Smart believes hunger will devour complacency for 2022 Bulldogs

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett, displaying his new buzz cut, visits with receiver Kearis Jackson during Thursday afternoon's first preseason practice for the reigning national champions.

When Kirby Smart was Alabama's defensive coordinator in 2010, the Crimson Tide were coming off the 2009 national championship and returned senior quarterback Greg McElroy, junior running back Mark Ingram, junior receiver Julio Jones and junior defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

That 2010 Alabama team wound up losing three games, including a two-touchdown setback at South Carolina and a 28-27 loss to eventual national champion Auburn after blowing a 24-0 lead. Smart does not see any similarities between that situation and the here and now, as his seventh Georgia team began preseason practices Thursday on the heels of the program's first national title since 1980.

"We don't have a reason to be complacent," Smart said in a news conference, echoing his message from last month's Southeastern Conference media days event in Atlanta. "I've been on national championship teams, and I was concerned about complacency, because a lot of them were back. We don't really have that problem, so it's not a problem inherent to us.

"I worry about complacency every year for a guy who has started and played for two years, but that was regardless of the record from the year before. I know our guys who haven't played are hungry. We have to keep the guys who have played hungry. Whether we win or lose every game this year, it will not be because of complacency."

Georgia rode an efficient offense and a dominating defense to a 14-1 season that culminated with a 33-18 defeat of Alabama in Indianapolis, an outcome that avenged a 41-24 loss to the Tide several weeks earlier at the SEC title game in Atlanta. Five defenders from last year's team were selected in the first round of April's NFL draft, giving the Bulldogs the challenge of restocking at all three levels on that side of the ball.

The Bulldogs signed the nation's top secondary class earlier this year, landing safeties Malaki Starks and JaCorey Thomas, and cornerbacks Jaheim Singletary, Daylen Everette, Julian Humphrey and Marcus Washington.

"I feel like most of those guys are not really freshmen, because some of them were with us in the spring," Smart said. "The two safeties - Malaki and JaCorey - got a lot of work in the spring, and they still have a long way to go to be viable options to play this year. You show me a freshman DB who played in the SEC, and I'll show you a guy who gave up plays.

"Every now and then you have guys come along like (former LSU cornerback Derek) Stingley, who play really big as freshmen, but I don't foresee one of our guys just coming in and dominating. A lot of the accolades that came with them - they dropped them at the door."

Senior safety Christopher Smith, the hero of last season's opening win over Clemson, was asked Thursday about any potential complacency and said: "The main way I fight it off is knowing the work that it took for us last year. We're going to have to put the same amount of work in this year. It's not going to be handed to us."

A few offensive pieces, most notably running backs Zamir White and James Cook, left tackle Jamaree Salyer and receiver Jermaine Burton (who transferred to Alabama), from a year ago have moved on, but the return of quarterback Stetson Bennett, most of the line and a stocked tight end room has Smart quite optimistic about the months ahead.

"I thought we had a very talented tight end group last year, but it just wasn't always present due to staying healthy," he said. "With your quarterback coming back, a lot of skill positions coming back and a lot of the line coming back, there aren't going to be huge changes. What there might be is higher execution and the capacity to handle a little more information and do a little more than we've done in the past.

"We're going to challenge those guys to embrace the thought of doing more."

photo Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia redshirt sophomore defensive back Kelee Ringo, the hero of January's national championship win over Alabama, goes through a drill during Thursday's opening preseason practice in Athens.

Bulldogs bites

Smart opened his news conference by congratulating former Bulldogs defensive lineman and teammate Richard Seymour, who is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, adding, "He's been an incredible representative of our university, and he was a great player here." ... Smart said freshman inside linebacker E.J. Lightsey is dealing with a minor knee issue that is unrelated to the February gunshot wounds he suffered in his hometown of Fitzgerald. ... Senior cornerback Tykee Smith, who transferred from West Virginia last year and tore his ACL in October, is "doing everything we've asked him to do," Smart said, but hasn't been cleared for live tackling. ... Smart on some of his players getting buzz cuts, including Bennett: "I think that ties into locking into camp. There were several guys, I guess, who decided to do that through their hair."

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