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Georgia coach Kirby Smart began his seventh season leading the Bulldogs into spring drills on Tuesday, March 15.
Tony Walsh

Kirby Smart: Georgia football working to become contenders, not championship defenders

ATHENS — Georgia football looks to be contenders — not defenders — as it begins its seventh session of spring football under Kirby Smart’s direction.

The Bulldogs’ head coach made is clear where he wants his team’s mindset as it goes about its business each day.

“You don’t defend a title — you (media) guys want it to be that way, but that’s not what we do,” Smart said at his spring football press conference.

“We start fresh just like we did when we lost to Texas in a bowl game.  We start completely new.  That’s so hard for the media to grasp.”

The concept is simple enough: this 2022-23 Georgia football team is not national champions.

Last season’s team — which has some 15 or 16 players headed to the NFL, and four former starters transferring to other schools — won the crown.

The Bulldogs return 11 of the 22 position starters from the CFP Championship Game, and four of the 18 players who served as game captains last season (Nolan Smith, Christopher Smith, Warren Ericson and Kearis Jackson).

In addition, Orange Bowl and CFP Championship Game offensive MVP Stetson Bennett is also back to run the offense from the quarterback position.

But as Smart emphasized on Tuesday, this is a whole new beginning, and his current players have already transitioned into that mindset.

“It’s not hard for us because we go into a different part of the program, off-season conditioning program,” Smart said.

“What’s different about the off-season conditioning program than it has been in the past?  Not a whole lot.  We’re doing the same things we do to build up to the point we went to last year.

“We certainly have different faces and different people in places.  I think they’re right where they need to be.  They’re not way behind schedule, not way ahead of schedule.  We have holes to fill just like we do every year.”

Obviously, Smart conceded, the Bulldogs could face a bigger challenge winning a national championship this season factoring in attrition.

‘’Probably just more this year than in years past based on guys leaving and the departure,” Smart said. “We also have more mid-years here to fill some of those roles.  We’re certainly not deep enough at several positions, but I’m not here to cry about it.  I’m here to solve it and figure it out and get the best guys.  That’s what you do as a coach, right?  You coach the players.

“So that movement for us has been long past.  I think that will be the play and the talk of the media for last year, but not us.  We’re really worried about creating an identity for this team.

‘’We’re in the identity phase.  Spring practice is let’s figure who are we?  Let’s figure out who we are by how we practice.  I think we’ll see that over the next 15 practices.’’

The Bulldogs return to practice on Thursday and Saturday this week and will have 11 more practices leading up to the annual G-Day Game on April 16.

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