ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Kirby Smart has recruited himself into yet another quarterback competition at Georgia.
For the third straight year, a highly regarded freshman is pushing the returning starter. Justin Fields, equipped to disrupt defenses as a runner and passer, was the big name of Smart’s top-rated 2018 recruiting class .
Fields is competing with Jake Fromm, whose composure as a freshman starter in 2017 was a big key in the Bulldogs winning their first Southeastern Conference championship since 2005 and advancing to the national championship game .
In each of the last two years, the new kid won the starting job after only one game. Last year, Fromm took over after Jacob Eason suffered a knee injury in the opener. In Smart’s 2016 debut season as coach, Eason beat out senior Greyson Lambert after one game.
Before Eason, only five true freshmen quarterbacks had started at Georgia, most recently Matthew Stafford, now with the NFL’s Detroit Lions, in 2006. Fields could make it three in three years, though Fromm remains the favorite to start in the Sept. 1 opener against Austin Peay.
Smart understands the advantages that come with college experience.
“Never would I say that you’re more comfortable with it,” Smart said of playing freshmen quarterbacks. “I think any head coach that tells you they’re comfortable with that isn’t going to be telling you the truth. Experience is valuable, and I think experience pays off.”
Some critics said Fromm did little more than hand off to senior tailbacks Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and connect on short throws last season. But Fromm also made some difficult passes while throwing for 2,615 yards with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Fields (6-3, 225) showed his dual-threat skills in Georgia’s spring game.
For Georgia veterans, this quarterback competition provides a familiar script with new names.
Fromm’s roommate, tight end Charlie Woerner, described the race as “a lot similar to last year with Jacob and Jake.”
“Now you’ve got Jake coming off a great year and you’ve got the new guy Justin coming in,” Woerner said. “Justin is making Jake a lot better now because it’s a very competitive spot right now. It’s interesting to see it happen again.”
Some other things to watch as Georgia tries to win back-to-back SEC titles for the first time since the early 1980s:
MORE THAN A TAILBACK TANDEM: D’Andre Swift is Georgia’s leading returning rusher, but he must prove he can play a lead role. Freshman Zamir White has made a strong recovery from a knee injury. Freshman, James Cook, the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, had impressive runs in a scrimmage at Sanford Stadium this month. Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien also return at tailback, creating a possibility of a committee approach.
NEW NAME AT RECEIVER: In a decision that could have a big impact on Georgia’s season, California transfer Demetris Robertson was granted a waiver by the NCAA last week for his immediate eligibility this season. NCAA rules usually require transfers to sit out a season unless they have graduate from their previous school, but Robertson played only two games last season. Robertson was a five-star recruit from Savannah, Georgia. He caught 50 passes for 767 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman at Cal.
BETTER TO GIVE: Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has taken responsibility for coaching the tight ends this year. Naturally, the tight ends could be expected to hope they have more passes thrown their way. Woerner surprised reporters with his take on the tight ends’ role. “I’d say the word that defines us as a group is altruistic,” he said. “We’re there to serve the team and put the team before us.”
CRIMSON SHADOW: Even as the defending SEC champion, Georgia operates in Alabama’s shadow after losing to the Crimson Tide in the national championship game. They were the picks to win their respective divisions at the SEC’s annual media gathering in Atlanta.
FOR OPENERS: Georgia’s schedule includes nonconference home games against Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and Massachusetts. Georgia must play its first two SEC games on the road, at South Carolina on Sept. 8 and at Missouri on Sept. 22. After playing at Louisiana State on Oct. 13, the Bulldogs have an off week before their annual game against Florida in Jacksonville. They play host to Auburn on Nov. 10 in a rematch of last season’s SEC championship game.
Follow Charles Odum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CharlesOdum
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25