Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning shouted it to his players as they went through drills at practice Tuesday.
“Improvement week, improvement week, improvement week,” Lanning yelled.
Indeed, it’s not Notre Dame week or Tennessee week or Florida week. It’s instead a bye week, the first of two for Georgia this year. But just because there’s no opponent on Saturday doesn’t mean the Bulldogs aren’t working to get better.
Most importantly, the Bulldogs are working on themselves and their own game. The players self-evaluate and discuss with coaches what they want to work on, and then a position coach gives each player several notes on where they need to improve.
“It’s very specific, because we want them to have a purpose,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said on Tuesday. “If you’re not careful they might be like, ‘What am I doing out here? It’s like treading water.’ No, we don’t want them doing that. We want them getting better, we want them to have target areas to get better.”
For sophomore defensive lineman Jordan Davis, that means improving his pass rush to add another dimension to his game. In the case of senior tight end Charlie Woerner, it’s communication and crisper route running.
Woerner said the notes from the coaches make practice this week simpler. The Bulldogs can go out and hone in on what their coach wants them to focus on without also worrying about what they’ll see on the field from an opponent in a few days.
“The only team that can beat us, I feel like, is ourselves,” senior defensive lineman Michael Barnett said. “If we just execute what we’re supposed to do and do what we’re supposed to do when we’re at practice, I feel like the game will go by easier no matter who’s in front of us.”
From a broader perspective, Smart said the defense wants to improve its havoc rate, and the coaching staff is looking at the SEC’s havoc leaders to see what else Georgia can do. Offensively, there is an emphasis on the vertical passing game and getting the ball in playmakers’ hands in space.
But while there’s not a specific opponent on the team’s minds, they are preparing for things they will see down the line. Smart said there have been a few periods in practice dedicated to concepts the Bulldogs will see later in the year.
“We don’t work on team X, we just go work on things that teams do that we don’t do,” Smart said. “So we get exposure to, it might be empty (backfield), it might be, whatever, three-back runs. We just pick out something we’re going to see in the future and work on.”
In past years, that likely meant spending time on Georgia Tech’s triple option. But the Yellow Jackets run more of a traditional offense under new coach Geoff Collins, freeing up the Bulldogs to look at other foes as well.
“The earlier we can get a head start on that and notice what can potentially hurt us and fix that and alleviate that, it’ll be a better game for everybody,” Davis said.
This year’s schedule is a bit different than previous years. Georgia has two bye weeks, one after the first four games and one in the more traditional spot before the Florida game.
That’s just one more week for one of the best teams in the country to continue getting better.
“That’s when some teams really gain a lot on other teams,” Woerner said. “Some teams treat it as a bye week, but we treat it as a work week.”