The Georgia Bulldogs took their turn through the washing machine that is SEC Media Days for players and coaches. That is, from arrival to departure, they were cycled from one interview area to another to talk about themselves and their team’s prospects for the coming season.

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Georgia seventh-year coach Kirby Smart was accompanied by sixth-year quarterback Stetson Bennett, senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith and sophomore center Sedrick Van Pran-Granger for this year’s event. Showcased at the College Football Hall of Fame, the UGA entourage was greeted by a small gathering of fans seeking pictures and autographs in the “blue-carpet area” of the building’s main entryway.

Here are five things we learned from Georgia football’s first extensive media appearance since the G-Day game in April:

Stet loves jets

Bennett, the Bulldogs’ beloved former walk-on quarterback, was asked a lot about NIL and how a new stream of income reportedly approaching seven figures has changed his life. But Bennett countered that the only real life-changing experience he has encountered since he led Georgia to the 2021 national championship was getting to fly in a jet with the Blue Angels earlier this summer.

It has given a whole new meaning to his nickname, “Stet the Jet.”

“That was the most amazing thing I’ve done in my entire life,” said Bennett, who said he experienced 7.4 Gs during the flight, which originated from Vidalia a week after G-Day. “After I flew with them, the next day, I watched the original ‘Top Gun’ (movie). I had to watch it, and I was like, ‘Dude, I did that yesterday. I flew in those planes!’”

Bennett has gone since to see the new “Top Gun” movie and pronounced it exceptionally good and quite authentic from a flying standpoint.

“I don’t like to brag, but every time I see one of those kind of movies, I’m nudging my buddies, ‘Hey, I did that.’ That’s probably the coolest thing I’ll ever do, and I’m OK with that,” Bennett said.

No worries, Bennett is not going to bolt UGA to sign up for the Air Force. He’s able to return as the incumbent starter for the first time in his collegiate career. And Smart makes no bones about it: That’s a good thing.

“People keep doubting him, and that’s fine with me,” Smart said.

Indeed, despite breaking Aaron Murray’s school record for pass efficiency last season, Bennett is not mentioned among the nation’s top quarterbacks this season. SEC Network’s Tim Tebow and Jordan Rodgers didn’t even include Bennett among the top five quarterbacks in the league.

“Some people stick up for me; some people don’t,” Bennett said. “You’ll see it and I’m like, ‘I think I’m better than that.’ … We’ll see at the end (of the season).”

Bulldogs banking from NIL

Smart declined to follow Nick Saban’s lead and share specifics about the total amount of money Georgia’s players are raking in via name, image and likeness deals. The Alabama coach claimed Tuesday that his players have totaled more than $3 million and that is “better than any program in the country.”

Smart wouldn’t go there, but he did claim that Georgia had the highest-paid defensive lineman (Jordan Davis) and has the highest-paid cornerback (Kelee Ringo) and tight end (Brock Bowers). He also said that 95 UGA players are receiving NIL compensation through the school’s primary collective, Classic City Collective.

“The unfortunate part of NIL is you hear all the negative, and all the negative outweighs the positive in the media,” Smart said. “You’ve got a guy like Dan Jackson who is not on scholarship who’s able to use NIL to pay for his college education and help himself out with NIL. We’ve got a guy, Micah Morris, who’s got an ill father. He’s able to send money back to his dad, who is on dialysis. There’re countless stories like that.

“I would rival anybody in the country with 95 NIL deals coming off a national championship and pretty gaudy number total that we’ve been able to give out. But I don’t think it’s about marketing that and selling that. It’s more about the depth of our deals than the total amount.”

Not everybody is raking in huge amounts of money. Bennett would not confirm reports that he has deals totaling three-quarters of a million dollars. Most player compensation is only a fraction of that.

Van Pran-Granger laughed out loud when asked if what he is receiving is “life-changing money.”

“Nah, man,” said the starting center, who said his compensation wouldn’t afford him a new car. “But at the end of the day that’s not really important. Ultimately, our goal is to win.”

