HOOVER, Ala. — There was never much doubt, realistically, whether Jacob Eason would be Georgia’s starting quarterback for this season’s first game. The real question all along, however, was how good he would be.
That was part of the reason that Kirby Smart kept talking up the competition with freshman Jake Fromm. Push the incumbent starter, publicly and privately. Try to ward off complacency. Make Eason think he had to earn the starting job again, the way he did last year in (eventually) beating out fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert.
But there are other ways that Smart has poked and prodded Eason to get better, or evaluated how much progress he’s made. And evidently Smart has liked enough of what he’s seen, as he’s acknowledged that Eason is the starter, though with Fromm (and Brice Ramsey again now) still around for competition if Eason slips up.
In some ways, Eason has passed these unofficial tests. In other ways, the test is ongoing.
There was Eason’s attendance at the Manning Passing Academy, an event last month in Thibodeaux, La., organized by Peyton Manning and also attended by brother Eli and their father Archie. It was attended by about 60 college quarterbacks.
In fact, Archie Manning recently told Gridironnow.com that Eason was impressive, even during one session when it rained.
“Peyton’s right at almost 6-foot-6 and there’s a lot of similarities there in their style, so I would think he picked up some things, being as young as he is,” Archie Manning told Gridironnow. “Hopefully he got something out of it.”
That’s why Smart pushed Eason into going to the camp. He could be around one of the best quarterbacks ever, and another very successful one.
“Sometimes behavior is learned, and you learn how to behave like a big-time quarterback,” Smart said. “And you learn how to study, and you sit in those meetings, so I think that was an awesome experience for him, and I know he was excited.”
When Smart was at the podium at SEC media days, he was asked if quarterbacks got too much credit or blame for their team’s records. Georgia, of course, went 8-5 last year, and one of the wins came with Lambert as the starter, so Eason begins this year with a 7-5 record.
Smart began his answer by acknowledging that quarterbacks and coaches are both defined by win-loss records. The touchd0wn-to-interception ratio is also attached tightly to quarterbacks, Smart pointed out. (Eason had a pretty good 16-to-8 ratio as a freshman.)
But Smart indicated he looks harder at another stat: Completion percentage. And that’s where Eason could also have used improvement last year: His 55.1 percentage was seventh among SEC starters last year.
“I’m a big believer in completion percentage,” Smart said. “I think Jacob understands, and we’ve communicated throughout the spring, if he wants to change the win-loss record, we have to change the completion percentage and we have to allow him to make some easier throws, and he’s got to be more accurate doing so.”
Then there are the intangibles. When it comes to offseason passing drills — an area that Aaron Murray and then Hutson Mason were renowned — Eason has been “tremendous” this summer, according to Smart. That doesn’t mean Eason’s passing in those drills, but in organizing them. Coaches can’t do that, or be out there observing them, so they count on players, usually the quarterback, to do so.
“He’s taken a much greater leadership role in organization of things over the summer,” Smart said. “His next step is carrying it over to the field. That’s the part he has to step up and do. But he’s taken all the right steps to be able to do that.”