‘We will not be hunted’

ATLANTA — Georgia head coach Kirby Smart wanted to get out in front of the incoming barrage of questions. He knew he’d be asked about how Georgia goes out and tries to replicate the success of the 2021 season in 2022.

He’s well aware of the fact that he’ll be doing so without the 15 draft picks he had last season. The five first-rounders, who all played on the defensive side of the ball. Add in that Georgia is the defending National Champion and it’s easy to see that Georgia has the big dog in the conference. The ones Alabama, Texas A&M and all the others will be looking to take down in their own pursuits of the national championship.

Of course, the Dawgs are able to do some hunting of their own. And Smart made it clear that this is what the 2022 team intends to do.

“People ask the question, How does it feel to be hunted? We will not be hunted at the University of Georgia,” Smart said. “I can promise you that. The hunting we do will be from us going the other direction. We’re not going to sit back and be passive about it.”

For all that Georgia lost, it’s still one of the most talented teams in the country. Back is quarterback Stetson Bennett, star tight end Brock Bowers, ace edge defender Nolan Smith, defensive tackle Jalen Carter and national championship hero Kelee Ringo.

Sprinkle in five consecutive top four recruiting classes and you have plenty of capable bodies waiting to step into the roles vacated by last season’s stars.

“I don’t think any of our guys would rest on their laurels because we don’t really have a lot of guys that have laurels to rest on,” Smart said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that everybody keeps bringing up, you know, ‘You won a national championship.’ Do you worry about complacency?’ Well, the guys who won it, they’re mostly in NFL camps. So, there’s a lot of hungry guys on our team.”

The Georgia head coach added that the roster turnover actually helps the Bulldogs because it prevents compliance. There are so many new faces who want to come in and prove themselves. Not to be the next Nakobe Dean but be the first Jamon Dumas-Johnson.

Smart made another bold proclamation about his coaching staff as well calling it, “the best staff I’ve ever had since I’ve been there in terms of continuity.”

If Georgia is going to find continued success, players like Bennett and Smith will have to take on bigger roles this season. Bennett, annoyed with the questions about whether or not he is good enough after beating Michigan and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, is eager to take the Georgia offense to new heights.

It’s his sixth season at Georgia and his third with offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Much like Bennett’s own journey, Georgia won’t experience immediate, world-changing success. It’s a process, one that comes together a day at a time.

“I think with the way this program is going now, we expect it,” Bennett said. “We expect to win every game we play. We try to look at each opponent as nameless and faceless. We’re going to leave this, go workout, throw and try to be 100 percent. That’s what we’re going to do today. And then we’re going to take another step.”

Defensively, Smith’s booming voice is one of the few that remains from last season. He was a key leader last season and will be even more important this season. There’s young talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Smith is going to do his damnedest to make sure the standard that was built at Georgia remains.

The biggest worry with said defense isn’t talent or depth. It’s inexperience, something Smart and Smith both harped on Tuesday. Kamari Lassier or Zion Logue don’t know what they don’t know. As they learn the ups and downs that come with the grind of a season, the expectation is they’ll continue to uphold the Georgia defense’s sterling reputation.

“You can see guys being more vocal,” Smith said. “That’s what you love to see. A standard is built and that it is kept. It’s not just built one year and then we have to let it get loose. I like the standard being the standard.

“It’s not about stats or trying to break records. It’s just 11 hats flying around playing for each other. We were just playing, having fun.”

Smart was at Alabama for the first four championships under Nick Saban. He was the defensive coordinator of the last team to repeat as champions, coming back in 2012. He was also on the 2010 Alabama team, the one with Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and others. That team though lost three times after Alabama went unbeaten the season prior.

The Georgia head coach has warned about being a one-hit-wonder. He specifically mentioned to his team the struggles LSU has undergone since winning in 2019. Smart doe

Georgia doesn’t want to be the team that wins just one championship and gets fat off of it. The Bulldogs will not be Gauthier.

The 2022 season will give this team the chance to show it can still get after it and be the best team in college football.

“We didn’t build this program on hoping for one-year-wonders or hoping for one opportunity. We built the program to be sustained,” Smart said. “You sustain it by what you do every single day. This program was built to be here for a long time.”

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