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JT Daniels talks about his leadership duties, transition into that role
The California native came to Georgia to win it all
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
When Georgia quarterback JT Daniels arrived in Athens last summer, many of his teammates reached out and helped him with the transition process.
Of those Bulldog players, running back James Cook was one of the first to get in contact with the Southern Cal transfer.
“James and I have been very close since I got here,” Daniels said after Georgia’s 24-21 victory over Cincinnati in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. “I remember when I posted my commitment to Georgia, Cook hit me right away. I got in contact with him. He was one of the first people I buddied up with. He's been like a brother to me since I got here…”
Cook, a leader in the locker room on the 2020 team, missed that bowl game due to the loss of his father.
“As soon as I heard, I hit him, made sure he's doing good,” Daniels said.
J.T. went on to brag about how great of a teammate and player Cook is.
“He's a leader, he's a worker,” he said. “You never hear him complain. He's always doing the right thing…”.
When Cook returned for his junior season in 2020, he took on more of a leadership role alongside fellow tailback Zamir White. The pair had to step up as leaders on the offense because Georgia really had no older veterans return. Former Bulldogs Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift served those roles well while on-campus, but when they skipped their senior seasons to move on to the NFL, somebody had to replace them.
Now, as the 2021 season approaches, Daniels is looking to step up into more of a supervisor-type post like White and Cook did last season.
"First and foremost, I think it starts with how you approach everything you do, especially as a veteran now,” Daniels said on Tuesday when asked about his new role on the team. “This is my fourth season of college football. I remember when I was coming in, how I looked up to the older guys in the building.”
Now, Daniels thinks of how some of his younger teammates “look up to the Lewis Cines, and the people who have been here for a while.”
As a fourth-year junior, Daniels has now been two major college football programs and has enough experience to call himself a veteran.
Nevertheless, the California native said that he’s currently working on improving himself for the betterment of the team, which is something that a coaching staff looks for in a leader.
“I’ve gotten better at eliminating unnecessary things to look at during pre-play,” Daniels said. “Something else I’ve been working on is decision making, and not making bad plays worse, which is something that has always been a constant improvement for me.”
Last season, there were times when it looked like Daniels was trying to force balls into tight windows. He also had trouble with holding onto the ball for too long, which hurt his chances of finding the first, second or even third option at receiver. In addition, Daniels’ pocket presence at times lacked because of his inability to escape and evade defenders.
“Guys are going to slip, someone is going to run the wrong route now and then, then someone will miss protection,” Daniels said. “It’s on me to not make it worse and get a turnover. Incompletions aren’t bad, throw-aways aren’t bad. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m working on, the biggest thing I’ve noticed with the game slowing down a little bit and understanding where to go with the ball faster, and inaudible less.”
For most of his 2020 campaign, Daniels sat out while recovering from an ACL surgery. He suffered a season-ending injury during the Trojans’ 2019 season opener against Fresno State. Backup Kedon Slovis took over and Daniels looked elsewhere to play.
That’s when Daniels chose UGA and started working with long-time sports director of medicine Ron Courson. He and his staff helped J.T. through the process of healing his knee. After the first eight weeks of the season, he finally felt confident, as did head coach Kirby Smart.
Daniels’ first start was against Mississippi State, which is a game he threw for over 400 yards in. Following that game, he started Georgia’s final three contests and helped the Bulldogs to an 8-2 record. In 2020, Daniels completed 80 of 199 passes for 1,231 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Those are fairly decent numbers for only four career starts as a Bulldog.
Still, Daniels isn’t satisfied with his results because to him, there’s more to accomplish.
“There’s no denying that we do want to win a natty,” he said. “I think we have the team to do it. Obviously losing George (Pickens) doesn’t help you, losing an elite, elite top-tier receiver doesn’t help you, but it’s a great team.”
Daniels added that Smart has done a really great job instilling a high standard for the team.
“There’s a lot of good things going for the team,” he said. “As much as you hate to lose George there are just things we’ve got to focus on and things we’ve got to develop because we have the team to do whatever we want."