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The Georgia Bulldogs may have won a national championship last season, but they are still looking for more consistency from the main guy who led them there. Kirby Smart has laid down the gauntlet for returning QB Stetson Bennett to become a better leader for his team, both on the field and in the classroom, so that they can make another run in 2022.
If there is one thing that Kirby Smart will not bite his tongue about, it’s leadership in the locker room. He knows when he talks about leadership with the media, those conversations then trickle into the workout room and the position meetings. He knows that leadership that stays on the field is not really leadership at all, and he’ll call out the veterans on this team publicly to make sure they do their job. He always expects better of his team every single day.
Nothing ever comes easy for those who play for Kirby Smart, not even the quarterback. His expectations for that spot are high, and he calls out anyone who doesn’t meet them.
This offseason, in order to prepare for another championship run, Smart first had to figure out which guys would return for another year. And Bennett was first on his list. Smart had a few conversations with Bennett regarding the 2022 season and assured his quarterback that the entire Bulldog coaching staff would happily trust him with the offense once again.
“(Bennett and I) had a couple of conversations in passing. He reached out a couple times just to see if he wanted to come back, wanted to continue to get better. There wasn’t a lot there, wasn’t a lot of questions or anything… We showed a lot of confidence in Stetson — if you didn’t notice — and he answered that with the way he played,” Smart told the media on Wednesday.
But Smart isn’t just talking about Bennett’s performance on the field. Kirby wants more overall leadership.
“He’d be the first to tell you he can grow and get better. We have high expectations for Stetson, but we also have high expectations of what we expect Stetson to do in terms of leading our offense, in terms of going to class and doing the right things. We’re still challenging him to do those things.”
Bennett has led Georgia to a 15-3 record over the past two seasons, but he still has several areas of his game that need improvement, especially his decision-making. During his discussions with the media on Wednesday, Smart used the word “boneheaded” several times to describe some of Bennett’s previous in-game decisions and throws. He’s not going after Bennett publicly. He’s just setting the foundation for what he expects from his starting quarterback this spring.
“Make decisions, right? We were late over the middle a couple of times with balls towards the end of the season. He’d be the first to tell you that he didn’t play perfect. He made some really good plays for us with his feet, his legs, his decision-making. But you just want to take out some of the bonehead throws and bonehead mistakes that he has made from time to time.”
But still, the Georgia head coach remembers where Stetson was this time last year, buried on the depth chart and barely getting any significant reps during practice. So Smart understands that his quarterback is now in a much different spot than he was a year ago.
“Hey, it’s easy for him to say he hadn’t had the opportunity to correct those mistakes because the guy was taking 3s this time last year. He was taking reps as the three, sparingly, and wasn’t getting a lot of reps. He got a lot of work fast, and we feel like he’s showing progress. He’s done some really nice things this spring, but that should be expected for a guy with his experience level.”
With experience comes responsibility, and this year, Smart and the rest of the coaching staff expect Bennett to assume more leadership responsibilities — in the locker room, in position meetings, and most importantly on the field — starting with spring practice.
“In terms of leadership, We’re still working on that. We’re not where we need to be in terms of leadership and guys challenging guys.”
So as we watch this Georgia football team try to put the pieces together for another run at the trophy, Kirby Smart is watching to see who steps up to lead this new team into the fray. While all eyes are on Athens and Tuscaloosa, Kirby Smart is just waiting for his sixth-year quarterback to take the reins and be the leader this team needs for another chapter of success.