ATHENS — “Leadership” is the magic word when it comes to playing quarterback, and no one knows that better than Georgia football coach Kirby Smart.
So when Smart recently said of Newman that “the first thing that pops out at you is his leadership ability,” it immediately put the Wake Forest graduate transfer at the front of the line for starting duties.
Smart witnessed and competed with quarterback excellence first hand during his playing days with the Bulldogs from 1995 through his senior season of 1998, when he earned All-SEC honors.
Whether Smart was staring down Peyton Manning, or scheming for the Florida quarterbacks in Steve Spurrier’s Fun N’ Gun offense, Georgia’s head coach understood the key dynamic for any signal caller is leadership.
More than any other position player, it’s the quarterback that keeps hope alive in the huddle and on the sideline. As long as teammates believe in their quarterback, the game isn’t over.
Here are three observations from Smart’s comments on Newman from his recent ESPN podcast interview .
Winning the locker room
Quarterback leadership goes beyond the field, as championship quarterbacks such as Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence have proven the past two seasons.
Smart took note how Newman is overcoming his “new guy” status. It’s no easy task in a Georgia locker room filled with hard-to-impress future NFL players.
“He came into a situation where he doesn’t know a lot of guys on the team,” Smart said. “But that hasn’t hindered his ability to lead.”
Newman’s former Wake Forest teammates told DawgNation at the combine that Georgia players would feel Newman’s presence.
“You definitely have to start with his leadership ability on the field,” Demon Deacons cornerback Essang Bassey said. “He’s a very vocal guy, guys are going to feel him in the locker room, on the field, in the weight room.”
Smart hasn’t committed to a starting quarterback, but it’s clear Newman has captured his imagination.
“I really like where Jamie’s at; we liked what we were able to see last year that he did at Wake,” Smart said. “We think he can create a lot of problems for defenses.”
New offensive coordinator Todd Monken has a lot of personnel to evaluate as he puts the offense together, including Newman.
“We’re going to have to do a really good job of managing our practice time and our walk-through time to make sure that we can take advantage of whichever quarterback ends up being the guy,” Smart said, “especially if it’s (Newman), so we can use his skillset the right way.”
Monken is known for his success in an “Air Raid” system, but Smart has made it clear the identity of the UGA offense will always feature an effective run game.
Newman, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, has the ability to hurt teams passing or running the football.
Smart made sure to point out that there’s still competition at the position, though he didn’t go into great depth on any of the other quarterbacks.
The Bulldogs have nine quarterbacks on their roster, including five on scholarship, but Newman is clearly the current leader in the Georgia Quarterback Derby.
“That’s not to say he’s not going to have competitors coming in here,” Smart said. “D’Wan (Mathis) has done a great job, Carson (Beck), Stetson (Bennett), JT (Daniels) — if he’s going to be able to play this year and be eligible, which we don’t know yet.
“All those things are going to play a factor.”