"The kid is a tremendous athlete. He's got good arm strength," Smart said Wednesday at SEC media days. "People keep doubting him, and that's fine with me."
A former walk-on, Bennett started 14 games for the Bulldogs last season, throwing for 2,862 yards with 29 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 64.5% completion rate and rushing for 259 yards and a touchdown.
Against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship, Bennett completed 17 of 26 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to their first national title since 1980.
In response to Smart's comments, Bennett told ESPN, "You know, I think I'm good. As far as the respect thing, I've gotten [Smart's] respect, and I've got my coaches' respect. And hopefully, I've got people who know ball's respect.
"And you know, I can look in the mirror and know that there were some times that I struggled last year and let's pinpoint these and let's decrease those. But as far as worried about what the whole country thinks, I can't do that."
Along with Smart's praise of Bennett, the coach said his championship team has "built a program to be sustained" and that he doesn't feel complacency will be an issue this season.
"To be complacent, you have to have done something and achieved something," Smart said. "The men on this team for this season have not done that. They have not. We had 15 players that have now gone to NFL camps or draft picks. They're gone. We have some returning players, but they're hungry as ever.
"People ask the question, how does it feel to be hunted? We will not be hunted at the University of Georgia. I can promise you that."