Handicapping Georgia’s three-way race for the starting quarterback’s job isn’t as clear-cut as it might have seemed at the end of the 2014 season.
With Brice Ramsey having emerged as the winner of last year’s battle for the No. 2 backup spot, and with him having gotten the only meaningful snaps behind one-year-starter Hutson Mason — including playing more than a half of the bowl game when Mason got hurt — you’d think the strong-armed redshirt sophomore would have an edge this season over junior Faton Bauta (who played in three games in 2014) and redshirt freshman Jacob Park, last year’s scout team QB.
And, despite Ramsey showing some decision-making problems in his brief playing stints last year, he indeed likely would have entered spring practice with the starter’s job his to lose, had Mike Bobo remained in Athens as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
But the departure of Bobo for Colorado State and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer means a “fresh start” for everyone, Bauta said Tuesday when the three quarterbacks met with reporters.
That’s because, while the offense under Coach Schotty, as he’s called, will be very similar to what Bobo ran, contrary to what was originally indicated the terminology has changed. Thus, spring drills have become a learning experience for everyone on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’re all starting from zero,” Bauta said. “It’s not like one of us knows the playbook more than the other.”
What does that mean for Ramsey’s perceived advantage?
“I have playing experience,” he acknowledged, “but that means nothing now. I’m back to square one.”
Ramsey somewhat ruefully added: “I had just felt comfortable, right when Bobo left, with the playbook. I was like, `Yes, I got it,’ and sure enough [now] I’m into a new system. … It just produces new challenges.”
The three leading candidates (redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Vaughn is also in the QB corps) are rotating working with the first, second and third teams on alternating days, making this look like a truly open competition.
It remains to be seen how Schottenheimer will view the quarterbacks’ various strengths: Ramsey has the strongest arm but didn’t wow anyone with his appearances last year. Bauta is the most mobile and has been praised by Park as the smartest quarterback, but hasn’t been used much. And Park, who also has a pretty strong arm, is the best dual-threat combination, but also is the greenest.
We’ll have a somewhat better idea after we see their respective stats from spring scrimmages (the first one is Saturday) and, especially, after the G-Day intrasquad game. But Mark Richt has already made it clear he doesn’t really expect to leave spring camp with a No. 1 quarterback established. Considering such early announcements (as with Murray) have sometimes prompted transfer talk in the past, it’s possible the head coach wouldn’t name a starter until August even if one of the three stands out this spring.
Getting back to the idea that Ramsey has or had an advantage because of his previous status as the primary backup, though, past history tells us his previous playing experience provides no guarantee. Looking back at past quarterback competitions in the Richt era doesn’t provide any clear trends: Sometimes, he has gone with the young, new guy; at other times, he’s favored experience or years in the program, at least to start with.
In a QB contest that went down to the wire right before the opening game of Richt’s first season in 2001, the new head coach ended up going with untried redshirt freshman David Greene over experienced junior Cory Phillips, who had started four games the previous season while Quincy Carter was injured, throwing for 1,093 yards and eight touchdowns. (Freshman D.J. Shockley redshirted.) As expected, senior Shockley got his year as starter in 2005 after Greene graduated.
In 2006, Richt initially went with senior Joe Tereshinski, a local sentimental favorite with a long Bulldog pedigree who had played in six games as Shockley’s backup the previous season — including the entire game against Florida when D.J. was hurt — over spectacularly talented true freshman Matthew Stafford. When Joe T. got hurt, Stafford played, but then Tereshinski returned and started a couple of lackluster games before Stafford eventually supplanted him.
There wasn’t much of a contest when experienced senior Joe Cox succeeded Stafford in 2009 (similar to the way it was in 2014 with Mason). But, in 2010, Murray beat out equally inexperienced fellow redshirt freshman Zach Mettenberger (who shortly was dismissed from the program for disciplinary reasons) as well as junior Logan Gray, who at that point had the only real-game experience, though most of it was on special teams fair-catching punts since he didn’t get that many meaningful snaps at QB behind Cox.
As for the current competition to see who gets to hand the ball off securely to Nick Chubb (which no doubt will be Job 1 for Georgia’s quarterback this fall), the growing feeling since the end of last season has been that, despite Ramsey’s experience, Park might be the horse drawing the smart money.
Part of that is attributable to the unusual praise from coaches and teammates that Park received for his work emulating upcoming opposing QBs as the leader of the scout team. During bowl practices, Richt praised Park’s passing, and offensive lineman John Theus said of him: “I’ll say one thing about Jacob: He’s not afraid to take chances and sling the ball. He’s got an edge about him.”
Perhaps a bit too much edge, Park indicated Tuesday in his chat with reporters. “I created a lot of bad habits,” he said. “I’d just chuck-and-duck. I didn’t have good protection last year on scout team, I didn’t really trust my protections, so I tended to scramble out of the pocket a lot.
“I knew I was redshirting last year,” he explained, “so it was just go out there, have fun and throw the ball on the scout team. Now, I’ve actually got to sit and make reads, sit in the pocket, pick up the blitzes, not run around and chuck the ball all the time, make good decisions and throw completions. Now I’m playing actual fundamental football and not backyard football.”
Such candor is commendable but not terribly reassuring to those fans hoping the redshirt freshman could be the upcoming season’s breakout star.
True, he very well might rein himself in enough during practices to give Coach Schotty a glimpse of the QB that many think Park could be. However, doing it in practice and performing against SEC opponents are very different things.
With that in mind, maybe the job really is still Ramsey’s to lose. It all depends on what Schottenheimer and Richt decide matters most in choosing their starting QB — experience or potential.
What’s your view of the current QB battle?
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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.