Bulldogs Beat

Analysis: Georgia quarterback decision should go on awhile

ATHENS - Receiver Malcolm Mitchell is preparing to enter his fifth season at Georgia, and he's never gone into the summer unsure who the quarterback will be for the upcoming season.

"I've never experienced actually being through a quarterback battle. Because we always knew," Mitchell said in the locker room after Saturday's G-Day. "But I'm pretty sure it'll get figured out."

Surely it will, but not as fast as might have been expected.

There are still two spring practices left, but they won't be enough to settle the quarterback picture. Three scrimmages, and four weeks of practice, have made it clear there is a legitimate decision ahead.

Here was the picture before the spring: Brice Ramsey, the strong-armed sophomore, was the favorite, based on his experience. Faton Bauta, the mobile and heady junior, would try to give Ramsey a run for it. Jacob Park, the precocious redshirt freshman, had the talent to push Ramsey as well.

And now the picture heading into the summer: Ramsey and Bauta are in a closer race than expected, and it's not just for show. Ramsey has the arm but still has some things to iron out, while Bauta runs the offense well and makes good decisions. And Park? He shows enough flashes, and is still young enough, that he can't be discounted yet.

"That might be the closest battle between all units," senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins said of the quarterback battle. "Because you see Jacob have a great series, you see Faton have a great play and a great series. You see Brice. One person does one thing, then another person does the same thing. You can't get high on one because they're all such great quarterbacks. They all have an arm, they all have a unique asset about them.

"That's a hard decision. I feel for coach Richt on that one, because he's gonna have a hard time picking that job."

Head coach Mark Richt used basically his entire opening statement after Saturday's spring game to break down the quarterbacks, an acknowledgment that it is the main story right now.

"I think it's still a race," he said, adding: "I don't think there's any question it's going to go through the summer and fall before we make a decision is on who will start that first ballgame."

That's not just lip service to keep the three quarterbacks' competitive juices going. (And to keep them all on the team.) The spring has made that clear. And now another possibility is emerging:

Could the job actually still be up for grabs when Georgia opens its season, on Sept. 5 against Louisiana-Monroe? In all due respect to that Sun Belt team - as well as Vanderbilt, which Georgia visits a week later - they aren't Clemson and South Carolina. This is a year where Richt and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer could afford to carry the tryout into when the games count.

But Richt doesn't sound like he's crazy about the idea.

"I would hope to say this is the guy going into the very first ballgame," he said.

Then he harkened back to "Year 1," as he put it, his first season as Georgia's coach: Two quarterbacks were still competing when the season opened, and were given alternating series.

"As it turned out I think (David) Greene hit eight or nine or 10 passes in a row, and he just kept winning," Richt said. "So there's a possibility that could happen. And I'd say this too: Whoever wins the job has got to start playing and prove it was a good decision too. I think everybody stay alive and know they're in the race until it settles into someone playing to the point where they're a solid No. 1."

Clearly, if one quarterback emerges as the clear choice, then Richt and Schottenheimer should and will choose him. A quarterback platoon doesn't often work, and as the old football saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, or three, then you have none.

But if there still isn't much separation by mid-to-late August, Georgia shouldn't rush the decision. If it's going to take seeing Ramsey, Bauta or even Park in a legitimate game situation to make the decision clear, then this is the season to try it.

Just not for too long.