INDIANAPOLIS – There were always going to be doubts about Stetson Bennett IV’s viability as an NFL quarterback.
But at a time when the former Georgia star should be riding high coming off a pair of national championships over the past two seasons, he’s only seemed to create more questions about himself heading into the 2023 draft.
Friday, Bennett faced fairly quiet music – as opposed to what he’s hearing from prospective employers – while responding to reporters gathered at his scouting combine interview. One of the first questions was about his January arrest in Dallas for public intoxication, the Athens Banner-Herald recently revealing he hid behind a brick wall in an attempt to evade police officers.
‘It was a mistake everybody’s aware of. I understand, you know, why that can’t happen,’ Bennett said. ‘I’ve talked to coaches about it, talked to GMs. Apologized to my family – that’s who I felt worse about. I felt like I let them down, because no matter where I go now – and even without all this – I’ve got an obligation. I’m the Fourth. Can’t do that if your last name is Bennett. And I know better.”
He apologized again to Georgia fans who felt he was more engaged with his phone than them during the Bulldogs’ victory parade in Athens, Georgia. Bennett said he was managing a music playlist for his teammates and not ignoring UGA supporters.
He was also asked about skipping the Senior Bowl, its practices and game occurring in the days following his arrest.
‘It was more so the Shrine Bowl, it wasn’t really the Senior Bowl,’ said Bennett. ‘I really wanted to play in it. There was a lot going on at the moment. I discussed with people that are close to me, asked advice, decided that I needed to go train – I need to get better. But I do wish that I could have but just ultimately decided that the other was the better choice.’
Quite a lot to answer for – and simply in the time period following Georgia’s 65-7 thrashing of TCU for the national title on January 9. (Bennett skipped the next morning’s news conference, telling ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt following the win, “I told them when the whistle sounds, my obligations to the media are done to the University of Georgia. … I’m going to go have fun and celebrate.”)
It’s even more dismaying given Bennett’s experience and presumed maturity – the 25-year-old started 32 games for Georgia – should be viewed as positive attributes going into the NFL.
Now, he finds himself explaining his judgment at a time when he should merely be trying to prove that a 5-11, 190-pounder who was surrounded by enough collegiate talent to compete in the NFC South (maybe?) should get a shot in a league that falls in love with size, athleticism and arm strength at his position this time of year.
Bennett revealed that his combine meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team in search of quarterback help, was at least partially focused on his character.
‘They asked me some questions, wondered about the incident,’ he admitted. ‘Answered them. Asked me about football. Asked me about life, trying to figure out who I was. I thought it went well.’
Saturday, 32 clubs will be watching how it goes on Lucas Oil Stadium’s field. Bennett said part of his recent training objectives had been trying to work on throws that scouts at the combine would want to see.
Yet he knows he won’t have the competitive advantage from a roster standpoint in the NFL that he did at Georgia, where Bennett was rarely touched, and that he may have to get used to holding a clipboard.
‘I’ve never been a wave causer or anything like that,’ he said. ‘I keep my head down. I play ball. And so, whatever’s asked of me is what’s asked of me. My job, when I get there, regardless, you’ve got to be the best player to play. And I know there’s more to that probably here, but at the end of the day that’s all you can control. So, that’s what I’ll do.’
And he understands he may not get as many cracks in the pros as he did with Georgia.
“The way I see it, you only get one of these, man,’ he said. ‘Lives. I’m playing football right now. I’m going to try to do it to the best of my ability. That doesn’t mean try really hard. That means figure out, ‘Is this the right area to try hard at? Or is this one?’ What’s the best area, figure it out and then give 1,000% there.’
Time will tell whether that will be sufficient.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.