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Chamberlain Smith / UGA Sports
Jamie Newman is opting out three weeks before the start of the season at Georgia.

How Jamie Newman went from offseason Heisman Trophy candidate to opt out

ATHENS — Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken had spent more than seven months with Jamie Newman when asked last week to assess the QB competition.

“Open,” was the word Monken chose, after all that time, all those Zoom calls, all that film observation of the 22-year-old Wake Forest graduate transfer.

This, even though the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Newman was the only healthy quarterback on the roster with a season of starting experience behind him.

RELATED: Jamie Newman makes shocking decision to opt out

The Daniels factor

USC transfer JT Daniels, who tore his ACL in last season’s opening game, has yet to be cleared for game action and remains in a knee brace.

Daniels, nevertheless, has been healthy enough to scrimmage and is now the projected starting quarterback for Georgia’s opening game at Arkansas on Sept. 26.

There was a reason Daniels chose Athens as his transfer destination in May, rejecting quarterback hungry schools like Michigan, Tennessee and Washington.

Monken obviously liked Daniels, and Daniels obviously likes and feels like he’s a good fit for the offense Monken plans to run at Georgia.

Red flags

Even before Daniels arrived at UGA in June, there were red flags that maybe Newman wasn’t clicking as expected.

Some suggested redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis — not Newman — demonstrated the most arm talent in voluntary 7-on-7 drills during winter conditioning.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said in April that “we still don’t know what we have” at quarterback, which seemed like a curious statement to make at that time.

Not long after, there were reports of a “disconnect” of sorts between Newman and the detailed-oriented Monken on Zoom calls, back when that was the only medium for contact.

Still, Newman seemed positioned to win the starting job, and quickly impressed Smart after the players had arrived back on campus for voluntary workouts in June.

RELATED: Social media reacts to Jamie Newman’s decision to leave 

Showing leadership

The buzz word for Smart when it comes to his quarterbacks is “leadership.” He looks for players that command respect and instill confidence in teammates.

Newman had proven to Smart he could do just that after the first month of voluntary workouts.

“The first thing that pops out at you is his leadership ability,” Smart said in a podcast interview that ran during the team’s break over the July 4 holiday weekend.

“He came into a situation where he doesn’t know a lot of guys on the team, but that hasn’t hindered his ability to lead.”

Newman’s confidence was running high in July. He compared himself to former NFL stars Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Cam Newton.

The hype was quickly building, some predicting Newman among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, others throwing faux first-round NFL draft grades in his direction.

The squeeze

Georgia opened fall drills with eight quarterbacks on the team, five on scholarship. It was inevitable someone was going to leave.

No one anticipated it would be Newman. At least, not before the season had even started.

But the expectations were becoming enormous, and Monken chose to address the need for whoever was playing quarterback to handle the mounting distractions.

Accuracy, mental toughness and athleticism, Monken said, were his priorities for quarterback attributes.

Both Newman and Daniels threw interceptions in last Saturday’s scrimmage working against a defense that held little back, packing the box with defenders and putting the quarterbacks under pressure to see how they would react.

Justin Fields, who trained alongside Newman this summer with renowned quarterback trainer Quincy Avery, was there to see how his new friend fared.

Newman leads

Newman, many believed, did as well as anyone in the scrimmage and seemed poised to continue his run for starting duties.

Of course, things might have looked different under the microscope of film study.

Bottom line, the quarterback competition was by no means settled. It remained tight at a time where the businessman in Newman may have needed more assurances.

“I don’t think anyone has separated if that’s what you’re asking,” Smart said after last Saturday’s scrimmage. “As far as the time table for that, I don’t have a time table for that.”

It’s worth noting Smart never did name Jake Fromm the starter over Justin Fields in 2018, to the point of not releasing a depth chart before the first game.

Smart’s take was, Fromm and Fields would continue to compete each week of the season.

That’s likely where the Newman-Daniels competition was headed, too.

Parting shots

Newman said in his statement that “due to the uncertainties of this year amid a global pandemic,” he was opting out.

The juice was no longer worth the squeeze.

Just as many predicted, one of the scholarship quarterbacks would not make it to the first game of the season.

To be fair, it’s the safe play for Newman all the way around.

In addition to the COVID-19 threat, the physical rigors of a 10-game SEC schedule are very real.  Only four of 14 SEC teams had the same quarterback start every game last season.

The daily competition was also very real. From Monken declaring the competition being “open,” to Smart not anointing Newman enough of a team leader to meet with the media, much less project as the starter.

Daniels is only going to get healthier and better. Mathis and Carson Beck continue to fill out physically and learn more about the playbook and the nuances of Monken’s pro-style spread.

Newman leaving Georgia was the right decision, because it’s what Newman wanted to do.

Smart made it clear there were no hard feelings, issuing a press release that made his respect for Newman clear.

“While we will miss him being part of our program, I fully support Jamie’s decision and we will continue to regard him as a Georgia Bulldog,” Smart said.

“Certainly, we wish him nothing but the best in his quest for an NFL career and he knows he will always have a home at UGA.”

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