ATLANTA- It was a different setting for Georgia’s Kirby Smart on Wednesday morning at SEC Media Days – he took the podium as the defending National Champion. There are certain aspects of pressure that come with taking the stage, knowing the questions of repeating will be coming at him fast.
One of the bigger tasks for Kirby and his staff this season will be making sure his talented roster can deal with the inexperience. There’s no denying that this squad will be talented, but how that translates to pressure filled situations is the one question he doesn’t have yet have an answer to.
“‘We have plenty of talent. What we lack right now is experience”.
You likely hear some version of this quote until the Bulldogs take the field against Oregon, right here in Atlanta, to open the season. How does this squad look without all the stars that dominated the conference last season? Yes, it will look different and the staff knows it. But the returning roster is just as talented at some positions, even when you look at the players that are no longer in Athens.
But Kirby Smart has been building a monster that should hang around for a while, not disappearing like the LSU team that won a National Championship in 2019. Yes, both teams were different, but the Tigers turned out to be a one-hit wonder under Ed Orgeron, while Kirby is looking to make the Bulldogs a constant championship contender.
When asked about what his team’s identity would be heading into the 2022 season, Kirby Smart made it clear that these Bulldogs are hungry.
“Yeah, hungry. I talked about it earlier. There’s a hunger among this group. A lot of guys want to prove that they can replace the other guy. They don’t want to be the other guy, they want to be the next guy. You look across the board, we had some high-profile players on defense and offense when you count the backs and receivers that we have to replace those guys. The hunger comes from the opportunity the talented players behind them have.”
Kirby added: “I’m excited. Complacency is something that happens to people, they don’t look what’s going on. We don’t have that problem. There’s not a day we don’t wake up and think what can we do to make our program better, and our players are doing that right now.”
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That means players like Nolan Smith and Stetson Bennett will be leaned on even more this season. And while we’re on the topic of Stetson, his head coach continues to feed him all the respect in the world, while trying to keep him grounded. But when it comes to respect, Kirby Smart feels strongly that Bennett doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
“Look, Stetson is one of the least respected good players there is in this country. Guess what, we get to see it every day. The kid is a tremendous athlete, he’s got good arm strength. People keep doubting him, and that’s fine with me.”
Kirby wasn’t done talking about the impact Stetson has had on the Georgia program.
“He started intermittently throughout two years ago, then once he won the job, I think he’s created a little bit of momentum with our players, our skill players, because there’s not a doubt there. They understand he knows the system. He can get them the ball. He can throw the ball vertically down the field, deep comebacks, he can scramble and make a play with his feet. I think they value that.
“That’s given him a little bit more credibility, which credibility to me is earned, right? He earned that by the way he played at the end of the year and most of the season,” Smart continued. “He continues to do that the way he leads out there on seven-on-sevens, practices and things.”
Taking a glimpse at what Georgia will have to replace this season, it’s easy to think something could go wrong with the current roster. The problem is that this team was so dominant in 2021, folks have a hard time thinking they could replicate it. I can understand that. Kirby is still working to build a dynasty in Athens like the one Saban’s built in Tuscaloosa.
We’ve got a long ways to go before those conversations can be had, but one thing seems certain for the 2022 Bulldogs and that is – complacency will not be an issue for this squad. Kirby Smart used the term ‘hungry’ a few times during his presser, noting that he sees a lot of opportunity with this squad, even with the lack of starters returning. But at some point this season, we’ll find out if this squad has what it takes to pull off the repeat and whether Stetson Bennett can manage the offense with a new batch of receivers and running backs.
Who knows if that will come in the opener against Oregon, or down the road against a team like Tennessee. But the target is on the Bulldogs back, whether Kirby likes it or not. As he stood at the podium on Wednesday, Smart made it very clear that this team will not be the one being chased.
“We will not be hunted at the University of Georgia. We will be the one doing the hunting.”
With expectations undoubtedly high in Athens yet again, we’re about to find out if that’s true.
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