ATHENS — No longer the shiny new object, but still very much a source of curiosity, Jacob Eason was enveloped by a media horde on Thursday night and was asked how different this felt.
“Versus last year at this time? It’s a whole new world,” Eason said.
Since last spring, Eason has gone from 5-star recruit and savior of the offense, to incumbent starter who wasn’t the immediate savior, and has things to improve on, but showed flashes of that star potential.
Now it’s a matter of making small fixes and using what he learned.
“I was still learning how to become a quarterback last year,” Eason said. “And I still am. I still have a long ways to go. But there’s a comfort that comes along with it that goes a long way in giving you the confidence to make plays, make checks and all that stuff.”
Eason has drawn praise this spring from teammates and coach Kirby Smart for his increased knowledge and leadership. The team’s hope is that it translates to a much smoother-running offense, and a breakout season for its quarterback.
Last year, Eason’s arm lived up to the hype, but his accuracy (55.1 completion percentage) and consistency (29 passing yards one week, 346 the next) needed work. While Eason’s overall stats were still good (2,430 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions), Georgia’s offense still struggled overall, ranking 97th nationally in passing yards. For Eason, there was a clear adjustment to the college game.
“A lot of that last year was just the playbook, coming from a high school spread offense, being under center was a big part for me. Learning how to take a snap under center, making reads against an SEC defense,” Eason said. “You know this year I have that season under my belt, going from that inexperience I [had] last year to this year is a huge deal.”
It’s a small sample, but this spring there have been instances at practice where Eason is the one directing his receivers, explaining a route, or showing freshman quarterback Jake Fromm how a play is done. It’s a visible contrast from last season, when Eason spent a good amount of games looking to the sideline, waiting to be shown what to do.
Receiver Terry Godwin, a rising junior, said he’s noticed a difference.
“I would say probably in his freshman year he was probably a little bit antsy, and nervous and all that. But I feel like he’s calmed down, he knows the playbook like the back of his hand,” Godwin said. “He tells me when I’m wrong, and some of the receivers, that’s the kind of quarterback you want.”
Then there’s the competition factor.
Last spring, Eason was the new guy, competing with a fifth-year senior and incumbent starter (Greyson Lambert) and a fourth-year junior (Brice Ramsey). It took until the second game of the season, but Eason did win the job, and never relinquished it.
Now Eason is the grizzled veteran, at least compared to Fromm, who enrolled early. Ramsey has elected to transfer, though he’s still helping the team by throwing in practice drills. Lambert, who has earned his master’s degree and is off to the real world, has remained in touch with Eason, who credits Lambert with helping his transition.
Smart has talked up the competition this spring between Fromm and Eason, as if there’s a chance Fromm really could yank the job away. Eason was asked if this felt like a real competition again.
“Yeah. I mean there’s always a competition every year, no matter who’s there,” Eason said. “I feel like Jake’s coming in, he’s a great kid, like I said before, and I’m looking forward to the next couple years with him.”
Did Eason need a push in order to get better and study harder? Eason started answering the question before the sentence was finished, his answer seeming pre-ordained.
“I think competition makes everyone better,” he said. “But having that guy there that’s pushing you in the butt, that’s definitely something you’re aware of. But ultimately it’s on yourself to get out of yourself what you want to get out.”