ATHENS — A slimmer, trimmer Jim Chaney reported to preseason camp with the Georgia Bulldogs this week. Well, not necessarily slim, but trimmer for sure.
The Bulldogs’ third-year offensive coordinator has switched duties since we last talked to him. He was coaching quarterbacks the previous two seasons, but now he has passed on that responsibility to new co-coordinator James Coley and has taken over tight ends. It’s a position he’s coached before in the NFL and to a lesser degree in college.
The always jovial Chaney was asked if all the movement required of his new position group has contributed to him shedding some pounds.
“No, it doesn’t have anything with coaching tight ends,” Chaney said, chuckling. “I just woke up one day and realized I was way too big. So I had to do some work to get some weight off. Hopefully that’s going to help me coach and do better and serve the university a little better.”
Chaney has done some pretty good work already during his short stint at UGA. The veteran coordinator was at the controls of a unit run by a freshman quarterback for the second season in a row last year and saw it average 35.4 points a game — up 11 from 2016 — and finish fourth in the nation in red zone offense with a 96.4 percent score rate.
Speaking of that freshman quarterback, Chaney was asked where he was when he heard about quarterback Jake Fromm’s off-season injuries. The 14-game starter suffered two freak accidents over the summer, getting a fishing lure buried in his calf one week and then breaking a bone in his left (non-throwing) hand in a skiing accident on Lake Burton.
Chaney was famously fly-fishing in 2016 when he found out Sony Michel had broken his arm in an ATV accident.
“I did get to go fly-fishing again,” Chaney said. “I made it three days my arm started to go numb. So I had to come back and have neck fusion surgery, so I had a wonderful July. It was fun. It was about the time I was coming home that Jake got the fishing hook in his leg. Then the hand thing happened. But he’s OK. I ain’t worried about Jake Fromm. He’ll be just fine, and I didn’t miss any fishing because of him.”
The most prominent story of preseason camp is the quarterback competition between the incumbent Fromm and freshman Justin Fields, the No. 1-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect when he became an early enrollee for the Bulldogs this past January. Head coach Kirby Smart fueled the controversy on Friday when he said Fields absolutely could unseat Fromm as the starter during preseason camp.
Chaney was asked to assess the competition from his vantage point. After waxing eloquent about Fields’ unlimited potential, he acknowledged that Fromm will be extremely difficult to beat out.
“We all know how polarizing the quarterback position can be,” he said. “Everybody wants to know about that spot. In my particular spot, I worry about everybody. Every good football player we have, we try to get him on the field and find ways to utilize them. Right now, Justin Fields is battling at the quarterback spot … as are all the young kids we brought in at all the spots. I love him. He’s a wonderful young man. Comes from a great family. He’s a competitive son of a gun and also a helluva good football player. The future’s very bright for him.
“As far as playing time and all that, that will take place in the next three or four weeks. And who plays and who doesn’t will get down to Coach Smart. That’ll be his decision. I’m just glad (Fields) is here and he’s a part of our program.”
The problem for Fields in that regard is he’ll have a lot of ground to make up on Fromm. Chaney said the SEC’s Freshman of the Year from 2017 has gotten significantly better since last season.
“He has more confidence within the Xs and Os, there’s no question about that,” Chaney said. “He’s got that year under him, it was a fantastic year and he’s playing very good football for it. But Jake’s personality hasn’t changed. He’s just Jake. Even last year when he was a freshman, he’s an outgoing guy who likes to talk to his teammates and is positive all the time. His personality traits haven’t changed.”
As for what might separate the two players, Chaney said: “The difference is familiarity. (Fromm) played 900-something snaps of football last year. That’s hard to overlook.”
But, Chaney added, “Coach Smart doesn’t like good players standing on the sideline next to him.” So they’ll make a concerted effort to get Fields on the field.
However, Chaney indicated they won’t necessary employ a two-quarterback system or utilize Fields as run-specialist quarterback. The concern is putting their prized freshman in harm’s way.
“Justin’s ability to run the ball is exceptional,” he said. “But we don’t have a vast amount of depth at that position right now. So if you start running quarterbacks you’re putting them in harm’s way more often. So you have to be conscious of that. And I don’t know because Justin can run you say he’s a running quarterback. Justin Fields is a fantastic quarterback who happens to be able to run.”
Chaney is sharing coordinator duties this season with James Coley, who is also coaching quarterbacks. Coley coached wideouts last season but received a promotion and switched to the position group with which he has done the most work in his career after Jimbo Fisher offered him the coordinator’s position at Texas A&M.
Chaney said he actually like the change and feels like it has brought a new energy to the offensive staff.
“It’s a collection of ideas; it’s not all Jim Chaney,” he said. “When we get to run game, it’s Dell (McGee) and myself and Sam (Pittman). When we get to the passing game it’s Cortez (Hankton) and James and Jay (Johnson) and me. We all collectively put it together and slap it up on the board. … I fortunate on my staff that I have a lot of people that are a lot of people that are a lot smarter than me.”
Again, Chaney does pretty well by his own right. Georgia defines “explosive plays” as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards or better. He said the Bulldogs recorded “explosives” on 1 of every 6.7 plays last season.
“That’s pretty good for me,” he quipped.
The aim is to improve on that this season. Chaney believes Georgia can.
Ever the humorist, Chaney offered a few pearls as usual:
- Upon addressing reporters for the first time since the week of the national championship game: “My name’s Jim Chaney, the offensive coordinator. It’s great to see everybody. We don’t get the opportunity to visit very much.”
- On having worked so many different places in his career: “You don’t have to remind me of working all those different places. I’m home, baby! A lot of Bekin (moving) trucks have pulled up in front of my house. You hate to hear that horn.”
- On players’ reactions to his change of duties: “I never ask them when I walk in, ‘are you happy to see me or not?’ Some would probably say yes, some would probably say no. But I’m very comfortable at the tight end spot.”
- On not having tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the fold this year: “I still look for those two kids we had last year to walk down the hallway and they ain’t showed up yet. They’re gone. They’re history. I like the kids we have now. They’re good kids. But they’ve got to go out on the field and perform. We’ve got to watch them do that first.”
- On the first day of practice on Friday: “Watching the freshmen come in and work through the first day of practice on a 90-degree day in Georgia, that’s fun to watch, particularly some of those boys from up north. That’s entertaining. But they made it through.”