This is the final installment in an eight-part series breaking down each position group as the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs get ready to start spring practice Tuesday. The Bulldogs will conduct 15 practices over 32 days, culminating with the annual G-Day spring intrasquad game April 15 at Sanford Stadium.
ATHENS — After Georgia’s 2021 national championship was over, sometime between the celebration parade and the start of offseason workouts in late-January 2022, quarterback Stetson Bennett and coach Kirby Smart sat down to have a heart-to-heart talk.
Bennett would share later that he wanted only one assurance from his coach to solidify his decision to return to Georgia for a sixth college football season. That was to be able to operate during the year ahead as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 quarterback. Starting and playing, as always, would be determined by performance. But in meetings, in voluntary workouts, in game-planning sessions with offensive coordinator Todd Monken, in practice reps in the lead-up to the start of the season, Bennett wanted to operate as “The Guy.”
Largely forgotten in the story that is “The Legend of Stet” is the fact that he never had been afforded that status in his career at Georgia. Such a distinction can create some inherent advantages in one’s development. Now holding two national titles, four consecutive MVP trophies and a bankable NFL draft projection, that was evident in Bennett’s continued development last season.
It’s unknown whether Carson Beck received the same sort of assurance from Smart. But his mere presence on the Bulldogs’ roster after three long seasons waiting in the wings suggests that Beck has had similar discussions with his coach. In the age of NIL and the transfer portal, quarterbacks simply don’t hang around this long without something tangible to hitch their hopes to.
As always, there will be no guarantees. But somebody has to go first in practices and workouts, and all indications are Beck will be at the head of the line. Meanwhile, fellow quarterbacks Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton promise to be breathing down his neck every step of the way.
Of the second part, Beck is well aware.
“I came here for a reason,” Beck told former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in an interview with The Players’ Lounge last week. “Obviously, the situation didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but it’s not my plan at the end of the day. Things are going to work out the way they’re supposed to, but I feel like the knowledge I’ve been able to gain while watching two really good quarterbacks will help.”
Beck has been embroiled in competition since he set foot in Athens. A five-star prospect when he first committed to Georgia as a junior at Mandarin High in Jacksonville, Florida, Beck had a front-row seat for the circus that was the Bulldogs’ quarterback situation when he arrived as a freshman. He saw Georgia bring in transfer Jamie Newman from Wake Forest, watched Newman leave with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, was surprised as anybody when JT Daniels showed up from Southern Cal and saw Bennett replace D’Wan Mathis in the first game of the 2020 season.
It looked like Beck finally was going to get his chance after Daniels was sidelined with a back injury early in the 2021 season. He entered the Week 2 game against Alabama-Birmingham at No. 2 on the Bulldogs’ depth chart. But in a lesson not soon to be forgotten, it was Bennett who moved the team best during practices that week and, therefore, was awarded the start.
Then Bennett completed 10 of 12 passes for 288 yards and five touchdowns – all in the first half – and the die was cast at quarterback for the Bulldogs.
On Tuesday, it will have been 548 days since that game when Beck hits Woodruff Practice Fields with the rest of Bulldogs for the first of 15 spring practices over the next 32 days. You can bet Beck will be laser-focused and ready to compete for every rep that comes his way from now until the season opener.
Now heading into his fourth year in Athens, Beck has some inherent advantages to being the graybeard of the group.
“I’ve learned an immense amount about the game of football,” Beck told Murray. “I thought I knew a lot when I first came here, but the amount of knowledge I have now about football is ridiculous. And not just the quarterback position, but defense, offense, offensive line, running backs, wide receivers, every single possible thing. Then there’s the way we run the organization and the standard we hold; it’s a lot of fun to be a part of.
“And, obviously, I enjoy winning. If you want to win, you come to the University of Georgia.”
- Returning starters: None
- Starter lost: Stetson Bennett (NFL)
- All eyes on: Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff, Gunner Stockton
- Outlook: Regardless of who comes out on top, the Bulldogs appear to be as well set as a team could be making a transition at the game’s most important position. Beck and Vandagriff have in-game experience and have had time to mature within the Bulldogs’ program. Meanwhile, like Bennett did, Stockton has earned notice for his ability to give Georgia’s defense a truly competitive look while guiding the scout team. All three were elite recruiting prospects with numerous Power Five opportunities. One key to the upcoming competition will be proving their mobility to coach Kirby Smart. After watching Bennett lead the team to back-to-back championships the past two seasons, Smart admitted that he definitely puts “a heavier weight on mobility because of Stetson. It changed for me as he had success. Last year, his mobility was the difference in a lot of games. Having been a defensive coordinator in this league, you can’t account for the extra element, the 11th guy in the run game. People pass-rush so well now that he’s going to have to make a play with his feet.” That’s not necessarily a known trait for Beck, though the 6-foot-4, 215-pound signal-caller moves better than most think. He had a 20-yard run last season and averaged 6.1 yards on seven rushing attempts. However, it definitely is a primary characteristic for the 6-3, 205-pound Vandagriff and 6-1, 210-pound Stockton. All three will have to make the adjustment from position coach/coordinator Todd Monken to Mike Bobo.
- Specialists: Georgia’s rich kicking tradition up for grabs
- Offensive line: Turnover at tackle but reason for optimism
- Defensive line: Nazir Stackhouse resembling Jordan Davis
- Running backs: Kendall Milton ‘trusting the process’
- Linebackers: ‘Pop,’ Mondon back to man the middle
- Receivers: Transfers add to stacked receiving corps
- Secondary: Javon Bullard is a nice piece around which to rebuild
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