Georgia QB Jake Fromm working to build on stellar opening act in 2018

Georgia-Jake Fromm-Georgia Bulldogs-spring practice-2018
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has stayed busy since the Bulldogs' season ended with an overtime loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game. His efforts have been all about playing better than he did last year and shoring up areas of his game that need improvement, which weren't many.

ATHENS – To see Jake Fromm in street clothes these days is to wonder if this guy still plans to play quarterback. His physique says he’d make a pretty good tight end now or perhaps a pass rusher on defense. His arms suggest he has been lifting something heavier than a leather football.

And he has. While he looks as though he must have added 20 pounds, Fromm actually weighs exactly what he did last season for the Georgia Bulldogs as a freshman at 225 pounds. That’s according to his father.

“He’s more cut up,” Emerson Fromm said. “I hadn’t seen him in about two months until he came home recently [for spring break], and you can definitely tell a difference. But you have to remember, he’s been doing Georgia’s weight program for over a year now. He’s stronger, for sure, but he’s actually the same weight. Just cut more.”

Now a sophomore, Fromm returns to the Bulldogs after playing in all 15 games and starting the last 14. You probably recall that he played pretty well.

Fromm led Georgia to a 13-2 record, an SEC championship and an appearance in the National Championship Game. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama 26-23 in overtime and finished with a final ranking of No. 2.

But that was last year, and this is this year. As coach Kirby Smart points out, no starting position is guaranteed. That, we’re told, extends to the quarterback position.

Much of the buzz surrounding the 2018 spring practice session – which begins with the first of 15 practices Tuesday – surrounds the perceived competition at quarterback. Georgia signed the No. 2 player in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite: quarterback Justin Fields of Kennesaw.

A consensus 5-star prospect, Fields is different from Fromm. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Fields is slightly taller, and he runs the football like a tailback. He recorded 2,096 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns in two years as a starting quarterback in high school. But he can throw the ball, too, as his 4,187 passing yards and 41 touchdowns attest.

Fields’ presence and the threat of losing his starting position would seem to be the impetus for Fromm to work as hard as he has since Georgia’s 2018 season ended on Jan. 8. But that’s not Fromm’s motivation, his father said.

“People are saying that, but Jake competes with himself,” Emerson Fromm said. “That’s what he’s always said. Jake aspires to be great. To be great, you’ve got to be getting better all the time. So that’s where he’s been putting all his energy — on getting better.

“So I don’t want this to come out the wrong way. He’s not worried about Justin. He’s worried about Jake. He doesn’t look at it like a competition.”

Indeed, Fromm has gone about this offseason pretty much the way he has all the other ones since he dedicated himself to being a quarterback. The exception is Georgia’s offseason strength and conditioning program, overseen by director Scott Sinclair and his staff, and the closely monitored sports nutrition program. Those, Fromm’s father acknowledges, make a difference physically.

As for what he does on his own, Fromm once again used spring break to consult with David Morris of QB Country. Fromm has trained under the respected quarterback guru, who is based in Mobile, Ala., since he was “13 or 14” years old, according to his father.

Fromm worked with Morris in Mobile during the first four days of his spring break, joined by younger brothers Dylan and Tyler Fromm. But he didn’t spend the entire week in football-grind mode. Fromm went to the beach twice while in Alabama, then he hunted and fished his way back home to Warner Robins. After a brief visit with his parents, Fromm returned to Athens last weekend to make sure he was ready for the start of spring practice.

Smart, just as he did last year when Fromm was the new kid in camp and Jacob Eason was the incumbent starter, surely will characterize quarterback as an open competition like all the other positions during spring practice. But the fact is, it’s hard to imagine Fromm being unseated as starter by anything other than an injury.

Everybody knows Fromm played well after replacing an injured Eason during the third series of the 2017 season opener. Georgia won all but two games with Fromm as the starter, and he completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,615 yards with 24 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Fromm also ran for 3 touchdowns. And while he had only 79 rushing yards on 55 attempts — a number that includes being sacked 20 times — Fromm displayed a knack for keeping the ball on zone-read plays in exactly the right moments.

But when his performance is broken down in greater detail, Fromm played even better than cumulative statistics or the win-loss record suggest. For instance, he was ninth in the nation in what ESPN calls Total QBR. That statistic takes into account what a quarterback does on a play-by-play level, including down, distance, field position, clock and score. Measured on a 100-point scale, Fromm’s score of 81.1 stands fourth among returning quarterbacks, and within 2 points of Nos. 2 and 3, UCF’s McKenzie Milton (82.5) and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts (82.1).

Those who followed Georgia closely last season won’t find this a surprise, but Fromm did his best work on third and fourth downs, as well as in the fourth quarter. His quarterback efficiency rating rose from 160.1 to 185.02 in the fourth quarter. He had a rating of 145.6 on third- or fourth-down and 9 or more yards, was 176.5 on third or fourth down with 3 to 8 yards to go, and an incredible 298.9 on third or fourth down and 1 to 2 yards to go.

That’s where the narrative that the Bulldogs might consider a third-down package for Fields loses some validity. Certainly, Georgia will get Fields ready to play since he’s the only other quarterback on scholarship, and it follows that they will install a package that will take advantage of his unique skills and strengths. But, based on Fromm’s work last season, it doesn’t make sense that the Bulldogs would substitute for him on the most important downs and distances.

Meanwhile, all the aforementioned data is based on what Fromm did last season. Based on what we’ve seen and heard from the sophomore from Houston County, he doesn’t plan on coming back as the same quarterback we saw a year ago.

“Maybe he won’t improve; maybe he’ll stay right where’s he’s at,” Emerson Fromm said of his oldest son. “But that’s never been the case before with Jake. He has always worked hard and sacrificed every day in an effort to get better. And that’s what he’s thinking about this year, just being better than he was last year.”

That has been the message from Fromm on the rare occasions we’ve heard from him since the Bulldogs left Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the loss in the National Championship Game 10 weeks ago. Fromm talked about spring practice and the April 21 G-Day Game that will punctuate the month-long practice period on a video released by UGA last weekend.

“We’re going to come back and we’re going to be working hard. We already are,” Fromm said. “We’re excited for this season and guys are stepping up. We’re not going anywhere.”

Least of all, Fromm — or so it would seem.

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