Georgia’s most important players of 2016: How long until launch for Jacob Eason?

Quarterback Jacob Eason (10) throws a pass during the fourth quarter of the G-Day Game. The strong outing will only increase fans' desire to see Eason be named the team's starter.

ATHENS – Everything about Jacob Eason is long. His hair is long. His body is long. He throws the long ball. His bio in the Georgia football media guide is long. Twenty-three lines, in fact, more than any other freshman in there. It takes a lot of space to list all those accomplishments and accolades.

The Bulldogs expect Eason to a have a long and productive college career, too. The only question is when it will get started on the football field. That has become a matter of great debate.

Jacob Eason’s glamorous looks only add to the fervor over the belief that he is a superstar in the making.

It’s a complex scenario, for sure. Georgia’s schedule is not exactly ideal for breaking in a rookie quarterback. It includes an opener against a North Carolina team that won 11 games last year and four of the first six contests will be played away from Sanford Stadium, mostly against very stout opponents.

And it’s not like senior Greyson Lambert, the incumbent starter, has been a detriment to the team. The Bulldogs won 10 of the 12 games he started last season after he transferred in mid-summer. What Lambert may lack in play-making ability and arm talent, he makes up for in game-management and play-call acumen.

But if the Bulldogs are to get back to where they traditionally have been offensively — that is, atop the SEC in points scored and total yardage — they have to resurrect the passing game. And Eason represents the best option for doing that.

When Georgia was annually among the leaders in scoring in the SEC, they always had a dynamic passing game. From 2007 to 2014, the Bulldogs always put up at least 2,500 yards passing, and usually well over 3,000 yards. Even when Georgia was rolling with its run game behind Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in 2013, the offense threw for 4,085 yards.

Last year that slipped to 2,406 yards. So did scoring, to 26.3 points per game.

And now, with Georgia’s mounting uncertainty about its tailback position due to Nick Chubb’s prolonged recovery and Sony Michel’s recent accident, getting dynamic play at quarterback seems even more crucial. So if Eason can indeed prove to be a more effective passer than anybody else on the roster — and there is mounting evidence that he can — there is little reason to think he won’t be the best option at quarterback for the Bulldogs.

He’s certainly doing everything in his power become that. Long known as “Skinny” as he rose through the recruiting ranks in Lake Stevens, Wash., Eason now has 242 pounds on a nearly 6-foot-6 frame. That’s 30 pounds heavier than what he weighed when he enrolled in January.

And he has worked tirelessly with new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and his offensive teammates since showing up. His spring practice work and electrifying G-Day Game performance are well-documented, but it’s the unseen voluntary and team-organized work Eason has been getting in this summer that is making a difference at this point.

“Jacob feels extremely fortunate to be where he is at,” his father, Tony Eason, told DawgNation this week.  “After being on campus for six months, he has adjusted to the college life, which is a grind that never ends.  He really likes Chaney and is like a sponge, trying to learn the game from him.  He is focused on getting better everyday, one step at a time.”

Again, the complexity comes in the timing. Eric Zeier (1991) and Matthew Stafford (2006) were the closest examples Georgia has of incoming freshmen and early enrollees that clearly had more arm talent than their upperclassman predecessors. In both cases they played but did not start until later in the season and those weren’t championship seasons.

Could Eason be the exception? Everything about him has been exceptional so far. And long.

Reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players, so to speak. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success in 2016 based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at their positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

Other important players examined in this series were:

No. 12 was return specialist-receiver Isaiah McKenzie.

No. 11 was the place-kicker to be named in August. 

No. 10 was inside linebacker Reggie Carter.

No. 9 was safety Dominick Sanders.

And now for second-most important player for the Bulldogs in 2016 …

2. Jacob Eason

Freshman

Quarterback

WHY HE’S VITAL:

Few programs can boast two veterans already in the fold who have been on the field as much as Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey, so Georgia has depth at the quarterback position. Even the Bulldogs’ two walkons at the position are impressive. But what those players possess in pragmatic skills, they lack in the area of dynamism. All indications are that Eason’s cup runs over in that department, especially when it comes to passing the football. And if Georgia wants to get back to being the scoring juggernaut it was from 2007-13, it has to get back to passing for 2,500-plus yards. Eason represents the best option for doing that, especially in light of recent negative developments at tailback.

QUOTABLE:

“I don’t think he knew there was 93,000 fans out there, because he sure didn’t act like he cared. He executed the offense, went out and did what he had to do. He’s a very level-headed kid. So for him to do that was good.” – Georgia coach Kirby Smart after Eason’s 244-yard passing performance in the G-Day Game.

BEST CASE:

Eason is as good as advertised, which would qualify as something bordering on other-worldly. Zeier and Stafford were each wildly hyped before they ever took a snap for the Bulldogs, and perhaps Quincy Carter to a lesser extent, and each eventually lived up to it. Eason becomes the latest prolific passing quarterback rip up the UGA record book and lead the Bulldogs back into the national spotlight.

WORST CASE:

Eason gets thrown into the fire early, becomes overwhelmed by his situation and then loses his confidence for the rest of his freshman year. As a result, the quarterback competition resumes and lingers throughout the season, which in turn impacts the team’s belief and confidence in whichever quarterback ends up being on the field the most.

FINAL WORD:

Jacob Eason is going to end up as Georgia’s starting quarterback this season, the only question is when. The Bulldogs’ schedule is not exactly conducive to breaking in a rookie starter. They open against what was an 11-win team last year in North Carolina at the Georgia Dome and play four of the first six games and six of the first nine away from Sanford Stadium. So it’s not ideal. But Eason has done nothing but live up to his hype at each stage of his career to date. He’s the most talented quarterback Georgia has and, in the end, talent always wins out at this level.

 

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