March 15, 2016
Georgia running back Nick Chubb, returning from a knee injury last season, works out by himself during the first day of spring NCAA college football practice, Tuesday March 15, 2016, in Athens, Ga. (Brant Sanderlin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
AP Photo

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) As an Alabama assistant, Kirby Smart faced no second-guessing for his high-energy, animated sideline style.

Smart was often seen leaping into the air or racing down the sideline to follow another big play by his defense.

With Tuesday's opening day of his first spring practice as Georgia's coach, Smart's demeanor will be more closely scrutinized - at least by others. Smart acknowledged there may be times he has to temper his enthusiasm so he can focus on important decisions, but he said he won't be trying to turn off the energy.

''I think I've got to ride the horse that brought me,'' Smart said. ''I've got to be who I am, and the biggest thing for me is not trying to change who I am.''

Smart, 40, was hired on Dec. 6 to replace Mark Richt. Georgia players already have seen enough of the new coach through the offseason to know he won't be a stoic figure on the sideline.

''Coach Smart is a defensive guy so he's very energetic,'' tailback Sony Michel said Tuesday.

Added tight end Jeb Blazevich: ''Of course he's high-energy.''

The biggest surprise of Tuesday's first non-contact practice was tailback Nick Chubb, recovering from knee surgery, taking handoffs during the limited portion of the session open to reporters. Chubb wore a brace on his surgically repaired left knee.

Smart said Chubb is ''dead-on schedule and probably a little bit ahead of schedule.''

Chubb won't participate in team drills this spring but has started ''doing a little cutting,'' according to Smart.

''We're excited about where he is and he has progressed really well,'' Smart said. ''Obviously he's a kid who overachieves anyway, but he's overachieving in rehab as well.''

Smart, the former Georgia safety and assistant, helped Alabama win three national championships in his nine seasons, including seven as defensive coordinator.

Players were eager to make a good first impression with the new coach in practice. That helped add to the anticipation for the 15 spring practices, including the G-Day spring game on April 16.

With a new coach and many new assistants, even veterans have to reclaim starting jobs.

''We told them (Monday), nobody's job is safe on defense or offense,'' Smart said.

Smart said the depth chart can change each day.

''It's tough,'' Michel said. ''I don't think anybody on our team is comfortable right now because everybody is going out there today and the rest of the spring competing for positions. Nobody can say the job is theirs.''

Smart will face questions about his quarterbacks until a starter is named. Grayson Lambert returns after starting 12 games in Georgia's 10-3 finish in 2015. Brice Ramsey returns as the top backup, and the spotlight will rest on freshman Jacob Eason, the top-rated recruit who enrolled early for spring practice.

Eason is widely expected to eventually win the starting job, but he'll have to earn it on the field. Smart said Eason was third on the depth chart to open spring practice, behind Lambert and Ramsey.

''We're going to evaluate those guys each day and we're going to encourage them to worry about each day getting better and not worry about the results each day,'' Smart said.

NOTE: Most spring practices, including Tuesday's, are being held at a temporary off-campus location as an indoor facility is under construction at the team's normal facility.

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AP College Football website: collegefootball.ap.org

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