Other than Georgia’s players and coaches, not many folks have had a chance to talk to Newman since he got to town.
“Yeah, I’ve talked to him and asked about him,” Shockley said this past week. “He’s already taken on kind of a leadership role because he’s played a bunch of ball. People I’ve talked to say just from the way he carries himself you can tell he’s used to being one of the alpha dogs on the team. He’s come in with an edge, is working hard and is trying to get to know everybody. I haven’t seen him work out, but he definitely has the leadership qualities they’re looking for.”
That’s certainly good news for the Bulldogs. Whether they’ll admit it, Newman likely will be the successor to three-year starter Jake Fromm, who surprised a few folks by leaving a year early to enter the NFL draft.
Oh, there still will be a competition. It ought to be a good one. Certainly it will be way better than what Fromm encountered last spring.
There are some really good competitors in this year’s race:
» Freshman Carson Beck once was a 5-star prospect at Jacksonville's Mandarin High and probably still should have been had his team not been so bad his senior season. He's 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and has been with the Bulldogs since they went to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl after signing in December.
» Meanwhile, redshirt freshman D'wan Mathis finally is well. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound athlete from Michigan won't be cleared for contact as a precaution after having a cyst removed from his brain last summer. But he's free to do everything else with the quarterbacks, who never get hit in practice anyway.
» And say what you want about junior Stetson Bennett, a dedicated former walk-on and junior college transfer. The jury is still out about whether he's big enough to become an SEC regular. But he'll be definitely the one most familiar with the "Georgia Way" and how Kirby Smart wants to operate.
But then there’s Newman. Between his physical maturity, the extensive experience he brings with him from Wake Forest and the supposed mobility that Georgia both seeks and possibly needs with a rebuilt offensive line, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Newman would appear to check all the boxes.
That’s a big deal, considering Georgia is completely retooling on offense this season.
“Kirby said as soon as they found out he was in the portal, they went to work on him,” Shockley shared. “So, I think they really have some good feelings about him and are happy to have him. But I think we all know Kirby will never say somebody is ‘the guy.’ I think he’ll have a good competition with some of those other guys. I think they’ll all push each other, and they need to between now and fall camp so we can see exactly how good each of them can be. But I do think it’s Newman’s job to lose.”
At Wake Forest, Newman entered the 2018 season as a backup to Sam Hartman. Newman started the final four games after Hartman was injured, then was named MVP of the Birmingham Bowl after throwing for 328 yards and a touchdown.
Newman beat out Hartman entering last season. Despite a late-season injury, he completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He also rushed for 574 yards and six touchdowns. In his two seasons as the Demon Deacons’ quarterback, he accounted for 45 touchdowns.
That’s what made Newman such a hot commodity when he announced in late December his intentions to enter the transfer portal. Pro Football Focus rated him as the top transfer quarterback available for 2020. Their 86.2 passer rating for Newman makes him the highest-rated returning quarterback in the SEC for next season.
What makes Newman even more attractive to the Bulldogs is what he can do with his legs. While Wake Forest utilized him often on designed run plays, Georgia’s more interested in his ability to escape the pocket. That could be particularly important with the Bulldogs replacing four starters on the offensive line.
“He’s a big dude, now,” Shockley said. “I think that goes back to Wake and them forcing him to carry the ball a lot. I think he knew he needed to put on a lot of mass. But I think the same thing goes for the SEC. I think he’s going to need a little girth for what they’re going to ask him to do with the zone-read. His size is going to help him with that.”
The unknown factor is exactly what Georgia’s offense might look like under the direction of new coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Monken. He will have been on campus at least two months by the time spring drills get underway. It’s unclear whether that’s enough time to scrap Georgia’s entire offensive system and install his own or simply enough for him to figure out what the Bulldogs have been doing the past couple of years and tweak that.
Logic would dictate that Monken hasn’t had enough time to complete that transformation. So what the Bulldogs do during 14 practices and a G-Day game is bound to be a work in progress.
Having Newman and three other scholarship quarterbacks competing during that transition should help.
“They’re all definitely locked in,” Shockley said. “I think all those guys bring something unique to the position. The mental part of it and understanding Monken’s new wrinkles will be the key.”
Monday: Special teams
Tuesday: Defensive line
Thursday: Defensive backs
Friday: Offensive line
Saturday: Tight ends
Monday: Wide receivers
Tuesday: Running backs