On the Beat: Should UGA redshirt Jake Fromm? It’s not an easy call

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Jake Fromm was 14 for 23 for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns on G-Day.

Kirby Smart would probably hate for every word he utters to be parsed. Let’s do it anyway with something Georgia’s football coach said last week when discussing last season, and quarterback Jacob Eason.

“Having a freshman quarterback is a tough row to hoe. But now that freshman’s a sophomore,” Smart sad. “Let’s see how much better he’s gotten, and see how much push we can get on him with competition behind him.”

By “competition” Smart was talking about Jake Fromm — but also Brice Ramsey. At the time – the first day of SEC meetings – Ramsey had not yet announced he was returning for his senior year, but Smart clearly had an inkling his erstwhile quarterback might be returning.

Further parsing: Smart only mentioned the competition angle at the back end, in almost a perfunctory way. Smart has yet to officially name Eason the starter for the season opener. But there continues to be little evidence leading in any other direction.

Which naturally leads to the question, post-Ramsey announcement, on the mind of most every Georgia fan: Does Fromm redshirt now?

Brice Ramsey’s absence from the roster made playing Fromm this year a necessity. You couldn’t just hold him back on the sideline, then run the risk of Eason getting hurt late in the season, as Georgia is trying to win the division, and suddenly having to depend on someone taking his first college snap.

That’s one reason the competitive angle was talked up so much. You couldn’t have Fromm being like Jamie Foxx’s character in “Any Given Sunday,” reading the newspaper on the bench when he was told to go in the game. Fromm had to have the mindset that he could play at any moment, and he probably needed to play right away. He might have played a series or two early in the Appalachian State game.

But with Ramsey on the roster, the necessity of playing Fromm isn’t as clear. Ramsey has zero starts in four years at Georgia, but he does have 45 pass attempts. He has two years’ experience as the primary backup. He has appeared in a bowl game (the 2014 Belk Bowl, when he relieved an injured Hutson Mason), and 11 games the next year as Greyson Lambert’s backup.

UGA quarterbacks Jacob Eason (10) and Brice Ramsey (12) take part in practice last fall. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

Fromm would have to be really, really good to be a better backup option than Ramsey early this year. And Fromm may be really, really good eventually. But is he already?

So the call is easy: preserve that redshirt, and start Fromm’s four-year clock in 2018, right?

Well, hold on.

One argument on the other side: If Fromm is really, really good, he won’t be around that long anyway, right? Might as well play him now. The Knowshon Moreno rule, as it were.

Perhaps, but there’s precedent. Aaron Murray redshirted his freshman year, and it didn’t end up costing the program on the back end. He stuck around for his fifth season in 2013, when he put a cap on his record-breaking career.

Another argument for not redshirting Fromm: It could hurt recruiting at the quarterback position.

If the elite quarterback recruits out there – or even the non-elite quarterbacks – know that Fromm will be eligible through 2021, that can’t help. That’s where Georgia could get burned a bit by having talked Fromm up so much since he arrived on campus. Even if he’s not the starter the next two years with Eason still around, the perception is he’s the next quarterback up.

That’s already hurt the team in trying to lure Trevor Lawrence and other top talent. But at least the team could potentially tell recruits that Eason might be gone after 2018, his junior season, and Fromm might be gone after 2019, when he’s draft-eligible, or at minimum in 2020.

But 2021? That seems a long, long time from now.

So, in another sense, is this September. There’s still plenty of time for Smart, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and anybody else involved in the decision to evaluate all three quarterbacks. Maybe Fromm is just better than Ramsey. Maybe Fromm is even better than … eh, let’s not discuss that yet.

This much at least is clear: Redshirting Fromm was not a viable option before last week. Now, thanks to Brice Ramsey’s return, it’s at least on the table.

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