“That’s the one position where if you had to say, ‘who does this affect the most? — Is it going to affect the running backs, the DBs, the Mike Linebacker?’ — It’s going to affect that quarterback more than anything, in my opinion,” Smart said Tuesday. “There’s no substitute for reps, I feel, and you can’t argue that we’re not going to lose reps. We’re losing reps.”
The good news, Smart said, was that Newman and the other Georgia quarterbacks enrolled at UGA did get a significant amount of time throwing with the limited number of receivers the Bulldogs currently have on campus. The Bulldogs signed five wideouts in the 2020 recruiting class, but only Justin Robinson of Locust Grove was able to join the team as an early enrollee.
“I feel like he was starting to get some rhythm,” Smart said of Newman’s progress before the shutdown. “He got to throw a lot with those guys in their own time that they elected. He did a good job.”
Newman will compete with junior Stetson Bennett, redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis and freshman signee Carson Beck for the starting quarterback job when the Bulldogs reconvene. The position is up for grabs since it was vacated by three-year Jake Fromm, who elected to enter the NFL Draft as a junior.
Walk-ons Nathan Priestley and Austin Kirksey, an offseason transfer from the University of Nevada, also will compete for playing time. They’re redshirt freshmen.
But Newman, because of his experience as a two-year starter at Wake Forest and his designation as the top quarterback on the graduate transfer market after last season, generally is considered the favorite to succeed Fromm.
“They were able to do some 7-on-7s unstructured on their own with the team members,” Smart said of the quarterbacks. “They did a good job with that. But, you know, that’s no substitute for what they would have gotten in spring ball. … We’re going to get all that done when we get the opportunity and ... nobody knows when that is.”
Because Georgia lost a lot of seniors to graduation as well as several juniors — particularly on offense — to the NFL draft, it has a bit of a depleted roster until the other 19 of the 25 signees can join the team once summer semester begins in June.
Smart was asked if any of the players on campus stood out during the offseason.
“I thought that George (Pickens) was competing really hard and doing good things in the workouts. He really liked the competitive side of things,” Smart said. “(Offensive lineman) Clay Webb was a guy who was really competing hard, did some good things. James Cook: I mean we had competition daily to see who was going to win individual battles, and James probably had the largest winning percentages. He and Zamir White) are really challenging each other, and competing really hard. Those guys can continue to grow.”
But of all the position battles Georgia would otherwise be having now, which would be nearing the halfway point of spring practice, the one at quarterback is the most crucial. And neither Newman nor any of the other candidates are able to throw with the Bulldogs’ wideouts under the critical eye of Monken, their first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
In the meantime, they all are training as much as they can on their own. Newman has been working with respected Atlanta quarterback trainer Quincy Avery. The owner of the QB Takeover camp is well-known for working with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson when he lived in Georgia and was playing for Clemson.
For now, Smart’s just thankful for the time Newman and the quarterbacks got before the shutdown.
“I mean, we were able to meet leading up to spring practice,” Smart said. “A lot of people forget that we were able to have walk-throughs leading up to spring time. We maximized that time, not anticipating that we wouldn’t have spring, but just knowing that we had new quarterbacks and due to the offensive systems, we had to make sure we spent time with that. So, we spent a lot of time on that.”
Smart said as much as they can, the Bulldogs are trying to “go through spring practice now.” Now that classes have resumed online, they can have two hours of video-conference meetings per week.
“How much of it can be done virtually, I don't know that,” he said. “That’s something we’re coming across now. It’s really more of how much can they digest virtually, because you want to give the kids everything we can.”