ATHENS, Ga. — Jacob Eason made a big change this spring. After a year at Georgia, and a freshman season that was solid but revealed some flaws, Eason did what had to be done.
He cut his hair. The shoulder-length locks are gone, replaced by a more traditional close crop.
“I knew he was going to end up cutting it,” receiver Javon Wims said. “It’s very hot down in the south. We’re not in Washington (state) with the waves and beach and everything.”
Yes, Georgia’s starting quarterback is working on other, actual football-related changes this spring as well. And by all accounts he’s getting more comfortable at this level, after the usual rough moments he encountered as a true freshman starter.
“He’s got a long way to go. But he’s come a long way,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said this week.
Eason said last December that he needed to work on the “little things” including footwork, looking at progressions, and reading coverage. Those are things that happen during plays. Now coaches, more confident in Eason’s knowledge of the system, are throwing more between-plays adjustments at him: the ability to audible more easily on his own, and to run plays more quickly.
“He understands the protection now. Whereas last year there were times that he did, times that he didn’t. And there was a lot on his plate,” Smart said. “To manage that offense, it’s challenging coming straight in from high school. I think he’s in a better place, he’s more confident, he’s throwing the ball good.”
Eason came to Georgia with so much hype, seen as the savior of the offense. And while his stats (16 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 2,430 passing yards) were fairly good for a true freshman, the end result was still an offense that struggled.
Some of that could be put on Eason’s plate. His completion percentage of 55.1 must improve this season, and he was probably lucky only to have eight interceptions.
But Wims, who came in with Eason last year as a junior college transfer, cautioned that it should have come with the territory.
“It was everybody’s new year with new coaches, a new system, you have to understand Jacob was only 18, and he was supposed to be in high school, pretty much,” Wims said. “That’s a huge responsibility to come into the SEC and start, and have the keys to a very nice car while you’re 18. But now he’s got a year under his belt, we know what to expect, and we’re just going out there to work.”
Jacob Eason was seventh in the SEC in pass efficiency rating last season. (JEFF SENTELL)
This spring has been diametrically different for Eason, who hasn’t been available for interviews yet. Last year he was the true freshman competing with a fifth-year senior and a fourth-year junior. Now he’s the veteran, with the only other scholarship quarterback being true freshman Jake Fromm.
Smart is talking up the competition between the two, and Fromm indeed draws raves for how quickly he picked up the offense. It helps that he came from a similar offense in high school, unlike Eason, who went from a more spread and shotgun-oriented offense to Georgia’s pro style.
Now, instead of his head swimming, Eason appears relatively caught up and capable of adding material. Smart said coaches also added formations and other tweaks on offense.
“Things that Jacob can handle now, and being able to do a little more things. And being able to open things up to run the ball as well as throw the ball,” Smart said. “Give him some options to check into and out of things.”
The goal is to make quarterback go from a focus of concern to an aid. Georgia’s offensive line and receivers are now the big question marks this spring, and perhaps Eason can alleviate those concerns, especially the latter.
“I think we’ve still got a ways to go at wideout,” Smart said. “But Jacob helps those guys, putting the ball in the right spots.”
Overall we’re not where we need to be on defense. And we’ve got some young players on offense who are starting to play better.