Last spring, with an entirely new defensive coaching staff, Mark Richt’s Bulldogs entered spring practice with all players having a clean slate and every starting job wide open.
Well, just about. You pretty much knew Damian Swann, the lone veteran, would be manning one of the cornerback spots.
This spring, it’s the offense’s turn to approach spring practice as something of an unknown, what with only two holdovers from last year’s offensive coaching staff, and only one of them still in the same position: tight ends coach John Lilly, as Bryan McClendon moves from running backs to wide receivers.
Of course, no matter who’s coaching, you can bet that Nick Chubb is going to be toting the rock, and aside from filling the graduated center’s spot there’s not likely to be much change on the offensive line.
Still, there’s a new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in Athens and Brian Schottenheimer must fill the starting QB’s job from a group whose three scholarship players are last year’s backup, Brice Ramsey, who only saw intermittent service; last year’s third-stringer, Faton Bauta, who only got into the game occasionally; and a redshirt freshman, Jacob Parks, who spent the past season on the scout team. (Also in the QB corps is walk-on Sam Vaughn.)
Considering that Ramsey is the only one with any meaningful game experience, most observers have pegged him as the obvious frontrunner to win the starter’s job. And it’s been a popular meme among fans that the Dawgs need to nail down a starter in the spring so that, come August, there’s no quarterback controversy to distract from getting ready for the season.
However, Richt indicated Wednesday, when he met with reporters, that he’s not really expecting to exit the spring with a starting quarterback firmly established — at least in part because of the staff turnover and the need to meld Georgia’s existing offensive schemes with Schottenheimer’s preferences and terminology.
While Coach Schotty, as Richt called him, isn’t going to reinvent what was already one of the nation’s more prolific offenses, “it’s been a little bit of a melting pot in terms of what we’ve done and what he’s done in the past.”
It’s not so much new schemes, Richt said, as changes in what they’re called. But, he said, “there’s a little bit of a learning curve for everybody.”
More to the point, Richt said that, rather than viewing Ramsey as the frontrunner, the three scholarship quarterbacks will open the spring on an even basis and getting equal chances with the first-string offense.
“We’re trying to give all of those guys a number of reps,” the head coach said. “We’re trying to make it as equal as possible. I’m sure we’ll be rotating who is No. 1 on any given day, as far as who works with that unit. I’m sure every quarterback will get reps with the 1’s and the 2’s.”
Obviously, Richt said, a big reason for that approach is that “we brought in a new quarterbacks coach. I think it’s going to be a little bit like it was last year on defense. Everybody had an opportunity to prove what he can do. There were so many guys getting opportunities and competing to get reps with the one unit.”
Bottom line: “I don’t anticipate or I’m not sitting here saying we’re gonna have to name a No. 1 [quarterback] at the end of spring. I’m not thinking that’s gonna be the case, or that’s a big goal of ours. The big thing is to give these guys opportunities and see how they handle it, and evaluate, and try to make that determination when we get there.”
Is that likely to mean that Georgia’s offense will be a bit slower off the mark than in recent seasons? Quite possibly, though the presence of Chubb and a host of other talented taibacks is a pretty nice safety net.
Still, considering the overall lack of playing experience at the position, a wide-open QB competition does appear to be in the Dawgs’ long-term interests.
Ramsey, who showed a strong arm but a tendency to have accuracy problems, may still wind up prevailing. But Bauta, who only briefly got into two games last year, brings a running threat to the position that Georgia lacked last season. And, based on his scout team work, Park is seen as more of a dual threat.
As senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins told the Associated Press Wednesday, ”Park is a shifty cat and he can sling that ball. … I’d compare him with maybe a taller version of [Missouri quarterback] Maty Mauk. Trying to get him down on some plays when he stretches it out definitely can be difficult. He’s shaken quite a few of us.”
Sounds like it could get interesting. And, while I’d just as soon not be wondering who the starter is going to be a week before Louisiana-Monroe comes to Athens, entering August with the QB competition still going on might be just what the eventual starter needs to sharpen his instincts.
Plus, despite Richt saying Wednesday that the three QBs currently are ranked 1-a, 1-b and 1-c, I have a feeling that, even if he’s not ready to name any one of them as the starter after G-Day, somebody’s going to exit spring practice ranked 1-prime, with the job his to lose in August.
Feel free to share your own thoughts on what it means if the Dawgs exit spring drills without a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.