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This time last year, Georgia was starting fall camp looking for the right guy to lead them at quarterback, thinking JT Daniels could be that guy. Turns out, Kirby Smart had to make a tough decision on Stetson Bennett, which ended up paying off with a National Championship. Even with the talent it lost off the 2021 team, the word ‘rebuild’ is not a term Smart is throwing around, nor should he, even with the losses on defense.
The quarterback position is set, with Bennett leading the offense in fall camp as the starter for the first time in his collegiate career in Athens. So, you can put that question on the back burner, though having a backup ready to go will be important, just look at last season. The offense has Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton to carry the load and a group of wide receivers ready to take on the task at hand down the field. Oh, let’s not forget Brock Bowers, who might be the deadliest weapon on this Georgia offense.
The question that most have is who will step up on defense. Having to replace Jordan Davis, Travon Walker, Lewis Cine, Quay Walker and Nakobe Dean will be a tall task, but this is why Smart gets paid big bucks. It’s massive for the Bulldogs to have Robert Beal continuing to attack the quarterback, along with Nolan Smith. But it will be imperative that Jalen Carter continues to get into the backfield from the defensive line.
Asked about this defensive unit getting on the field and proving that it can continue to dominate the SEC, Smart said his players are hungry.
“Yeah, the defense is really — really, both sides of the ball and special teams has been hungry up to this point. We only spent a limited amount of time with them over the summer and the last couple weeks. But a lot of excited guys. We talked to them last night, about the number of snaps to replace. It’s remarkable the number of snaps, especially special teams, that we have to replace.
“I mean, a lot of your core defensive players make up your special teams. So there’s a lot of experience there that’s gone. So they’ve been excited, opportunistic. Some guys have changed their bodies a little bit and in better shape. I’m excited to go see them practice. They’re excited to get out there.”
But hitting on potential complacency issues within this team, I don’t see how that can be a problem. We witnessed how many guys had to play spot duty last year because of how much depth the Bulldogs had, so those players getting an opportunity to be more of a contributing factor should bring enough juice to the field. This team has a point to prove, which is why you won’t see the players get fixated on the past and think the wins will just show up every Saturday.
“I don’t worry about it because we don’t have a reason to be complacent,” Smart said. “I mean, I’ve been on national championship teams that won it all that I was concerned about complacency because there was a lot of back. We don’t really have that problem. So it’s not a problem inherent to us in terms of complacency. Okay, I worry about complacency every year for a guy that started and played for two years. But that was regardless of the record. Like, it didn’t matter if you won 8 games, 10 games, 12 games or 15 games.
“You worry about a guy being comfortable that has started multiple years and can he grow. So a lot of that is intrinsic of him. How good does he want to be, how great does he want to be, does he want to continue to grow, develop, does he want to improve his opportunity to for the NFL, does he want to be the best he can possibly be? Because I know the guys who haven’t played are hungry.”
There will be moments where you might look at this defense and try to compare them to last season, which you shouldn’t do. It will look different, but the ferocity will be the same. The on-field addition of Will Muschamp as co-defensive coordinator is also key, especially with his experience in the conference and relationship with Kirby.
A rebuild is not something Smart wants to hear about, nor is he thinking about it, at least publicly. This team has all the pieces to contend for another National Championship, so when he was asked about what a rebuilding year at Georgia would look like, he didn’t bite.
“I’m not sure,” Kirby said. “I don’t think you ever look at a rebuilding year in the front of it. You can certainly look in retrospect and think of things that way. But I don’t think you’ll ever find a coach that would say that going into the season. So I don’t know exactly what it looks like here.”
Falling off won’t be an option in Athens if Kirby has anything to say about it, this isn’t a situation like LSU dealt with after winning it all. This team lost some talented players, but thanks to fantastic recruiting, they’ll be in spot to contend again.
“We got a lot of good players to replace and we got a lot of good players to replace them with. It’s about getting the right guys on the bus and getting the guys in the right seats.”