ATHENS — This just in: Justin Fields is human.
To this point in his sports career, all the ballyhooed quarterback from Kennesaw has heard is how great of a quarterback he is and is going to be. And all that is probably still true.
But on Saturday at least, Georgia coach Kirby Smart lumped in Fields with all the other freshmen and first-year players experiencing their first spring camp with the Bulldogs. Smart talked about them “hitting a wall” and “getting confused.”
“He’s hitting a little bit of a wall,” Smart said following practice Saturday, the sixth of 15 the Bulldogs will conduct this spring. “I think with all the installation, he’s coming in and meeting extra, doing all the things we expect of him. But it’s a lot.”
An early enrollee at UGA, Fields would otherwise still be attending Harrison High School. Instead, he was immediately inserted as the No. 2 quarterback and is sharing reps with sophomores Jake Fromm and Stetson Bennett.
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Effectively, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-hander is in a competition with Fromm to start. But more important than that, Georgia is trying to get Fields ready to play. And that’s not just for the G-Day game three weeks from now. The Bulldogs need to know Fields can operate the offense without limitations by Sept. 1, when they open the season against Austin Peay.
“We don’t taper [installation] for him,” Smart said. “… I think he’s really getting accustomed. We’ve done some different drills he hasn’t done before, where he’s got to move in the pocket, move around and be able to create space away from the rush, step up from the rush. I think a lot of that’s new for him. I think he’s growing in that role. Certainly, he’s got good mobility when he gets out of the pocket.”
Fields was a consensus 5-star recruit in high school. He signed with UGA as the No. 1-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect and the No. 2 overall recruit in America, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Fields is one of nine members of Georgia’s 2018 signing class who enrolled early and are participating in offseason workouts and spring practice. Not many of them are necessarily being counted on to play right away. But like Fields, some are playing positions that might require immediate contributions.
Defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt plays one such position. Between injuries, graduation and an underclassman making the jump to the NFL, the Bulldogs are woefully thin on the defensive front. Wyatt, who transferred after just one semester at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, is one of just three defensive linemen Georgia signed in its 2018 class and the only one of those already on campus.
“We’re excited about the guys we’ve got coming in,” Smart said. “I think it’s tough to play as a true freshman. We had that crowd of Tyler [Clark] and Julian [Rochester] and Michail [Carter] and David [Marshall] that all really helped us that one year . We’re certainly going to need some help depth-wise. I think the key is going to be staying healthy.”
Smart had lauded early enrollee Divaad Wilson of Miami for his work at defensive back in the early going. But Wilson went down with an ACL injury in the first week and likely will be sidelined through the season.
Cade Mays is competing with redshirt freshman Isaiah Wilson at right tackle and Kearis Jackson is drawing praise for his work in the slot on offense. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear there will be a ton of impact made by the 2018 class, its No. 1 national ranking notwithstanding.
“Hopefully, it will slow down for them after Practice 6 and we can go back through the beginning install again and kind of see what sticks,” Smart said. “Some guys are showing improvement, but not at the pace we need.”
Fields has shown improvement as well. His grasp of Georgia’s offense is exponentially better than it was when he arrived in Athens three months ago.
The Bulldogs have no choice but to get him ready to play. For him, redshirting is no option. So he will need to fight though whatever setbacks he encounters and continue to make progress.
“He’s done a good job picking things up,” Smart said of Fields. “What I like most about him, he’s got a really good demeanor. He doesn’t let the high plays really affect him, doesn’t let the really low plays affect him. He continues to improve.”