While Georgia’s quarterback situation isn’t coming close to dominating the news cycle like it did last season, it’s still an important one worth monitoring.
In his sophomore season, Jacob Eason is expected to take a sizable step forward. After learning on the fly as a true freshman in one of the harshest conferences in college football, Eason should have a greater grasp of the Bulldogs’ offense and more familiarity with his weapons.
Eason’s physical tools were apparent last season and led to several jaw-dropping moments, but he never found the level of consistency Georgia fans were hoping for. Kirby Smart and his staff are going to demand much more from their quarterback in 2017.
With freshman Jake Fromm on campus, a seriously-talented quarterback in his own right, Eason has a player capable of pushing him in practice. Throughout the spring, any time Smart has mentioned one of his quarterbacks, he’s mentioned the other. For all intents and purposes, they are tied at the hip, if not the depth chart.
“He’s more confident in the pocket, more confident in the protections,” Smart said of Eason after Georgia’s first scrimmage on Saturday. “His decision-making is better and his accuracy has been better. But he’s getting challenged because the other guy (Fromm) did well, too.”
Unless Fromm is heads and shoulders ahead of Eason heading into the fall, which isn’t likely, the Bulldogs probably aren’t going to play a true freshman quarterback for the second consecutive season.
So, the onus falls back to Eason to prove that he’s capable of taking the next step in his maturation and taking the team to new heights. Around the SEC, some of Eason’s counterparts have already accomplished as much.
Auburn’s much-anticipated transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham wowed fans during the Tigers’ A-Day Game. The redshirt sophomore completed 16 of 20 passes for 267 yards in one half of action. He also displayed his athleticism by improvising and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run after scooping up a fumble.
With a competent dual-threat quarterback at the helm, Auburn’s offense will be even more dangerous than the run-heavy one that averaged more than 30 points per game in 2016. Although the Tigers led the SEC in rushing yards per game last season, they finished dead last in passing.
Stidham appears capable of fixing that and making Auburn a legitimate Playoff contender.
While Stidham’s performance could mean the addition of another talented signal caller to the conference, there’s one quarterback who is more closely tied to Eason.
Shea Patterson, the other 5-star quarterback prospect to sign with the SEC in 2016, dazzled those in attendance for Ole Miss’ spring game Saturday.
The sophomore was 21-of-30 for 341 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As he did several times last season, Patterson also displayed his mobility and extended plays outside of the pocket.
Shea Patterson to A.J. Brown pic.twitter.com/HY36Qdckup
— Land Shark Nation™ (@LandSharkNation) April 8, 2017
Although he got a much later start in 2016, Patterson gave the Rebels a glimpse of what he could do in the team’s final three games. After taking over for the injured Chad Kelly, Patterson completed nearly 55 percent of his passes for 880 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions while also running for 169 yards.
By comparison, Eason completed 61 percent of his passes for 512 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions in his final three regular season games.
Fair or not, Eason and Patterson will always be compared to one another. Like A.J. Green and Julio Jones or Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett, the two highly-recruited quarterbacks are indirectly competing against each other in the eyes of the fans and the media.
Spring games aren’t always the best indicator of what a player can do in the regular season. After all, it’s often a case of the first-team offense going against the second-team defense, which should always favor the offense. But both Stidham and Patterson, and to a lesser extent Florida’s Feleipe Franks, took advantage of that opportunity.
A strong showing by Eason at Georgia’s G-Day Game won’t guarantee a successful fall campaign, but it should be the expectation for a sophomore quarterback looking to take the next step in his development.
It’s true that Eason is still a young quarterback, but with others around the SEC proving they are up to the task, he’s got some added pressure to do just the same.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.