Jacob Eason is Georgia football’s quarterback of the future, but he shouldn’t be the Bulldogs’ quarterback right now.
Eason is probably Georgia’s biggest recruit of all time. No recruit before him has come to Athens with as much hype and high expectations. Georgia fans held their breaths when Mark Richt was fired after last season, because it was uncertain how that would affect Eason’s commitment to Georgia.
After Kirby Smart was hired as Richt’s replacement, though, Eason reaffirmed his commitment and joined the Bulldogs this spring. Now, a debate over Eason’s role on the team rages on.
Should he be the starting quarterback from the beginning of the season? Many people think he should, including Dawn of the Dawg co-editor Jay Hawkins, but I think we need to pause and evaluate the situation a little bit.
Eason should not be named the starter for Week 1 against North Carolina. Here’s why:
The Team’s Youth
I used a similar point last week when I wrote about why the Bulldogs won’t win more than eight games in 2016, but this topic is relevant to this discussion, too.
Georgia’s offense will be pretty young this season. Guys like Terry Godwin, Reggie Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Greg Pyke are back for another season, but the rest of the offense consists mostly of players with limited-to-none playing experience.
Does Georgia really want to throw a true freshman quarterback into the mix, too? The Bulldogs would be a lot safer going with veteran Greyson Lambert. Though Lambert isn’t the flashiest quarterback in the world, he’s reliable enough to trust him to make smart decisions with a wealth of inexperienced players around him.
Give the rest of the offense time to mature and settle in before allowing Eason a chance to take the reins. That way, whenever Eason comes in, the rest of the team will be ready to go. Starting Lambert is a good way of easing the offense into a new era with a lower possibility of miscommunication and busted plays.
If Lambert plays well and remains healthy, then I say let him hold the starting job the whole season. Don’t march out the rookie simply because of his star power. Do the smart thing and give his offensive comrades time to develop with an experienced leader.
Lambert Really Isn’t That Bad
To hear some folks tell it, Greyson Lambert is the reason Georgia’s offense was mostly a disappointment in 2015. That’s simply not true.
If we’re being honest, poor coaching was probably the biggest reason the Bulldogs weren’t as good on the offensive side, but I digress. The point is, Georgia could do worse than having Lambert run its offense.
Just look at the statistics. Lambert completed over 60 percent of his passes in 2015 and only threw two interceptions. He didn’t create a bunch of highlight reel-worthy plays, but he didn’t lose games, either. Lambert threw one fourth-quarter interception, and even that one came in the blowout loss to Alabama when the Bulldogs were just trying to get something to work.
Lambert carried himself with class last season, which has to mean something to the coaching staff, and he had one of the best single-game performances of any quarterback in NCAA history. He’s not the reason the Bulldogs lost to Alabama, or blew a big lead and lost to Tennessee or got absolutely embarrassed by Florida.
With Lambert, you know exactly what you’re getting: a quarterback who won’t be your best offensive player, but who also won’t cost you games. But Eason is a mystery.
Sure, you can point out his success in high school, his obvious arm strength and his five-star rating. You have to keep in mind, though, that Eason’s never played with the big boys. The defenses he saw while playing in Washington are nothing compared to the units he’ll face with Georgia.
Lambert, on the other hand, has just about seen it all.
Recent History of Redshirt Quarterbacks
Let’s take this to a different level for a second. Say Lambert wins the starting job and keeps it all the way through the 2016 season.
Eason would still have four years of eligibility by taking a redshirt, and he would have an even greater chance of winning the starting job then over Brice Ramsey, who seems like a risky pick. If Eason plays four years and doesn’t jump to the NFL, then those are four seasons with a more polished quarterback leading the charge.
Who wouldn’t want that to happen?
The last several years have provided good examples of holding off on a quarterback being a smart decision. Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston both sat out their true freshman seasons and both won the Heisman Trophy in their debut year.
Winston, of course, led Florida State to a national championship, too. Unfortunately for he and Manziel, the talent surrounding them didn’t always match their own. With the direction in which Georgia’s recruiting seems to be headed, that likely won’t be the case for Eason.
Manziel and Winston proved that giving a talented young quarterback an extra year to develop away from the spotlight can be a good thing. The Bulldogs can look at their own recent history for an example of this, too.
Aaron Murray came to Athens in 2009 – also as a five-star recruit – but redshirted that season as Joe Cox led the offense. Murray took charge the next season became one of the SEC’s most prolific quarterbacks of all time.
Of course, Georgia wasn’t always a great team with Murray under center (much like Texas A&M with Manziel and Florida State with Winston) but the Bulldogs were better off with Murray having an extra year of preparation under his belt. Murray hosted a youth camp last week, and afterwards gave his opinion on the quarterback situation at Georgia.
He said he’d probably start a veteran if he were Smart, and said he enjoyed the fact that he redshirted his first year on campus.
“I’m a huge fan of [redshirting], to sit back and learn the speed of the game,” Murray told The Telegraph. “I had another year to learn the playbook. It’ll be interesting to see what they do.”
Murray isn’t Eason, but his comments should resonate with the youngster and the coaches. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to give Eason a year off and really let him dig into the playbook and learn more about the way the game is played at the collegiate level without also being expected to lead the team.
At the very least, though, he shouldn’t be thrown into the fire from the beginning of the season.
Holding off on Eason gives him time to develop, gives Georgia a safer option at quarterback while the offense gets through some growing pains and ensures greater long-term success at quarterback for the Bulldogs.
He’s great now and he could very well go down as the best quarterback in Georgia history. He just shouldn’t be expected – or asked – to do it from the very beginning.