Kirby Smart mum on starter, but JT Daniels ‘preparing himself for this moment’

Georgia football-UGA-JT Daniels
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels is expected to continue taking reps with the first team this week, though Kirby Smart said Stetson Bennett is healing up.

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart isn’t ready to name a starter — those familiar with the program know he rarely is — but indications are JT Daniels will continue to work with the first team.

“The competition is going to continue throughout practice like it did last week,” Smart said, indicating he has not yet reached a decision.

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The No. 13-ranked UGA Bulldogs (4-2) play host to Mississippi State (2-4) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Sanford Stadium.

Coach Mike Leach saw Daniels lead USC from 30-17 down to beat his Washington State team in 2018. 39-36.

“Good player, throws the ball well,” Leach said on his Monday Zoom call. ” I was impressed with him. But yeah, a statuesque guy who throws the ball well.”

Daniels,  a true freshman at the time who could have been playing his senior season at Mater Dei High School at the time, was 17-of-26 passing for 241 yards and 3 TDs to out-duel Gardner Minshew. He had led Mater Dei to the high school national championship as a junior in 2017.

Daniels has been working to get back from the knee injury he suffered in the Trojans’ 2019 season opener since transferring to Georgia in May, gaining eligibility for this season almost immediately.

“He (Daniels) has really been focusing on learning the playbook, getting himself healthy,” Georgia senior offensive guard Ben Cleveland said on Monday, “preparing himself for this moment.”

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Bulldogs cornerback Eric Stokes said much of the same about Daniels last week.

“He’s starting to believe in his knee,” Stokes said. “That was a big thing going on, so he’s starting to get confidence in his knee and all that stuff.

“I’ve seen his progress picking out coverages and knowledge and things like that. You can see that is coming along.”

Daniels has yet to make an appearance for Georgia, which has struggled at the position the past three games.

The Bulldogs’ quarterbacks have completed 44 percent of their passes with 8 interceptions and 4 fumbles in games with Alabama, Kentucky and Florida.

Still, Smart hasn’t ruled out redshirt junior Stetson Bennett, who went 3-2 as the team’s starter before suffering a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder in the first quarter of the Nov. 7 loss in Florida.

“Stetson is bouncing back; he is still dinged up a little bit,” Smart said. “He was out there at practice each day doing all he could. He has still been limited a little bit, but we haven’t done anything since Thursday.

“In terms of Friday, Saturday, Sunday treatment and recovery, getting himself back in a position that he can play and compete at a high level — that’s the hope for this week is for him to do the same.”

Smart said his approach to the quarterbacks room, which also includes redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis and true freshman Carson Beck, has not changed.

“You just try to make the best situation you can to give your team an opportunity to win, that’s what we try to do in all our decisions, regardless of quarterback or not,” Smart said, asked about testing Daniels’ mobility in practice.

“You know, the running backs don’t get tackled in practice either. They get hit, but they don’t get tackled, so you have to put the best guys out there that give you the best opportunity to win. That’s what we have always done.”

Smart said safety Lewis Cine has cleared concussion protocol, and he expects receiver George Pickens will be able to play on Saturday.

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