Stetson Bennett

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Smart: Georgia’s starting QB likely a game-time decision


ATLANTA — Georgia still hasn’t decided on a new starting quarterback, and coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday he Will Likely wait until the season opener to reveal who earned the job.

JT Daniels, a transfer from Southern Cal who was granted permission by the NCAA to play right away, is the most notable contender to take over for three-year starter Jake Fromm.

But Daniels has yet to be fully cleared from a season-ending knee injury sustained in 2019. Redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis put on an impressive showing with the first team during a scrimmage last weekend at Sanford Stadium, leading to speculation that he’s got the upper hand for the starting spot.

“As far as I can tell, it’s probably going to be a game-time decision,” Smart said.

The No. 4 Bulldogs open the season Sept. 26 at Arkansas.

Smart is used to this sort of quandary. In his first season at Georgia in 2016, senior Grayson Lambert started the opener but freshman Jacob Eason came in early, got the start the following week and held the job the rest of the season.

In 2017, Eason started the opener but was injured, clearing the way for Fromm to take over the job. He led the Bulldogs to the national championship game, prompting Eason to transfer to Washington.

That didn’t end the quarterback debate. Georgia landed another highly rated recruit, Justin Fields, who got some playing time in 2018 but never beat out Fromm. Fields moved on to Ohio State, where he put up much better numbers than Fromm while leading the Buckeyes to the 2019 College Football Playoff.

Now, the Bulldogs have another QB battle on their hands – one that took an unexpected twist two weeks ago when transfer Jamie Newman, who started last year at Wake Forest, opted out of the season because of COVID-19.

“It’s not a problem for me,” Smart said. “It’s getting to be the norm around here. We’ve had it before. It’s not a concern among the staff or the organization or the kids. We talk a lot with the kids about it to make sure they understand where we are.”

Mathis went through a scary ordeal after enrolling at Georgia, requiring brain surgery to remove a cyst. He returned to the scout team late last season and is fully recovered.

“I remember going to see him in the hospital. All his family members were there. It was a scary, scary moment,” Smart said. “But he pushed through that.”

Daniels tore up a knee in the opener of his sophomore season with the Trojans, and Smart revealed that he also needed follow-up surgery late in the year to clean up some additional issues. He is able to practice but can’t have any contact.

“JT is not completely cleared yet,” Smart said. “If we didn’t think he would be cleared (for the opener), we wouldn’t be practicing him.”

Daniels is by far the most experienced of the four quarterbacks on the roster. He was only the second quarterback in Southern Cal history to start the opener as a true freshman and went on to pass for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2018.

Mathis has never played in a college game. Neither has freshman Carson Beck.

Junior Stetson Bennett played a handful of snaps last season in a mop-up role behind Fromm, but it looks like the starting job is down to a two-man race between Mathis and Daniels.

Kirby Smart finds no QB clarity in No. 4 Georgia’s 2nd scrimmage

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ATHENS, Ga. — The second preseason scrimmage for No. 4 Georgia on Saturday provided no clarity to the quarterback competition that continues without a top contender.

After Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman announced his decision to opt out on Wednesday, the competition took on a different look. Newman was cast by many observers, but not coach Kirby Smart, as the favorite to win the starting job for the Bulldogs’ opening game at Arkansas on Sept. 26.

Following Saturday’s practice, Smart said he’s no closer to finding a starter.

Smart said another transfer, former Southern Cal starter, JT Daniels and D'Wan Mathis worked with the first-team offense in the scrimmage. Freshman Carson Beck shared time with Daniels and Mathis with the second team. Stetson Bennett was with the third team.

Smart is eager to find clarity at the position.

“It’s a work in progress,” Smart said of the quarterbacks. “We had guys today that went out and practiced well. … We really want a guy to assume the lead and take the lead. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Smart said he hasn’t seen consistency at the position.

