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We heard about Stetson Bennett during Rose Bowl prep as the scout team Baker Mayfield. Is there a plan for Bennett beyond the scout team? Any chance that he can beat out Justin Fields as Jake Fromm’s backup and give Fields a redshirt year?
― John Goldsmith
Dear John (couldn’t resist). You’re right, we did hear a lot about Stetson Bennett during Rose Bowl prep, and actually those of us on the beat heard about him on and off all season from coach Kirby Smart and Bennett’s Georgia teammates.
By all accounts, he’s a very, very good quarterback and almost always gives the No. 1 defense fits during scout-team work at practice. That was particularly evident in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl, when the 6-foot, 172-pound Bennett was asked to emulate Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in practice. Apparently, he put together quite a few highlights ― or lowlights, if you play on the defensive side of the ball.
“There was one play. I had containment on Stetson, and he spun out of the pocket,” defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said before the Rose Bowl. “I was going for his shoulder and … I don’t know what he did. He just spun out and got off a pass. I thought, ‘This kid’s a great athlete,’ because I’m a good athlete as well. But he did that on me, and it’s good because you can fix those mistakes before you get to the game.”
Said outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter: “Stetson’s a quick guy. He can out-run a lot of people. He’s made Roquan [Smith] look silly. He’s made me look silly. He’s made a lot of people look silly. You have to practice against him like you’re going to play in the game.”
Said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker: “Stetson Bennett’s a beast, man. He puts a lot of pressure on our defense because he is extremely quick, he’s fast and he can throw. He can throw in the pocket and he can throw on the run and he’s very, very competitive. He does a great job of getting us a look and it challenges our players, so I’m glad we have him.”
So, yes, Bennett is not you’re everyday, ordinary scout-team quarterback. And that was the word on him when he chose to come to UGA as an invited walk-on rather than accept some small-school scholarship offers. He passed for more than 3,700 yards as a senior at Pierce County High in Blackshear, Ga., and rushed for another 500. But Georgia Southern, Samford, Mercer and Middle Tennessee State were the only offers he could muster. But as an excellent student and with his parents, Denise and Stetson Bennett, both being UGA graduates, he decided he’d rather be a walk-on at Georgia.
Now, to your question. It is extremely unlikely that Bennett would beat out Justin Fields for the No. 2 spot in the 2018 season. A player like Fields ― a consensus 5-star prospect and the No. 1 quarterback in the country by many accounts ― doesn’t come to college to sit. The expectation is that Fields, an early enrollee, will undergo a crash course to be ready to play next season, and Georgia likely will have a package ready especially for him. Fields is going to have to be ready to play, just the way Fromm was ready when Jacob Eason went down last season.
But Bennett’s presence and the confidence that his coaches and teammates show in him helps Georgia in a lot of other ways. To start, he can continue to give the Bulldogs’ defense those great looks against the many mobile quarterbacks and spread teams they face every year. Secondly, it keeps Georgia from having to be desperate to sign another quarterback in this class. It’s clear the Bulldogs wouldn’t be afraid to put him in a game if needed.
Meanwhile, Bennett’s very generously listed at 6 feet tall. He’s a small guy, and it’s very difficult to succeed in the SEC with that kind of physical stature. But he’ll continue to be a valuable part of Georgia’s football team. That was evident when the Bulldogs named him an offensive scout team player of the year at the postseason gala.
“We’re very fortunate to have a quarterback like Stetson Bennett,” coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s not the stature [a coach prefers], but he’s made plays all year similar to Baker. … He’s not as strong as Baker, but he does a great job of scrambling, adding time to plays. He can give us at least a good picture.”