ATHENS — The questions about Jacob Eason when he arrived at Georgia weren’t about his talent. It was how hard he would work off the field, how he would pick up the complexities of a college offense, and when he’d be able to manage an offense from play to play.
Last year, when Eason was thrown in as a true freshman, there were rough moments. That was to be expected. This year, however, sets up as the real test: Has he made a big move as a sophomore?
So far, the outlook is promising.
“I feel better,” Eason said last week. “I feel I actually know where I’m going with the ball, that I can make some checks and all that good stuff. So I feel a whole lot better than last year.”
That was two days before Georgia’s first spring scrimmage, when coach Kirby Smart seemed pleased with what he saw.
“He understands when the call comes in, ‘I’m looking for this, this and this.’ Where it used to be, ‘What is this call and what do I do?’ So, he’s come a long way,” Smart said. “He’s more confident in the pocket, more confident in the protections. His decision making is better and his accuracy has been better.”
Quarterback isn’t a position, at least at a pro-style offense like Georgia, where you can just go out and win on your arm alone. Even last spring, when Eason showed out on G-Day with the touch on his throws and accuracy, the big question — how he would manage the offense — remained uncertain.
That was the main reason fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert started the season opener against North Carolina. Eason subbed in and helped lead Georgia to the victory. Then with a weaker opponent the next week, Eason was given the starting job. But when he and the Bulldogs suddenly found themselves in a close game late against Nicholls State, it was Lambert who was summoned to seal the win.
From then on, however, it was Eason’s job, for better or worse. The main struggle came when Georgia used Eason under center, where Eason wasn’t as comfortable, having played in the shotgun and spread in high school.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, speaking a couple days before the Liberty Bowl win, said he thought “the game started slowing down for Jacob around Game 8.” That was the loss to Florida. Over the next five games, Eason’s completion percentage went up (to 59 percent from 53 percent) and Georgia went 4-1.
“He learned to work throughout the fall,” Chaney said. “It was early on. It got good, then it got better and it got better. I think he’s seen the benefits from outworking his issues. I always say outwork your fleas and if you are not sure of it go work on it and that’s what he has done.”
Chaney also said that “Jacob’s growth and development from underneath center and seeing defenses is the key for us.”
Eason was asked last week if there was anything, other than the win-loss record, that he was disappointed in.
“Well there’s a lot of things I could have improved on,” Eason said. “A lot of people say, oh he’s a freshman, this and that, but from a personal scale I want to be the best I can be myself. So there’s a lot of things I could look on, like did I not spend enough time in the film room, did I do all this, did I do all that. But you look back on that and that’s what you use going forward to learn from.”
The part about the film room can be key. Every quarterback who has started at Georgia this decade has been known as a film room rat: Aaron Murray, Hutson Mason and Lambert. The reports last year were that Eason was putting in the film room work too, though his comments would indicate he wishes he had put in a bit more.
Either way, the coaches evidently felt confident enough in Eason’s maturation to add elements to the playbook: Run-pass options, and increasing Eason’s ability to audible plays on the field. Both of those are relative to Eason’s ability to read a defense before and during a play.
Eason said that last year he had some ability to make those checks at the line. But this year he’ll be more comfortable doing that.
“Yeah, obviously coming from experience is the big thing, they’re giving me a lot more control with that,” Eason said. “I feel a lot more comfortable with that than I would have last year. Because last year I was still trying to figure out which way to turn when I got a handoff and all that stuff. So this year there’s a lot more comfort in doing a lot of different things.”
G-Day is scheduled for April 22. Georgia’s spring game kicks off at 2 p.m. ET and will be televised on SEC Network.