1/10/22 - Indianapolis - Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks with quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) at the end of the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Georgia coach Kirby Smart challenges Stetson Bennett to grow as leader, develop at quarterback

ATHENS _- Kirby Smart sets the bar high at quarterback, to the extent the Georgia head coach still considers Stetson Bennett a work in progress.

“I think he can grow,” Smart said of the 24-year-old, sixth-year quarterback following the Bulldogs’ fourth spring practice on Tuesday.

“In terms of leadership, we are still working on that.”

Bennett is 15-3 as Georgia’s starting quarterback over the past two seasons.

That includes an 11-1 run last season that included Offensive Player if the Game honors in the Orange Bowl and CFP Championship Game.

RELATED: Kirby Smart makes light of comparing Stetson Bennett to Notre Dame’s ‘Rudy’

But Smart, who championed Bennett for the Burlsworth (former walk-on) Trophy last season, wants to see off-the-field improvements.

“We have high expectations for Stetson,” Smart said, “but we also have high standards for what we expect Stetson to do in terms of leading our offense, going to class, and doing the right thing.

“We are still challenging him to do those things.”

Smart’s comments could explain why Bennett, despite playing a position of inherent leadership, was not among 18 UGA players chosen as game captains last season.

Smart was direct about what he wants to see Bennett improve on the field, as well.

“Making decisions, we were late over the middle a couple of times with balls late in the season,” Smart said. “He’ll be the first to say he didn’t play perfectly. He made some really good plays for us with his feet, his legs, his decision-making.

“But you want to take out some of the bone-head throws, some of the bone-head mistakes that he sometimes makes.”

RELATED: Kirby Smart wants quicker decisions from Stetson Bennett at quaterback

To be fair to Bennett, this is the first spring that he enters as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.

Bennett will get the majority of the repetitions this spring, just as offensive coordinator Todd Monken told boosters during a closed session meeting in January.

The added reps and stature as the unquestioned starter will give Bennett the opportunity to work routes with receivers and apply himself as a leader.

Smart conceded as much.

“It’s easy for him to say he hasn’t had an opportunity to correct those mistakes because ….he was taking reps at the three or sparingly,” Smart said of Bennett’s third-team status entering 2021 spring drills behind last season’s opening day starter JT Daniels and redshirt sophomore Carson Beck.

“He wasn’t getting a lot of reps. He got a lot of work fast, and we feel like he is still showing progress. He’s done some really nice things this spring, but that should be expected for a guy with his experience level.”

Smart’s direct words for Bennett don’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been around the team — he has always been more pointed in his criticism and expectations for the players he relies on most.

RELATED: Kirby Smart sees similarities between Stetson Bennett and Heisman winner Bryce Young

“We showed a lot of confidence in Stetson if you didn’t notice,” Smart pointed out.

“He answered that with the way he played. He’ll be the first to tell you he can still grow and get better.”

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