Behind Florida Gators' Enemy Lines: Georgia Bulldogs QB Room Review
It's important to keep tabs on your biggest rivals.
There's no bigger rival to the Florida Gators than the Georgia Bulldogs, a long-time SEC East foe who has stood in head coach Dan Mullen's way of contending in the conference since he took the job prior to the 2018 season. Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart has been an ace on the recruiting trail and built a roster that can compete with anybody.
However, the dividends haven't appeared to come together at the most important position in sports for Smart and his staff: Quarterback. Georgia shook the recruiting world on Thursday when former Southern California quarterback J.T. Daniels announced he will transfer to Athens.
Daniels is the third quarterback to announce his transfer to Georgia over the past seven months, following Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman who announced his pledge in January, and Nevada freshman Austin Kirksey who will walk on after relocating closer to home.
Smart and his staff add these three transfers - Newman with immediate eligibility for one year and Daniels with three (he has to apply for an eligibility waiver to play in 2020) - coincides with Georgia signing 2020 quarterback Carson Beck, landing a commitment from top 2021 signal-caller Brock Vandagriff, and four quarterbacks with multiple years of eligibility remaining already on the roster.
New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Monken - tasked with installing his offense, which is more passing oriented and spread out as seen by his college and pro career - inherits an extremely crowded room that's been filled with storylines. All of which could have been drastically different had prized five-star quarterback signing Justin Fields not transferred from Georgia following his freshman season over a year ago.
Fields became immediately eligible at Ohio State, and finished in third place for the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore, throwing for 3,272 yards, 41 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. He also added 484 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but Fields would be a perfect fit in Monken's system, who joined the staff in January.
But instead, Georgia finds itself scrambling to find stability in the quarterback room at perhaps no worse time amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out spring practice and threatens the upcoming season.
Former three-year starter Jake Fromm was solid during his career and went on to be drafted in the fifth round of this past NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, but the quarterback position appeared to hold Georgia back from being the most dominant team in college football.
Smart needs improvement at the position in order to take the next step and win both national championships and consistent SEC championships. But, it's no sure thing that these quarterbacks will provide Georgia the improvement and stability that it's looking for either.
Newman, 6-4, 230 lbs., is projected to start for Georgia this year after a productive redshirt junior season at Wake Forest, but is far from a polished passer. He offers mobility and strong passing velocity in the short field, but his intermediate-to-deep ball placement needs technique improvement as his footwork and follow-through have yet to be properly developed.
The Bulldogs were banking on Newman making these improvements under Monken in spring camp and other practice situations, but the coronavirus has removed those in-person opportunities for now.
Daniels suffered a season-ending injury in Southern California's season-opening game in 2019, and elected to transfer following the emergence of true freshman Kedon Slovis, who threw for 30 touchdowns after being thrown into action. Daniels earned the Trojans' starting role as a true freshman in 2018, completing 59.5% of his passes for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
It could be in Georgia's best interest to not rush Daniels' return to the field by applying for a waiver, and allowing him to continue to heal and learn the offense while Newman, Beck, and others carry the load this season. Then, Daniels could compete for the job in 2021, with Beck, Vandagriff, and/or whoever remains in the room as it is obviously fluid.
A combination of factors, some controllable and others far from it, have created an interesting situation for Smart, Monken, and the Georgia Bulldogs quarterback room. It's hard to believe the drama is over, and should football pick back up and a 2020 season go on as planned, Georgia's quarterback situation will be one to monitor.
With eight quarterbacks set to be on the roster immediately and into the future, you'd figure a formidable option will emerge. But that is far from certain at this point.