Transfers Kendrick, Smith could be keys to Dogs’ title hopes

NCAA Football

Lewis Cine couldn’t help but think about his own NFL future when he saw four teammates from Georgia’s secondary selected in this year’s NFL draft, including two in the first 33 picks.

”To see them finally reach that brings joy to my heart, and next year or whenever it is, I also wish the same for myself and the other guys I play with,” Cine, a junior, said Friday.

Cine is expected to be a starting free safety on Georgia’s rebuilt secondary which opened practice Friday.

The NFL draft also helped make the Bulldogs look attractive to two players who transferred to Georgia. Former Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick and former West Virginia safety Tykee Smith used the transfer portal to restart their careers at Georgia. Another transfer, Arik Gilbert, moved from Louisiana State and could claim a starting job at wide receiver.

”I’m excited to see them get to work,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. ”We have a history here of guys who have come in and been really successful.”

Each transfer could fill a need which might otherwise be viewed as a barrier to Georgia’s championship hopes.

Smart must replace cornerbacks Eric Stokes, a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers, and Tyson Campbell, the first pick of the second round by Jacksonville. Safeties Richard LeCounte (Cleveland) and Mark Webb (Los Angeles Chargers) also were among Georgia’s nine draft picks.

Smith and Kendrick bring impressive all-star pedigrees to Georgia. Smith was a third-team All-America pick. Kendrick was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.

”They’re who they say they are,” Cine said. ”We kind of knew what we were getting. … They’re strong guys and they bring a whole lot to the table.”

Linebacker Nakobe Dean said the newcomers have made a good first impression.

”It’s great to have somebody out there you can learn a little different things from they might have been taught,” Dean said. ”… I always try to see how other people look at the game. It’s great to have those type of people.”

Georgia also must replace top receiver George Pickens, who could miss the 2021 season following a right knee injury suffered in spring practice.

Gilbert (6-foot-5, 248) had 35 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns as a tight end at LSU. He’s listed as a wide receiver at Georgia.

Another player who could emerge at receiver is freshman Adonai Mitchell, who had seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

Georgia finished the 2020 season with an 8-2 record and No. 7 in the final AP Top 25 poll. Almost immediately, the attention shifted to the Bulldogs’ 2021 high-profile opener against Clemson on Sept. 4 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Junior quarterback JT Daniels opens practice as the established starter. The Southern California transfer was 4-0 after taking over the offense last season. Daniels passed for 392 yards and led three fourth-quarter scoring drives in Georgia’s 24-21 win over Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl.

Daniels brought big-play passes – and big confidence – to the Georgia offense.

”He brings a whole lot of swag … he brings a California swag with him,” Cine said.

”During practice, when he makes a big play or makes a mistake, he knows how to carry himself when things are going well and when things aren’t going well. That’s one thing I really like about him. He really has taken command as a quarterback. He has all of our respect.”

If Georgia finds a capable fill-in for Pickens, Daniels should bring balance to an offense that has good depth at running back. Zamir White and James Cook return as the Bulldogs’ top rushers.

NOTES: Smart said more than 90% of Georgia’s players have had COVID vaccinations. He said his goal is 100% and cautioned that recent surges in positive tests in Georgia are ”scary.” … Smart said WR Dominick Blaylock (knee) has not been fully cleared and WR Kearis Jackson (knee) is slowly working his way back.

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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