ATHENS – It was one thing for Jacob Eason, upon arrival at Georgia, to know he would have a lot to learn to be a starting quarterback in the SEC. It was quite another to actually go through learning it.
Eason’s head was on a metaphorical swivel. He was constantly going to his coaches and veterans to make sure he did the right thing. He would look out to throw the ball to a receiver, but he wouldn’t be there.
“It was difficult because the playbook’s so big,” Eason said. “You’re trying to figure out where the receivers are going to go, not where they’re going to start. You know, trying to figure out where you want to throw the ball, versus what you’re seeing on defense.”
The result was an uneven freshman season – though not an unexpected one, and statistically not a bad one. (He passed for 2,430 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.) There were flashes of greatness, moments of unease – for Eason and Georgia fans – but mostly a foundation to build on.
“Last year I was a younger guy, I was still trying to learn the offense on the fly, I was trying to keep my head above the water in that aspect of it,” Eason said after Monday’s preseason practice. “This year I have more comfort in our schemes and our playbooks. So I feel like I can line guys up, I can tell them what to do, I can help them out when they run a wrong route, and that kind of thing.”
Another difference this year: Eason isn’t embroiled in a competition for the starting job. Freshman Jake Fromm has given him a bit of a competitive push, especially in the film room. But Kirby Smart has made clear that Eason is the starter, barring injury or poor performance.
It’s Eason’s job to make sure the latter doesn’t happen. To that end, a checklist emerges:
- Better completion percentage: Last year Eason was at 55.1 percent. Asked how to fix that, Eason points to a number of items: Looking at the rush, seeing what he’s supposed to see, not having his eyes in the wrong spot. “That all results in being late on the throw, or being off-balance, or that kind of thing,” Eason said.
- Better chemistry with the receivers. That comes mainly with experience on both side. Eason said he also did a lot of work this summer with his receivers, working on seeing when and how they were going to break, and be more in tune with their speed. The little things others may not think about. “The timing’s gotten better,” Eason said. “I’ve gotten more in tune with when they’re going to break on routes and stuff.”
- Reading and reacting to the defense. This also comes with experience, namely the 12 starts that Eason made last year, and the 370 passes. Eason said he spent time in the film room this offseason studying “each individual concept coverage-wise,” both with Georgia’s offense and the different types of defenses.
Eason’s size (6-foot-5 and arm talent (very strong) have never been the question. It’s why he was a ballyhooed five-star recruit. The question was the intangibles and adjustment to the SEC.
“I’ll tell you what, there is not much he can’t do when it comes to throwing a football,” said Jim Chaney, Georgia’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “Every day he works more and more things with changing plays and letting him have more freedom. He is not Drew Brees, he’s not in his 16th or 18th year, or whatever year he’s in – he can’t call the whole ball game, but he’s learning more and he’s getting more power within the offense as we go. I’d say his limitations are how big a scope of offense you go right now while he is still a work in progress.”
How much progress Eason makes will have a huge impact on Georgia’s season. When anyone previews the Bulldogs this year, they assume some improvement in Year 2 for Eason. It’s a matter of how much.
Eason, speaking with the media on Monday for the first time this preseason, didn’t set any specific benchmarks, individually. He gave the normal quotes about just trying to win, get better every day, etc.
But he was most candid when admitting to the difference between last year and now. He did some things wrong, Eason admitted, but also some things right. Most importantly, he has that experience. He goes into this year knowing exactly what to expect.
“Having that year under my belt, already knowing where they’re going to go, seeing what the defense is going to give me,” Eason said. “Now I’ve got to figure out where they’re going to line up, now I’ve got to figure out the motions and shifts and that kind of stuff. That year definitely helped, and we’re still a work in progress. But I think we’re going to be good this year.”