and, two, it was no big deal.
Overall Williams’ comments were considered as a motivational ploy by an impassioned player.
“I think Shawn is just a real passionate guy,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He loves Georgia and loves his team and wants us to play the best we can possibly play. . . . I think it was more public than you’d like. But, I mean, I really don’t think he meant any harm by it. I really don’t. I think his teammates know that and so it’s really not an issue.”
Williams told reporters after Monday night’s practice he thought Georgia is “playing too soft as a defense. That goes for the D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties, everybody. We’re just not playing with the same attitude we were last year. . . . I’m trying to see if I have to take somebody’s helmet off and slap them and say, ‘what’s going on’? We’re not playing with any emotion right now. Period.”
Richt said he met with Williams on Tuesday morning.
“It was more him coming to me,” Richt said. “I think he read the comments and didn’t like the way – not necessarily how it was reported – but when he read it himself, he was like, ‘that’s not the tone or at least not what I was trying to communicate from my heart.’
“He’s an emotional guy and he wants to have success and he wants to try to help motivate not only himself but his teammates to play better,” Richt continued. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’d just as soon not have it as public as it was, but I really don’t think it’s a big issue.
Of course, Williams’ comments were received a little differently by linebackers Mike Gilliard and Christian Robinson, who were in an indirectly criticized by Williams’ remarks that Alec Ogletree and Amarlo Herrera should never come out of games.
“No one wants to hear they’re soft,” Robinson said. “I really had to sit down and look at myself last night. I go to church and a verse it made me think about was, ‘everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.’ I think we have a great team. One thing I learned in my four years is you really have to stick together. I really think if we do what we’re supposed to do we’ll be successful.”
Gilliard was not among the players available for interviews at Tuesday’s media session, but shared his thought via Twitter.com.
Around lunchtime Tuesday, a tweet from Gilliard’s account, @GZ_TAUGHTME, read: “Laughing at what someone just told me to go read about yesterdays post practice comments.”
Moments later came another tweet: “Don’t mention my name until you go back and look at the results these past two seasons.”
Herrera started the first four games at “Mo” inside linebacker and the last to at the “Mike” position, which he shares with Gilliard and Robinson. Williams and Herrera are the Bulldogs’ top two tacklers at 51 and 50 stops, respectively.
Herrera insists Williams’ statement won’t cause problems within Georgia’s locker room. “It didn’t put me in an awkward situation,” he said. “I talked to Christian a minute ago downstairs. We didn’t even talk about this.”
But Herrera, who said he played less against Kentucky than he had all season, didn’t necessarily disagree with Williams’ premise.
“He’s just saying what he thinks,” Herrera said. :That’s his opinion. It needed to be said sometime soon. Somebody needed to say something. He took it upon himself and said it.We’re not playing to the level we need to be playing.”
Richt was asked if he agreed with Williams’ assessment.”Well, that’s how he felt about it so he has a right to say that,” he said. “Do we want to get better at stopping the run? Yeah. You better believe it.”
Richt reserved judgment as to whether it will serve Williams’ comments will serve the purpose of motivating the team.
“It might,” he said. “We’ll see.
Senior safety Sanders Commings thinks Williams’ words were received in the right spirit.
“I think everyone will be professional. We’re grown men out here. We can all take criticism. I think it will just motivate everyone to play hard, practice hard and get ready for Florida.”
The timing, Commings said, was right. “This is the most important game on our schedule right now. It’s pretty much the ball for it all. The winner of this game controls their own destiny for the last four games. So I’m glad Shawn made those statements before the Florida game because it’d been too late if he had waited until afterward.”
Robinson acknowledged that Williams’ comments have motivated him.
“I think today is going to be a great practice because I know no one is going to want to be soft, and if that was his goal, he achieved it,” Robinson said with a smile.
FOLLOWING IS MY TRANSCRIPTION OF WILLIAMS’ EXCHANGE WITH REPORTERS MONDAY NIGHT:
First he was asked what they had to do to stop Florida’s rushing attack . . .
“I don’t care who they have running the ball, we’ve just got to stop playing soft. We’re playing too soft as a defense. That goes for the D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties, everybody. We’re just not playing with the same attitude we were last year. I don’t know what it is.”
On whether he’d brought up with team . . .
“I told them in the Kentucky game. After the first series, I told everybody we played too soft. They got the ball at the 20 and went 80 yards right up the middle. I came to the sideline and said ‘y’all are playing soft.’ It gets frustrating because I’m sitting here and I’m giving all I got and I feel like I’ve got some guys that (are) not. I feel we’ve got some guys that are in a whole different place.”
“Everybody. Our side of the ball is mostly juniors and seniors, so that’s everybody.”
What he thinks the cause is . . .
“I don’t know what it is. We’ve just got to quit playing soft and worrying about every other thing besides football and just go out and play football and let everything else take care of it self.”
Asked if players were worried about the NFL . . .
“I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the NFL or worried about messing up or worried about a game down the road. We’ve just got to do what we do and play physical football. And we’re not. That’s what you’ve got to do to win.”
On whether draw plays took away aggression . . .
“No matter what you see, you’ve got to react and play football. Right now I don’t feel like we’re doing that. We’re not reacting and just playing football. Right now, Florida’ play very physical and they’re going to come out and try to just manhandle you. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what we do. Somebody’s gonna get punched in the mouth. It’s going to be us or them. Whoever gets punched in the mouth is going to have to decide what do we do now. You’re either going to give in or you’re going to fight back. Point blank that’s what we’ve got to do.”
How this team reacts to getting ‘punched in mouth’ so far . . .
“We’re not doing anything about it.”
What can you do about it . . .
“I don’t know. I’m trying to see if I have to take somebody’s helmet off and slap them and say, what’s going on? Wew’re not playing with any emotion right now. Period.”
Does softness extend to offense . . .
“I can only account for the defense. I don’t know what the defense is doing. I can only control my side of the ball.”
On playing better in second halves . . .
“It seems like they want to play hard when they want to, but we can’t just turn it on and off. It just takes them a while to realize we’ve got to get our stuff together and play.”
On what’d he do to fix things . . .
“Personally, if I was the coaches, I can’t tell them what to do, but I’d have Amarlo Herrera in the game more. I wouldn’t bring him out. I’d leave him and Ogletree in the game. That’s what I want to see, as a player. I want to see Amarlo and Ogletree in the game at linebacker. I don’t want to see anybody else at linebacker. I feel like they’re two guys that are going to go out and give you all they got, no matter if they mess up or do right. I feel like they’re going to get to the ball and tackle. That’s what we need.”
What is it about Herrera over Christian Robinson and Mike Gilliard . . .
“I just feel like he’s better. I don’t know what he’s doing that’s better than them, getting off blocks, getting around blocks; he gets to the football, and that’s what we need. Somebody who gets to the football and tackles.”
How long has it been this way?
“The whole season. I don’t know what it is. It seems like we’re waiting to get started. We haven’t even started yet.”
What are hyou doing personally to rectify . . .
“I do all I can. That’s what I’m saying. What do I have to do. Do I have to slap somebody to get them started or what? What do they respond to? I’m still trying to figure that out.”
On whether he things because of last year’s success some felt they didn’t have to prove themselves . .
“I think so. I think so.”