ATHENS —If freshman quarterback Justin Fields transfers from Georgia, as recent reports have speculated, it would be hard to blame Kirby Smart.
The Bulldogs head coach has seen to it that Fields has had every opportunity to compete for the position and earn playing time, even at the expense of incumbent Jake Fromm.
SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears said earlier this month that Georgia actually hurt itself by using Fields in the SEC title game and in other games when Fromm was on a roll.
“When you get into the mindset as a coach that I’ve got to coddle this guy to make sure he’s not going to leave, you start setting yourself up for disaster,” Spears said. “So when you look at how they tried to keep (Fields) involved, I think it hurt them at times during the season.”
Smart acknowledged the growing trend of quarterbacks moving around with the NCAA easing stipulations for immediate eligibility after transferring.
“It’s tough keeping them around,” Smart said at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. “It’s a me-now society, they want the self- gratification.
“It’s different than any position on the team, because every other position on the team, other than maybe kicker, they know they can have another role (special teams).”
Smart was so sensitive to Fields that he didn’t name a starting quarterback — Fromm just took the field first in the opener — and he didn’t allow Fromm to talk with the media throughout fall camp until the week of the opening game.
It was clear that Fields would have every opportunity to win the job and be on a level playing field with a quarterback who had led Georgia to an SEC championship and national title game appearance.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney indicated the Bulldogs were leaving the door open for a two-quarterback system at the start of fall camp if Fields’ play warranted as much.
“You don’t rule anything out,” Chaney surmised, pointing out it would ultimately be Smart’s decision when asked about the potential for both quarterbacks to play regularly in each game.
Georgia ultimately settled on a plan of not having a plan — that is, Fields’ playing time would be managed on a game-by-game and situational basis.
“The plan is there is no plan,” Smart famously said after Georgia beat Tennessee 38-12 on Sept. 29 despite Fromm having the worst game of his career to that point.
“We don’t know how the game is going to go …. If you sit here and think that we know exactly when Justin’s going to go in or when Jake’s going to go in going into the game — the third series (or) the fourth snap of the second quarter — the game just doesn’t work like that,” Smart said.
“We don’t know how they’re going to play us, what front they’re going to play us in, the pressures they’re going to run. A lot of that is determined in-game.”
Smart has felt confident throughout the season that Fields is improving and comfortable with the competitive aspect of his role.
Fields tweeted out “trust the process” after not playing in Georgia’s pivotal 36-17 win over Florida in a game Fromm starred.
Fields played the next week at Kentucky, converting on two third downs and two short-yardage runs, and earning praise from Smart.
“I told our guys, here’s a guy who didn’t play a snap last week, (but) you didn’t hear anything out of him, all he did is come out and work this week,” Smart said after the win at Kentucky, asked about trusting Fields enough to enter him into the pivotal road game with the season on the line.
“I thought he had his best practice of the year on Tuesday and he had a good practice on Wednesday. I told them, I said, ‘Man, this guy’s practicing. He’s buying in, he’s positive, cheering on the sideline and he goes in and plays well.’ “
That buy-in is now in question with the USA Today report, even though a Fields’ family member said no decision has been made.
Smart was asked at the spring meetings what he would say to a back-up quarterback considering transferring.
“I would argue if you are a parent of a quarterback, you’d say ‘You know what? Where will my son get the best development?’ “ Smart said. “Where is he going to learn to play the position and sit in a meeting room and learn the protections?”
Fromm has learned those things well, ranking 3rd in the nation in passing efficiency behind the top two Heisman Trophy vote-getters, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa with a gaudy 68.4 percent completion percentage.
Only time will tell if Fields will continue to learn the quarterback game at Georgia.
Smart has been asked about how he plans to play the two quarterbacks on a weekly basis.
Ironically enough, Monday’s press conference in Athens was the first time it hadn’t come up.
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