Concerns have been expressed that disparity among individual players could cause jealousy and friction in the locker room. Again, Van Pran-Granger scoffed.

“Am I supposed to be mad that some guys are making money? No,” the Bulldogs’ center said. “Ultimately, that’s somebody I call my brother. How can I point a finger and get mad at him for taking advantage of an opportunity. I’m happy for him. Great, I hope he can make $10 million or whatever it might be.”

White unis could happen

Smart did not dismiss the possibility that Georgia could at some point wear all-white uniforms, helmets included. The Bulldogs created a splash earlier this year when recruits showed up on social-media platforms rocking all-white Georgia uniforms during official visits. But UGA currently does not have enough of them to outfit an entire team.

“You do it because you want the guys to be excited about changing uniforms, and kids want multiple pictures and different looks,” Smart said. “Oregon’s kind of been the team to go out with five or six different uniforms. To say it would never happen would be foolish. I don’t think ‘never’ is ever in the vocabulary for anything. We’re open to looking at different things and exploring different options. But it’s not imminent.”

Why no incoming transfers?

Combined ShapeCaption
072022 Atlanta: Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman speaks at SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

072022 Atlanta: Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman speaks at SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
072022 Atlanta: Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman speaks at SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman spoke highly of the nine transfers his program was able to bring in over the offseason. Georgia, on the contrary, brought in none.

It’s the first time in Smart’s seven seasons that the Bulldogs haven’t added even a single player via transfer.

“I don’t think it’s coincidental,” Smart said. “We’re always going to be in the transfer market for a position of need. There were several guys that we thought made our roster better that we just lost out on. Positions we needed, we just didn’t win on. But we weren’t just going to take one to take one.”

Georgia was bringing in high-profile transfers even before the portal was a thing. In Smart’s first season in 2016, he went to considerable trouble to get the transfer of defensive back Maurice “Mo” Smith from Alabama accepted by the SEC and the NCAA. Quarterback JT Daniels was another splash transfer in 2020.

But the Bulldogs already were tight on scholarships this year and feel like they’ve recruited well at most positions of need.

“People called us and were begging to come, but we didn’t think it was a fit because we had depth at that position,” he said. “The positions we needed the most, we didn’t necessarily win out at. … But you’re never going to turn down an elite player.”

Injury, roster updates

Smart had mixed news with regard to the injury front. For instance, sophomore guard Tate Ratledge (foot) is close to full go ahead of preseason camp, which opens Aug. 4. Senior defensive back Tykee Smith (knee), however, may have a little further to go. And it doesn’t sound like freshman linebacker C.J. Washington (neck) is going to be back anytime soon.

Ratledge’s return is especially critical. A 6-foot-6, 320-pound guard, Ratledge started the opener at right guard last season, and that’s a position of need for the Bulldogs this year.

“We don’t have pads on, but he’s taking reps,” Smart said of Ratledge. “You know it’s going to be an adjustment for him. I think people expect him to walk back in there, but that’s not an injury (Lisfranc fracture) that’s just easy to return from. When you do the study and the history of the injury, it’s one of the toughest to recover from, especially for an offensive lineman who’s using his foot on every play.”

Smith has been slated to start at nickel back since he transferred from West Virginia before last season. He’s well on the way to recovering from last season’s ACL injury, which followed a foot malady. But Smart’s remaining cautious.

“He’s not been cleared to play football just yet, tackle, do all those things,” he said. “I don’t know if he’ll be completely cleared when we get back to (preseason) camp, but he should be cleared shortly thereafter. Hopefully, we can find a role for him to help us.”

Smart confirmed the offseason news that redshirt freshman defensive lineman Marlin Dean is no longer with the team, but would not provide any details as to why.

More from SEC Media Days

- Photos: National champion Bulldogs take stage at SEC Media Days

- Kirby Smart not ready to slow his roll with Georgia Bulldogs

- Still doubting Stetson Bennett? That’s fine with him

- Nolan Smith focused on providing leadership for Bulldogs

- Bradley: Next step for Smart, Bulldogs – total domination