ATHENS — “There isn’t as much intrigue around quarterback for Georgia as there was last year.”
That was a pre-spring assessment of the Bulldogs quarterback position heading into spring practice last year. You’ll recall that it was sophomore Jacob Eason and freshman Jake Fromm manning the position at the time.
Here was the assessment of coach Kirby Smart a couple of weeks later: “[Eason] has got a little competition going this spring with a young man by the name of Jake Fromm. So that part has helped as well. I think it has been good to have Jake in meetings, and [Eason] realizes that, ‘Hey, this kid is coming up on my tail pretty quick.’”
Of course, we all know now how that one turned out.
Now, since Eason left and transferred to Washington, Georgia, has almost the exact same scenario at quarterback again. Only one of the names has changed.
Fromm is the incumbent, and Justin Fields is the highly touted freshman. At the same point, we’re not hearing quite the buzz about Fields as we did Fromm last year. Then again, we’re only a week into workouts.
“I think it’s a little different because Jake really played more games than Jacob did,” Smart said following practice Saturday, the Bulldogs’ first in full pads and third of the spring. “With the success we had [Fromm] was able to get extra games and he’s picked things up well. And Justin, he’s a very advanced quarterback similar to how Jake was [last spring]. So those guys have done a good job picking it up. I’m extremely pleased with the leadership both of them provide and also with how they kind of push the defense.”
Fromm played all but two meaningful series in Georgia’s 15 games last season. He replaced Eason on the third series of the game in the opener against Appalachian State after Eason injured his left knee. The Bulldogs’ went 13-2 in those games, losing only on the road at Auburn and to Alabama in overtime in the National Championship Game.
Like Fromm, Fields entered UGA as an early enrollee and has participated in every offseason meeting and most physical training. The Harrison High graduate broke a finger on his right hand that ended his senior season in the first round of the state playoffs last November. But he has had no reported setbacks from the injury. In fact, teammates have raved about Fields’ “cannon” of an arm.
But, so far at least, there is not as much talk about Fields “pushing” the incumbent. That might have at least a little something to do with the Bulldogs having what they feel is a reliable No. 3 quarterback at the position as well.
Smart, as he has done often since the second half of last season, made a point to mention walk-on Stetson Bennett when the conversation this past Saturday turned to quarterbacks.
“I don’t know. Last year, with no Brice [Ramsey], you felt like there was not a 3 there that was evident,” Smart said. “I think Stetson, [because of] what he’s done through fall camp, the season being on the scout team and the bowl practices, I feel like we’ve got three guys competing and doing a good job.”
Ramsey ended up returning to complete his final season of eligibility and appeared in four games. Bennett, a 6-foot, 172-pound redshirt freshman from Blackshear, joined the team as an invited walk-on last year and earned praise from coaches and teammates for his elusiveness and ability to simulate the offenses of opponents in scout-team work.
Of course, not being the primary focus of attention is new ground for Fields, as it is for most of Georgia’s incoming players. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback was a consensus 5-star recruiting prospect and one of numerous decorated members of the Bulldogs 2018 recruiting class. In all, Georgia inked 26 new players, who as a group were considered the top-ranked class in the nation. Eight other prospects are like Fields, early enrollees who came to college hoping to get a jump on the competition for playing time.
Early indications are it’s going to be extremely difficult for any of them to earn a starting position. Only Fromm and tackle Andrew Thomas managed to do that from Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class, which was ranked No. 3 in the nation. Only eight of those 25 played regularly.
Defensive back Divaad Wilson was looking like he might be in line for playing time before suffering an ACL injury last Saturday. Outside linebacker Brenton Cox, wide receiver Kearis Jackson and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt have been cited so far as freshmen with the potential to get on the field early. But, again, it doesn’t appear there will be a great number of opportunities for first-year players.
That can be a major adjustment for blue-chip prospects, who are used to being the center of attention whether it be from the standpoint of strategy or fan adulation. But it’s one the Bulldogs are managing.
“I don’t think those guys ever saw themselves as superstars,” Smart said of his star-studded roster. “We certainly didn’t treat them that way and they didn’t behave that way. So nobody in this program plays or practices with [an attitude of] entitlement. That’s my ultimate goal. I’m looking for the entitlement guys every day at practice, to see if they feel that way. I challenge [players] to compete whether we have a ‘superstar’ or what you’d call a ‘first-rounder.’ I don’t know that. I know we’ve got a lot of kids competing and trying hard.”
And that goes for the lettermen as well. Like Fromm, all of Georgia’s returnees are told directly by Smart and his staff that they’re trying to recruit players “to take your position.” Whether they do or don’t, both scenarios are generally good for the team.
They key is that everybody is practicing and competing with the expectation of playing some kind of role this fall.
“I enjoy coaching them,” Smart said. “They’re like sponges; they absorb. So far, they have the eagerness that you’d like to have.”