“You’ll have a guy that has a great play and a great series, then comes back with a bonehead mistake and a turnover,” Smart said. “Nobody has really taken charge and taken over. I wish I could say that.”

Newman said his decision to opt out was influenced by “the uncertainties of this year amid a global pandemic.”

Smart said he respected the decision by Newman, who will focus on the 2021 NFL draft.

Daniels has not been cleared for contact as he returns from a knee injury which ended his 2019 season at USC.

“I am under the assumption that that is going to happen, but that is not my decision,” Smart said. “Obviously, that’s the medical decision.”

Georgia’s first fall practice launches 5-way QB competition

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Georgia’s long-awaited return to practice is the opening to a five-way quarterback competition that could be impacted by JT Daniels‘ continued rehabilitation from a knee injury.

Junior cornerback Eric Stokes and other players were eager to see the contenders, including transfers Jamie Newman and Daniels, in Monday’s opening day of preseason practice.

“It’s really hard to say, I’m in the same boat as everybody else,” Stokes said Sunday when asked about the competition. “… I really don’t know yet so it will be a shock to all of us.”

Coach Kirby Smart said Daniels, the former Southern Cal starter, is still recovering from a season-ending knee injury suffered in the 2019 opener. Daniels has three years of eligibility at Georgia.

Smart said Daniels will wear a brace on the knee and has not been cleared for full practice.

“He has been able to take some reps, he has been able to throw the ball and do some things,” Smart said Sunday.

Newman could be the favorite. With spring practice wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, the edge could rest with the returning quarterbacks, Stetson Bennett and D'Wan Mathis. Freshman Carson Beck enrolled in January.

Smart said it will be crucial to pick the right quarterback to lead new coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Monken‘s offense.

“That’s going to be the key to us,” Smart said. “Who is the quarterback, who is able to lead the team, and what gives us the best chance to get the ball to the playmakers out in space.”

The “out in space” comment could be a signal changes are coming with Monken, the NFL Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2019. There may be a greater emphasis on passes to such top receivers as George Pickens and Demetris Robertson.

Georgia ranked only fifth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring in 2019 and missed the College Football Playoff.

Newman transferred from Wake Forest for his final year of eligibility. He passed for 2,868 yards and ran for 574 yards with a combined 32 touchdowns in 2019, his first full season as the starter.

Daniels was granted his immediate eligibility at Georgia. He started for USC as a freshman in 2018 and passed for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Before Monday, coaches had to rely on virtual Zoom video meetings for some of their contact with the quarterbacks. And even with the uncertainty about the upcoming season, everyone was eager to talk about football.

“”We’re excited about all five of those guys, to be honest with you,” Smart said. “Those guys have done a good job in their Zoom meetings, paying attention.”

Newman was limited by a mid-foot sprain in the summer walk-through drills but has been cleared for the preseason drills. Smart said Newman “was mentally there and able to do a lot of things with the team” even while forced to miss about half of the summer sessions.

Newman’s full clearance is important in the competition which also includes 2019 top backup Stetson Bennett, D’wan Mathis and freshman Carson Beck.

Georgia held informal workouts before spring practice was canceled by the pandemic – and before Daniels joined the team. Even though Smart and his staff didn’t know spring drills would be wiped out, they still placed an emphasis on the informal workouts due to the quarterback competition.

There was much anticipation to see the new quarterbacks in Monday’s first real practice.

“JT is a very talented guy,” said senior safety Richard LeCounte. “I haven’t really seen him sling it like that, only a little bit. I’m ready for him, just like everyone else to go out there and show what they got. This camp is to prove who you are, what kind of player you are.”

NOTES: WR Dominick Blaylock will be kept out of contact drills at the start of practice. Smart said Blaylock is “not completely cleared” after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the SEC championship game loss to Louisiana State. Smart said CB D.J. Daniel (ankle) is “almost back” after missing most of the summer camp. … Smart said no player has discussed opting out due to the pandemic.