Georgia’s most important players of 2016: The quarterback that doesn’t start
ATHENS — Maybe Jacob Eason runs away with the quarterback competition and starts Georgia’s opener against North Carolina. Or maybe he doesn’t and the Bulldogs go with one of their two veterans on the roster, Greyson Lambert or Brice Ramsey. Or maybe Eason does get the nod in Game One, falters badly, and now they have to turn back to Lambert or Ramsey.
Any of those scenarios underscore the importance of whomever ends up being the understudy at quarterback for Georgia this season. No matter who ultimately gets the starting job at the beginning of the year, somebody better be ready to step in and they better be better than adequate. Otherwise, the Bulldogs could see their season run off the rails before it really gets going.
Odds are good that Eason will eventually become Georgia’s quarterback, whether it be in the first game or the sixth or toward the end of the season. His G-Day performance and recruiting pedigree indicate that. For that reason, there’s a chance you may read about him later in this 12-part series on the Bulldogs’ most important players (wink-wink).
But whether it be due to poor performances or injuries, odds are this critical position will be one that endures a great deal of flux in 2016. There is a strong possibility that all three quarterbacks will play this season, often if not on a regular basis.
The fact is, as far as options go, the Bulldogs are as blessed as any team in the conference in that regard. Lambert, a senior, has played in 28 games in his career. He has started 21 of them, including 12 of Georgia’s 13 last year, 10 of them victories. That’s a lot of game-day experience and success. And even though he hasn’t started in his career, Ramsey has been on the field a lot. He’s 21 years old now and has participated in 19 games. Having punted in several of those and in some critical situations, he should no longer be overwhelmed by any situation.
And now, for the requisite reminder: This is not a ranking of the team’s best players. It’s 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 certain positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
No. 12 was return specialist-receiver Isaiah McKenzie.
No. 10 was inside linebacker Reggie Carter.
No. 9 was safety Dominick Sanders.
No. 8 was the OLB combination of Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter.
No. 7 was tailback Sony Michel.
No. 6 was offensive tackle Tyler Catalina.
5. GREYSON LAMBERT AND BRICE RAMSEY
Senior and junior, respectively
WHY HE’S VITAL: No matter who ultimately wins the quarterback competition for Georgia in preseason camp and comes into the first game as the starter, that individual best not get too comfortable — nor should the men that occupy the spots immediately behind him. One can be sure that offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney will have a quick trigger if things aren’t going well. Georgia’s schedule is set up in such a way — with five of the first six games against Power 5 teams, four of them SEC games and four of them away from Sanford Stadium — that it can’t afford to tolerate mediocre play at the most important position on the field. For that reason, all three quarterbacks would be well-advised to stay sharp and on top of their games not just throughout the camp, but well into the season.
QUOTABLE: “I recruited at Bama from down in Wayne County. I got to go down and see him and be around him. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s grown up a lot. He has a lot of experiences from ACC to SEC, so he is a definitely a tenured quarterback. It’s not really about the competition with him. He’s worried about himself.” — Georgia head coach Kirby Smart on Greyson Lambert
BEST CASE: Eason comes through and plays the way everybody believes he is capable. In that scenario, the Bulldogs once again can boast one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and settle on the business of building their pro-style offense around him. That would also give Georgia some of the best depth in the league, with a 21-game starter in Lambert at the ready should he be needed.
WORST CASE: The Bulldogs’ starting quarterback position ends up having a revolving door on it and the offense never settles on an established leader. If Eason or Lambert have any shortcomings — and Ramsey, to a lesser degree — it’s mobility. That’s not good news with Georgia breaking in new offensive tackles on both ends of the line of scrimmage. That could mean a lot of sacks, a lot of turnovers and possible injuries to the quarterback.
FINAL WORD: Georgia has had this scenario many times in the past, a hotshot freshman quarterback coming in with more experienced less dynamic veterans already in place ahead of them. And this is the way it usually goes: The veteran gets the starting call in the early games due to a stronger grasp of the concepts and playbook, while the coaches pick and choose spots to insert the talented rookie to get experience and get used to the speed of the game while having some success and maintaining confidence. Freshman Eric Zeier didn’t start until the sixth game of he 1991 season while senior Greg Talley started the first five. Likewise, in 2006, senior Joe Tereshinski III started the first two games before being sidelined by injury. Freshman Matthew Stafford started the next two but was benched in favor of Joe Cox and then Tereshinski again before taking over for good in Game 8. Look for the Bulldogs to go with Lambert early but play Eason a lot until they feel comfortable with his ability to lead the offense.