ATHENS – Justin Fields may end up being the greatest quarterback Georgia has ever had. Barring extenuating circumstances, however, it’s unlikely that will become evident this season.
No doubt that Fields is a special player. That’s clear just from his recruiting profile, his measurables and his accomplishments at Atlanta’s Harrison High. There simply aren’t many people on Earth who are 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds who can move that well, think that well and throw the ball with such effortless authority. The Bulldogs were quite fortunate to pry Fields away from Penn State – the school with which he was early committed — and keep him away from the dozens of suitors who wooed him before he enrolled at UGA last January.
That said, Fields’ primary role this season is to serve as Jake Fromm’s backup. Coach Kirby Smart was remarkably straight forward about that at SEC Football Media Days earlier this summer in Atlanta.
“(Fields) got thrown right into the second row, and he’s taken on the second-team role quickly,” Smart said. “And I’m excited about the things he’s done. He gives us an element in our offense that we don’t have. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
No, Fromm is Georgia’s primary quarterback. He’s the incumbent starter and a proven commodity at that. He has 15 games of live, in-game experience and has performed well on the biggest stages college football has to offer. It’s not Fields’ fault, but it’s unreasonable to think he could overcome such a head start in his first season.
Which is not to say Fields won’t play. On the contrary. Fields WILL play and likely will play as early as the first game. There will be a plan for Fields to see action in every game and it may even develop into a rotation, a la David Greene and D.J. Shockley in the early 2000s. So, a concerted effort will be put on getting Fields up to speed on the playbook and operational intricacies as fast as possible.
“We have two quarterbacks that are both really talented guys,” Smart said. “I am really excited about watching these two guys come out and lead our program and lead their units. They both have grown. … I think Jake and Justin are tremendous assets for our program.”
It’s an uncanny repeat of what we witnessed from Georgia last year. The Bulldogs came into preseason camp with Jacob Eason as the undisputed starter based on 13 games of playing experience the previous year. But Fromm did not let that slow his development. He studied just as hard – some might say harder – in the quarterback meeting room, and competed with all his might during his practice opportunities.
By the time the Bulldogs reached the first game, coaches knew Fromm was game ready. The coaches’ plan was to get him in against Appalachian State in the opener if at all possible.
Little could they have known Fromm’s opportunity would be in the third offensive series after Eason went out with a knee injury. Fromm finished out the game and the season, and the rest is history.
The best-case scenario for Georgia this year would be for Fromm to remain healthy and Fields to continue to develop in a back-up role.
The difference this time around is Fields, who is built like a tailback and can run like one, too, could provide more of a strategic change-up than Fromm could from Eason. So it’s quite possible that the Bulldogs will have a special “Justin Package” it could unleash at any given time.
“He gives us an element in our offense that we don’t have,” Smart acknowledged. “We’re excited to see what he can do.”
Heading into the preseason, questions abounded about the notion of Fields being a redshirt candidate. The NCAA enacted this year a new rule that allow players to appear in as many as four games without losing a year’s eligibility.
Don’t expect Georgia to try to utilize rule to try to squeeze another year out of Fields.
“These kids nowadays, they either can play or they can’t play,” Smart said. “You want to develop and grow them, but by their fourth year they are either ready to leave, graduating or possibly transferring. So, if they can help your team now, you play them now. … We’re looking at what gives us the best chance to win.”
Sounds like playing both Fields and Fromm will Georgia’s best chance of owning the East again.