Unlike last year, Kirby Smart decided to get it out of the way and end any quarterback controversy for his Georgia team.
Instead of being peppered with questions and having to delay a decision until the early stages of the season, Smart had the luxury of straightforwardly announcing the intentions at quarterback during his second trip to SEC Media Days.
“Jacob Eason is our starter coming into the season, and Jake Fromm’s got to do something to beat him out,” Smart said in the news conference with television reporters after his main gathering.
During Georgia’s spring practices, Smart indicated that there was competition at every position, including at quarterback with former Houston County standout Jake Fromm entering the program as an early enrollee. But for now, Fromm will have to learn behind the sophomore and remain ready for any potential opportunity.
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There is still uncertainty at a number of spots as the third-best recruiting class in 2017 will begin vying for significant playing time. Fromm was one of the centerpieces of the prospect haul, and the uptick in the quarterback competition was something welcomed by the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.
Eason’s offseason has been busy as he has taken multiple opportunities to show off his arm talent. Whether it be throwing to one of his biggest offensive weapons — sophomore tight end Isaac Nauta — on Lake Oconee via jet ski or attending multiple passing camps, the development has been seen by those throughout the program.
One of the most important events on Eason’s schedule was attending the Peyton Manning Passing Academy in June in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
“You get to be around one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning,” Smart said. “It’s the mentorship of Cooper, Archie and then you throw in the fact that you’re with 60 of the best college quarterbacks in the country. Sometimes, behavior is learned, and you learn how to behave like a big-time quarterback, and you learn how to study and you sit in those meetings. I think it was a good experience for him, and I know he was really excited.”
The expectations for the former top-ranked pro-style quarterback are lofty, to follow in the footsteps of former Georgia standouts Quincy Carter, David Greene and Matthew Stafford — all of whom were drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.
While Eason isn’t to that point yet, he’s getting closer to evolving the potential into tangible production and has “grown tremendously” under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
“He’s still in the learning process of being able to do (be a big-time quarterback),” Smart said. “He’s taken a much-greater leadership role in organization of things over the summer. The quarterback essentially runs your offseason program when it comes to throwing the balL. We can’t be out there with them. A lot of that falls on Jacob’s shoulders, and he’s done a tremendous job of that. The next step is carrying that over to the field, that’s the big part he has to do, but he’s taken the right steps."
Stafford finished with 1,749 passing yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman season. In his junior season, his final at Georgia before entering draft, Stafford nearly doubled his yardage total (3,459) and more than tripled his touchdown output (25).
Eason topped the totals of his highly regarded predecessor with 2,430 passing yards and 16 touchdowns in his freshman campaign. As a result, many believe that because the two are similar in their styles, that Eason could surpass the production of Stafford — a former No. 1 draft selection in 2009.
The issue for Eason is his completion rate a year ago, at 55.1 percent. The total ranked 11th in the SEC, and Georgia’s offense only averaged 24.5 points per game.
“I think it starts with quarterback play,” Smart said. “We have to get higher completion percentages and finish drives in the red area. We could have been middle-of-the-road offensively in the SEC if we just produced more in the red area, but we weren’t able to do that.”
Being aware of those needed improvements, players are visibly able to recognize how Eason has developed and exude confidence in how the offensive unit can improve in 2017.
“He got his freshman season under his belt,” Georgia senior running back Sony Michel said. “He got a great opportunity to learn from that season. He also became a great leader. During the offseason training in 7-on-7s, he is leading by example and is even being more vocal. He also has other quarterbacks like Jake Fromm pushing him and competing. It is great to see young guys come in and knowing their place and knowing how to work.”