Teammates, Kirby Smart discuss what JT Daniels will bring to Georgia football quarterback battle
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Even after setbacks, confidence is still high for JT Daniels
JT Daniels is not the sure thing he initially entered college football as when he was a 5-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting cycle. At that point in time, he was billed as the next great Southern Cal quarterback from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., following in the footsteps of Matt Barkley and Matt Lienart.
As he starts his first fall camp as a Georgia Bulldog though, not all that much is known about his on-field talents. Defensive backs Richard LeCounte and Eric Stokes couldn’t really speak to what he brings to the offense on the account of not seeing his game all that much. Part of that is because he spent the last two seasons at USC. The other is because he arrived at Georgia in May and has only gone through team walkthroughs and workouts.
They recognize his talent, as head coach Kirby Smart has made it a point to bring in talented players who can help Georgia win now.
Though right now, Daniels still isn’t fully cleared for contact as Georgia begins fall practice on Monday
“J.T. Daniels is not cleared yet. J.T. Daniels is coming off ACL surgery as well,” Smart said. “He’s been able to take some reps. He’s been able to throw the ball and do some things, but he’s not completely cleared from the knee yet.”
The knee Smart references is the same one he tore in his opening game of the 2019 season. By the time of Georgia’s first game on Sept. 26, it will have been over a full year from when that injury occurred. A full year after Daniels, for a second time, was named the starting quarterback for the season-opener.
Daniels will be aiming to do that once again this coming fall, though his competition figures to be stiffer. He’s not the only transfer quarterback Georgia brought in, as the Bulldogs also have Jamie Newman, who got to Georgia over four months before Daniels did. There’s also Carson Beck, D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett to compete with.
Smart laid out a blueprint for how one of those five, Daniels included, could win the starting quarterback job.
“Those guys are going to be judged and evaluated every day on how the command the huddle,” Smart said. “How do they respond to throwing an interception? What do they do when they make a bust? Are they making the right check, are they making the right decisions? Can they use their feet to extend plays?
“All of those things are going to be used to judge who gives us the best chance to win.”
Daniels, along with Newman, has started double-digit games as a starting quarterback at the Power 5 level. The USC transfer started 11 games as a true freshman, including the Trojans’ season-opener that year. In that game, after arriving at USC over the summer as opposed to a mid-year enrollee, Daniels completed 21 of his 35 pass attempts for 282 yards and a touchdown.
But it seems like ever since that debut, nothing has gone according to plan. The Trojans went 5-7 in that opening season. The next year, Daniels tore his ACL in the season-opener against Fresno State. After that, freshman Kedon Slovis blossomed as a freshman, throwing for 30 touchdowns. Daniels threw just 14 in his freshman campaign.
In April of this year, Daniels made the move to enter the transfer portal. That’s where Georgia, who didn’t have much contact with him during his initial recruiting process as it had signed Justin Fields in the same 2018 recruiting cycle, got involved.
But even after the initial contact, not even Georgia totally knew what it would be getting with Daniels, especially when considering its own quarterback room.
“We communicated for a while, not knowing which direction we would be headed,” Smart said. “Once COVID started we didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know what we’d have in our quarterback room. We didn’t know if we were going to have two guys be here and remain and be or if somebody was going to leave.”
But Smart knew he wanted to add Daniels. And so he did, as Daniels announced he was transferring in May.
“I’m a big believer in getting the best people on the team that you can get. And you have a competition,” Smart said. “Iron sharpens iron and that room is going to be really competitive and we’re excited to see where it goes. ”
Daniels, along with Newman, Mathis, Beck and Bennett, will have 25 practices over the 40 days between Monday and the first game on Sept. 26. Twice before Daneils won the starting quarterback job at one of the top schools in the country. That probably explains some of his confidence that teammates have noticed.
“JT strikes me as a guy whose really confident. He’s really confident in his arm and what he can do and how he can control an offense,” Jamaree Salyer said of his teammate. “He carries himself a certain way, which as an offensive lineman you can certainly respect.”
Daniels isn’t the slam-dunk, 5-star prospect he once was. A losing record and a surgically repaired knee will certainly cast doubt about one’s abilities. Add in how Newman has been hyped up this offseason and Daniels isn’t even considered the favorite to win the starting quarterback job.
Georgia doesn’t know who its starting quarterback is at this point in time. It doesn’t need to. It’s got the next 25 practices to figure that out.
Daniels will have a chance to re-introduce himself to the college football world. And he’ll get a chance to let his teammates know just how good of a player he is over those 40 days.
“I’m ready for him, just like everybody else to go out there and show what they got,” LeCounte said. “The camp is for you to prove what kind of player you are. It’s going to be a lot of competition. There’s a lot of guys out there trying to make a name for themselves and this is the place to do it here at camp, day one. ”
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