QBs on QBs: The competition for playing time never ends

David Greene started all four years he played at Georgia but competed with D.J. Shockley for playing time throughout.

ATHENS – The high-profile quarterback competition currently being waged between Greyson Lambert, Jacob Eason and Brice Ramsey is not the first in Georgia annals, nor will it be the last. The fact is, if you’re lucky enough to be recruited to play quarterback at UGA — or any SEC or Power 5 school, for that matter — you can expect to be competing for playing time not just at one point during your career, but throughout it.

“Anytime you go to play at a major university, it’s never going to be your job,” said David Greene, who started for the Bulldogs from 2001-04. “Even if you’re a Heisman Trophy candidate, you’re only as good as your last game. Even if you had a great season the last year, you’ve still got to go out and play.”

The Bulldogs have always recruited well at the quarterback position, but it seems to have been at a particularly high level in the last 20 years or so. In almost every case when that happens, a ballyhooed signee is going to have to outplay an established veteran in order to get onto the field.

We reached out to several former Georgia quarterbacks who have been in that situation to get their thoughts on the Bulldogs’ current situation and how it may be similar or dissimilar to the scenario they encountered while playing football at UGA. Not all of them could be reached right away – Fran Tarkenton is celebrating his wedding anniversary and playing golf in California, for instance – but following are some thoughts from a small sampling of former UGA signalcallers.

RAY GOFF

  • Residence: Watkinsville
  • Starter: 1975-76
  • Competition: Alternated with Matt Robinson

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on Jacob Eason. I think there’s a lot of people that if he doesn’t win every game and a national championship they’re going to be disappointed. People have really high expectations of what he’s going to do, and I think that’s unfair to him. They need to let him play first and then judge him. I’ve not seen him play myself, but obviously everybody talks about him and points to all the great things he did this spring. But, still, he’s a freshman. It’s a unique opportunity to play quarterback at Georgia or anywhere in the SEC or anywhere in college football, for that matter. But, you know, people just need to let him play and see how he does. He’s got some veterans competing with him that have a lot of talent as well and experience is a big factor. So we’ll see how it plays out.”

MATT ROBINSON

  • Residence: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Starter: 1974
  • Competition: Alternated with Goff 1975-76

“Ray and I fought for the job for three years straight. It was interesting, I was eighth on the depth chart in spring of my freshman year. By the third game of that next year, I was the starter. Dicky Clark was the starter the beginning of my sophomore year and he ended up at defensive end. So it was interesting for sure. I had a good sophomore year, but two weeks before the season started my junior year, I broke my rib, Ray took the job and it was hard wrestling it back from him. It became a two-quarterback system at that point. The competition was good and Coach Dooley was convinced I was the thrower and Ray was the runner, even though we came in completely opposite. I ended up being nicknamed “Third-and-Long and Ray ended up All-SEC. But Ray and I were great friends, still are great friends.

“Quarterback competitions are what they are. You get your shots and you better take advantage when you do, because there’s always somebody else sitting there waiting to play. A guy like Eason, you look at him and go, ‘wow, here’s this stud quarterback, here’s a kid if they protect him a little bit as a freshman and given him a good running game, there’s no telling what he could be like his sophomore or junior year. That’s the way I think about it, but that’s just me.”

BUCK BELUE

  • Residence: Cumming
  • Starter: 1980-81
  • Competition: Split time with Jeff Pyburn in 1979

“There are a lot of different elements to this. I’d think most upperclassmen in most cases aren’t really excited about having a freshman quarterback. You know you’re going to have mistakes and things that factor into that and (veterans are) looking to make the most of their last time around. So, I was always sensitive to that. I didn’t want to play poorly and mess it up for the juniors and seniors. But, for me at least, I needed to get in there to see at game time. You know, practice is one thing, it’s different than the games. I needed to play in some games to figure out if I can believe in myself, that I can get it done. Once that happened, once I was able to get that confidence in myself, at that point is when I started thinking about being the starting quarterback. I imagine that’s how Eason is feeling. I don’t care who you are or how much confidence you have, there’s always going to be that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind until you get out on that field an prove to yourself and to everybody else you can help the team win.”

ERIC ZEIER

  • Residence: Marietta
  • Starter: 1991-94
  • Competition: Split time with Greg Talley in ’91

“I might be in a little bit of a different camp, but I actually think that Georgia is in a pretty solid spot now with their quarterbacks. They’ve got a quarterback in Greyson Lambert that won a lot of football games for them last year. While I understand the sentiment and the enthusiasm around Jacob Eason coming in and the little bit of discouragement around some of the numbers that Greyson put up last year, but this I know: When you play quarterback, your job is to go out and win football games, not to just put up numbers. Greyson had some games where he put up phenomenal numbers. South Carolina, for instance, was a game for the ages. But what Greyson did was he took care of the football and played the way his team needed him to play to win football games. Any time you put 10 wins up as a quarterback in the SEC, you’ve got to feel relatively comfortable about the guy that you’ve got under center. Then you look at Bryce, who has tremendous arm strength, tremendous talent, great athlete. And Jacob Eason, in  the brief glimpses that we’ve gotten of him, he looks awfully talented. It looks like all the hype he had coming in, at least to this point, is right on the money. His physical ability and knowledge of the game looks good. So I like where Georgia is at the position.

