Georgia football Scrimmage Two: Bulldogs’ quarterbacks ‘grow in stages’
ATHENS — Kirby Smart doesn’t have the answers Georgia football fans are looking for, but he knows the questions.
“We don’t have a guy that’s way ahead,” Smart said of his team’s quarterback situation following the scrimmage on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
“I don’t know what to say other than we’re going to keep competing. We’re going to try to find the best one.”
Daniels became the favorite to win the starting job when Jamie Newman opted out to prepare for the NFL draft on Wednesday.
Newman, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, arrived at Georgia in January and had been working out amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
But with no separation from the pack after seven months, and a sprained foot injury suffered in July, Newman made a business decision to leave.
Opening it up
Georgia fans have pushed for more of an open pass game.
Smart obviously agreed the personnel dictated it was time for a change, with two first-round offensive tackles and second-round back D’Andre Swift moved on to the NFL.
Smart’s decision to modify his offense led to the hire of highly regarded offensive coordinator Todd Monken, whose Tampa Bay offense led the NFL in passing yardage in 2018.
UGA is running an Air Raid attack, with quarterbacks spraying the ball from sideline to sideline and throwing deep down field on occasion to stretch out defenses and create space.
Monken is doing so with Pro Style principles, which gives UGA the chance to out-maneuver defenses at the line of scrimmage on every play with accurate reads and execution.
That means the quarterbacks are having to identify camouflaged coverages, pick up disguised blitzes and audible, check down and call protections appropriately.
It’s going to take time for it all to come together. Smart made it clear in his post-practice Zoom call that Georgia remains a work in progress.
“I thought we would be further on along from Scrimmage One to Scrimmage Two, but it was sloppy,” Smart said. “I mean, we got a lot of penalties. We didn’t tackle really well. We didn’t play really well in the red area on defense.
“On both sides of the ball, when we went ones on twos, (the ones) overpowered the (twos)—with the ones on ones being a little more balanced.”
Smart said graduate transfer tight end Tre’ McKitty got dinged up in the scrimmage, an ankle or a knee he said — but not one of the season-ending variety.
Mathis and Beck have great athleticism and strong arms, unquestionably bright futures. But how soon?
The lack of spring football prevented those young talents from getting the sort of 11-on-11, full-speed looks needed to get comfortable with the timing and nuances of Monken’s diverse offense.
It’s the same for the receivers, who remain a work in progress as they learn the new offense. That means new routes, new terminology and new timing required to get in sync with the quarterbacks.
It’s an unaccomplished group with much to prove. Despite their recruiting ratings, UGA receivers have not approached the sort of results and consistency championship teams at Alabama, Clemson and, most recently LSU, have exhibited.
Daniels could give the receivers a chance to be special with five years of Pro Style quarterback experience, dating back to his decorated high school career at Mater Dai.
First things first, Smart said Daniels is not yet cleared for games, even while he’s practicing and scrimmaging wearing a brace on his right knee.
“It’s unique for quarterbacks because they’re not out there getting hit every day—they’re non-contact,” Smart said. “We expect him to be cleared by the first game, but that’s not a complete certainty.”
Daniels and Mathis split reps with the ones on Saturday, Smart said. Beck worked with the twos. Mathis had a couple of interceptions early but rebounded to make the sort of plays that excites coaches.
“You’ll have a guy that has a great play and a great series, then comes back with a bonehead mistake and a turnover,” Smart said. “Nobody has really taken charge and taken over.”
No doubt at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, with 10.8-second speed in the 100 meters, and an arm capable of unleashing a 75-yard pass, Mathis is a marvel of sorts.
“As far as D’Wan, the advantage that he’s got is that he got to go on the scout team a lot because he was not medically cleared last season,” Smart said. “We had to go to like six NFL doctors to look at the scans and see the healing in his skull to be able to clear him. During that time of last season, he was getting all the reps against the scout team which is really helpful because you get to feel the rush. You have one of the best defenses in the country coming at you ….
“He got to take a lot of reps in that regard, (but) he is in a little different system. It’s not like he’s in the same system he was in last year.”
The fact the SEC has switched to a 10-game, league-only schedule means the Bulldogs will likely need to rely on more than one quarterback to get through the season.
That might even involve a platoon system.
Smart indicated Monken is still feeling out what his quarterbacks can do, wanting a clear idea before molding the playbook to fit the talent profile.
“You’re trying to find out what he can and can’t do, (and) sometimes I don’t know what you can’t do until I call something to see if you can do it,” Smart said. “We’re still trying to figure out exactly what that is. We’re in that stage, instead of just saying, ‘Okay, this guy has these plays [and] this guy has those plays.’ That’s not ever good, because we don’t know what they can and can’t do.
“They don’t get better unless they get to do [the plays], so we’re going to grow in stages in regards to that.”
The Bulldogs will scrimmage again next Saturday. The team’s opener at Arkansas on Sept. 26 is rapidly approaching.