Georgia quarterback JT Daniels aims for different aura

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) prepares to pass during the Bulldogs’ practice session Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) prepares to pass during the Bulldogs’ practice session Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

Credit: UGA Athletics

Credit: UGA Athletics

Spring practice isn’t just an opportunity for JT Daniels to fine-tune mechanics and get in sync with his receivers. Georgia’s returning starting quarterback wants to clean up his body language and mannerisms, too. No more relaxing on the sidelines next season.

“Typically, I’ve always been more of a laid-back kind of guy, especially on the field,” Daniels said. “I’m never a hype man. That’s just never been my thing. But I’ve put more effort into not just words of encouragement but trying to keep everyone focused, on task if someone is not doing the right thing.”

Daniels played in only four games in 2020, including a 24-21 win over Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. As the season progressed, he grew into a leadership role. First he led by example. Then he started to become more vocal.

This season presents a better — and much longer — window of opportunity for Daniels to showcase his skills and leadership capabilities. Unlike last year, he can practice 11-on-11 in 15 spring practices. With that likely will come added familiarity with receivers and offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s system.

And uncharacteristic of coach Kirby Smart — not usually one to declare his team’s starting quarterback early on — Daniels officially is Smart’s guy.

“To hear from your coach — who you do try really hard to show out for — is really cool to hear,” Daniels said. “It definitely gives a little bit of confidence just to hear that your coach believes in you.”

For all the benefits that Smart’s team expects to reap from Daniels, there is one major caveat to his experience: the California native didn’t face any opponents with a winning record in 2020. He sat on the bench during the Auburn, Alabama and Florida games.

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) takes a snap Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Athens. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) takes a snap Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Athens. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

As a freshman at USC in 2018, the only ranked opponent he beat was No. 19 Colorado. He finished with 2,672 passing yards and 14 touchdowns that season. After transferring to Georgia in spring 2020, Daniels threw for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns in three late regular-season games.

This year, he will get to work with a “loaded receiver room.” That won’t include star junior George Pickens for an extended period of time. The Bulldogs’ leading receiver in terms of touchdowns tore his ACL earlier this spring. Jermaine Burton also has missed time with a hyperextended knee.

The upheaval among the receivers can weigh on Daniels, Smart said Saturday.

“JT’s has always been about his business. That’s JT,” Smart said. “JT’s very serious, he’s very intuitive. He has growth he can go through. For him, continuity is important, and we haven’t had great continuity, with this back out or that receiver out.”

Junior Kearis Jackson caught the same amount of passes (36) and had one more receiving yard (514) than Pickens last season. Jackson started that season with a good understanding of Stetson Bennett’s pocket skills. In 2021, he will have the privilege of continuing to work on his relationship with Daniels.

“We’re just trying to work on building that chemistry,” Jackson said. “He came along late in the season last year, but now, getting to have a full spring with him, being able to do the pre-spring workouts, being able to throw with him, just being able to build that chemistry, it’s been fun working with him.

“He really cares about the receivers and not only the receivers, but the team as well.”

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