“Who starts the first game or what that looks like? That’s yet to be determined. But, regardless, of who is out there pulling the trigger for the Bulldogs, if it’s Greyson, it’s someone who is a proven winner who has had success in the past, or it’s the other guys, who have an awful lot of talent. All things considered, I like where we’re positioned at quarterback and I don’t see a lot of concerns there. You’ve got a lot of upside with all three of them really.”

D.J. SHOCKLEY

  • Residence: Duluth
  • Starter: 2005
  • Competition: Split time with David Greene 2003-04

“I’m in the boat that you’ve got an established guy there (in Lambert). He won 10 games last year. I think what people are expecting of a Georgia quarterback and what they’re used to is having a guy that can win a game for you. I think when they look at Greyson they don’t see a guy that’s just going to take over a ballgame. Obviously, Jacob is getting a lot of attention and rightfully so. He’s very talented. But looking at it as a guy who has played in that league and understands the speed of it and everything that goes into playing quarterback in the SEC, it’s going to take some time for him. It’s going to be 10 times faster than the spring game was. They’re going to be able to hit him come Sept. 3rd. North Carolina is not going to care if he’s a freshman or not. They’re going to show him a lot of different looks. Whether he can pick up on that fast is the ultimate question.

“The second biggest part of it for me, I know when I was playing I had so many guys around me who could help me. With all the stuff going on with the run game, not knowing whether Chubb’s going to 100 percent, not knowing if Sony’s going to be back, I think that’s going to weigh in on the decision as well. Because, if you put everything on the 18-year-old kid to come in here right away and be able to put everything on his shoulders, that might be asking a lot out of him right out of the gate. That’s why I think they’ll look at it, like, ‘hey, OK, we’ve got a guy who understands the moment, who understands how big it is.’ And even if he doesn’t have all the help around him, he can still manage that situation. That’s kind of how I look at it. If you don’t have those guys, that’s even more on the quarterback, I don’t care who it is. That’s still pressure on him to carry the load if you don’t have both those backs at 100 percent to help you. I’d rather be in third and four or five than third and nine or 10 if you don’t have a running game.

“I’m sure Jacob is going to play. I think they’ll allow him to come in and get a feel for it. And then if he comes in and takes off with it, well, OK, that’s a whole different story if he’s ready for the moment. But you’ve got to let him get a feel for it. Even Stafford and Zeier, everybody has to get out there and find out what it’s all about. You can be as talented as there is, but that’s a different animal being out there.”

DAVID GREENE

  • Residence: Grayson
  • Starter: 2001-2004
  • Competition: Alternated with Shockley in ’03-04

“I’m kind of in the camp that I think Greyson is a much better player than what a lot of people give him credit for. I think last year, it was a very vanilla offense, for the most part, at least that’s the way it felt. There’s no question, everybody at the spring game could tell, you’ve got a special talent in Jacob Eason. No question that his up side is tremendous. But one of the great things about playing quarterback is it’s a lot more than athletic ability. Greyson has a season under his belt here in Athens and I imagine the game has slowed down enough for him that he probably feels in control and command at this point. What you really want is consistency. You want to know what to expect when a guy gets on the field. I’m not saying Jacob won’t eventually do that. I actually thought Jacob handled himself extremely well in front of 90-something thousand at the spring game.

“Having said that, I think we’re going to be fine. I think the competition is probably made up more in the media and outside the Butts-Mehre than inside. As long as Greyson does a great job and runs the offense the way the coaches want him to, I see him being the guy. The only way I see Jacob getting into the game early or playing early in the season is if we just stall out and we’re just not generating enough offense. But I thought I saw enough from Greyson just in terms of natural ability last year, if he can get into a rhythm and he and Coach Chaney get into a flow and the team has a good mix between run and pass, the formula works. But heck, who knows, you never know how these things are going to play out. But is Greyson talented enough to do it?  He absolutely is.”

MATTHEW STAFFORD

  • Residence: Detroit, Mich.
  • Starter: 2006-08
  • Competition: Split snaps with Joe Tereshinki III and Joe Cox in ‘06

(From visit to Athens this past spring) “I don’t think it’s that much pressure (on Eason). He’s a super-talented kid. As far as comparisons, everybody’s their own player. I’m sure he’s bigger than I am. He probably throws it farther than I can and all that kind of stuff. I’m just happy for him to get an opportunity to play here. It’s a special place to play and he’ll have a great time.

“It wasn’t always easy. I had a bunch of up and downs, especially my freshman year. But it was worth it. I wanted to play early. I didn’t want to sit out. Everybody’s different. Everybody has a different vision about how how their college career goes. But for me I wanted to play as early as I possibly could and that’s why I came in early. That’s difficult, leaving all your buddies back in high school and being far from home. But it was worth it for me and I’m sure it will be worth it for (Eason).”

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