Sitting behind the microphone in front of a large group of media members, the spotlight was on Roquan Smith at SEC Media Days.
The opportunity was a reward for the Georgia junior linebacker and gave head coach Kirby Smart the chance to set a foundation for Smith’s expectations ahead of the upcoming season.
Being chosen over Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy — two returning seniors — Smith’s development allowed him to be placed on a higher pedestal.
“I’m excited about Roquan,” Smart said. “We have to play at a higher level, but there are a lot of guys that have played a lot of snaps. Roquan played probably the most snaps on our team last year defensively, and he’s a hybrid-type of linebacker. He’s a tremendous leader and (SEC Media Days) are about leadership. If you’re going to be the spokesperson for the team, you better hold yourself accountable for all the actions we demand as coaches.”
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Smith led the team with 95 tackles in 2016, nearly doubling the total of his counterpart Natrez Patrick who collected 59.
Georgia’s defensive leader then experienced a setback after having to undergo offseason surgery for a shoulder injury and was limited through the spring. But Smith said he learned plenty throughout the 15 practices, and is set to play in the Sept. 2 season opener against Appalachian State
With Smith healthy and the Bulldogs returning 10 defensive starters from a season ago, Georgia was picked by the media to win the SEC East.
“I’m definitely excited, and we all are about (the defense),” Smith said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to do something great and raise the standard. It means a lot for (Carter and Bellamy to return for senior seasons), and it shows they want to come back and build something special. We’re committed to this season, and it sent a message to all of the guys.”
Georgia also has a wave of talented newcomers defensively, and Smith looks forward to leading that group. Smith, who was named to the preseason All-SEC first team, believes he is best suited to lead by example and allow the results to speak for themselves.
“I think it’s crucial that us older guys take the younger guys under our wing,” Smith said. “We can teach them the ropes, help them with the playbook and things like that. It’s an amazing opportunity for us older guys to mentor and I’m looking forward to growing closer with them.”
Smart praised Smith, offering a comparison to one of his best players during his eight-year tenure as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
“If I had to draw a comparison to anybody, it would probably be closer to C.J. Mosley athletically, the ability to cover and move in space,” Smart said. “Roquan needs no comparison. He’s a great leader. He’s done wonders for our defense because he’s a student of the game, but more importantly he helps lead those guys.