Georgia’s quarterback depth took a hit when Stetson Bennett announced his intention to transfer from the program.
While Bennett was a freshman walk-on, head coach Kirby Smart recently said he was a candidate to earn a scholarship by staying with the Bulldogs. However, Bennett made it clear his goal is to play college football instead of serve as a backup.
Therefore, Georgia now only has two quarterbacks with extensive practice reps for the 2018 season in former five-star prospects Jake Fromm and Justin Fields.
Last season, Jacob Eason injured his knee in the first game of the season, which paved the way for Fromm to step in and lead the offense. Fromm then took control of the position and kept the starting job. Eason later announced his transfer to Washington after the season. And that's a trend not limited to Georgia. Many college quarterbacks who don't play early in their careers are heading elsewhere with hopes of getting on the field.
Smart, attending this year's SEC spring meetings in Florida, said much of the movement among college quarterbacks stems from what he sees as a learned impatience at the high school level. Smart said he has observed quarterbacks' families searching for high schools for their sons to play for as freshmen and sophomores. When that sort of immediate playing time doesn't materialize in college, those players are leaving earlier than maybe they would a decade or longer ago.
"They’re positioning from eighth grade to ninth grade, 'Where can I be the quarterback in ninth grade at this high school program?' " Smart said. "And when they go shopping and searching, they find a place they can go. A lot of them start for three or four years (in high school), where it used to not be that way. It’s now trickling up to us."
While Georgia was able to withstand an injury at quarterback a year ago, the worry would be whether it could manage injuries to both Fromm and Fields.
On the roster, Georgia will have a handful of walk-on quarterbacks fighting for third-string reps in practice. Among those are redshirt freshman John Seter, who was on the roster last season, and freshman Christian Kerut, who joined the team this spring. Matthew Downing, a walk-on from Alpharetta who held offers from Montana State and Southern Illinois, will join the quarterback room soon.
"We’re excited to see what they can do from a meeting standpoint and a conditioning standpoint," Smart said. "We’ll be able to work with them. We won’t really be able to evaluate them with a ball in their hands until the fall. I think that’s why you’re always looking and searching."
In a hypothetical scenario where Fromm and Fields suffer injuries, Georgia's plan likely would have been to put the ball in Bennett's hands if he stayed. With an unproven group of walk-on quarterbacks, Georgia could also move a skill position to quarterback in the event its top two options are unavailable for an upcoming game. Smart said this situation would be "very similar to the packages we had last year," which can be seen as a reference to the team's wildcat formation.
Receiver Terry Godwin, receiver Mecole Hardman and defensive back Tyrique McGhee all played some quarterback in high school, making them options for the position in the event the walk-on quarterback group isn’t ready. Defensive back Tray Bishop, who originally committed to Auburn as a quarterback, could potentially be an option as well. However, Bishop was arrested last week for allegedly filming a woman in a sex act without her consent and his long-term status with the team has yet to be resolved.
While this is a scenario Georgia’s coaching staff must prepare for, it will hope it doesn’t have to turn to a third quarterback this season. But the fact that Georgia won't go three deep on scholarship at quarterback is a bit baffling to Smart.
"That’s crazy to me you’re not going to have that," Smart said. "It’s a me-now society. They want the self-gratification. They want to know they’re going to be able to play. It’s different than any other position on the team. Every other position on the team, other than maybe kicker, they know they can have another role."