Fates of Georgia’s Todd Monken, QB JT Daniels tightly ‘tied together’

Georgia offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Monken surveys the Bulldogs' offense from the West End zone of Sanford Stadium during the Bulldogs’ preseason practice session on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Monken surveys the Bulldogs' offense from the West End zone of Sanford Stadium during the Bulldogs’ preseason practice session on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

ATHENS – Much concern remains regarding the coming football season, especially with the late-summer surge of COVID-19 and its scary Delta variant looming around the South. But Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken, speaking to reporters Thursday for the first time this year, scoffed at the notion that uncertainty approaches anything at the level college football was dealing with last year.

“No chance in hell it’s the same as last year, just because of no spring, a pandemic and not really knowing,” said Monken, participating in a video conference call around lunchtime Thursday. “Maybe at this point we don’t know (about) the Delta variant. But (last year) we didn’t have the vaccine and we didn’t have some of the ways to curb this. We didn’t know if we were going to play. As a team and as a society we were going through some social injustice and unrest. We had a lot of things that were thrown our way, not just the pandemic.”

Thankfully for the world of college football, much less uncertainty remains. That’s important for Georgia in two key ways: One, the Bulldogs know they’re going to open the season as planned against Clemson on Sept. 4 in Charlotte (7:30 p.m., ABC); and two, both Monken and the Bulldogs know JT Daniels is going to be their starting quarterback.

That’s a whale of a difference from a year ago.

Monken, Georgia’s second-year coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was asked what the benefits have been of knowing Daniels is his No. 1 guy and being able to work with him closely in that capacity for the past 10 months.

“With any relationship, it takes time, as much as anything,” Monken said. “Over time, you get to know each other and, you know, you figure out how to get somebody to be at his best as a player or just a human being. So, it just takes time to get him to understand what we want to do offensively, what we need him to do with the team in terms of leading, in terms of being a coach on the field. So, I think the biggest thing is just time.”

Success helps, too. Monken and Daniels joined forces to go 4-0 over the final four games after Daniels finally was designated QB1 for the seventh game of the season. Before that, Daniels was still mired in a prolonged recovery from an ACL reconstruction and buried on a depth chart that once included five players.

Daniels went on to complete 67% of his passes for 1,231 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions against Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri and Cincinnati.

This year, Georgia will open the season against Clemson. There’s no quarterback debate heading into that game. But both the competition and the stage promise to be considerably more intense. But Monken believes both he and Daniels will be infinitely more prepared to face it than they would’ve been a year ago.

“We’re tied together,” Monken said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. That relationship, the more success we have, the more fun it will be; the less success we have, it’s not that much fun. So, the better he gets and the better I do, the better relationship will be. And that’s anywhere I’ve ever been.”

Following are some excerpts from Monken’s question-and-answer session:

Q: How much further along is the offense having a whole year to work together?

A: Let’s just start with the staff. Being together for a year when we do game-planning and guys make suggestions and we start talking through things, they get to know me a little bit better, and it makes for a much easier working relationship in terms of those things. Then, you go with the players and the terminology. I think that part of it, missing spring (in 2020) and then the fall, as I’ve said many times, the core of what you do football-wise is the same in the NFL -- blocking, tackling, doing it better than they do it. But, systematically, the way you go about attacking people is a little bit different. That took time. Obviously, the quarterback situation adds to that.

I feel like a year later I’m doing it better, and that’s what you’re paid to do, to do it better than you did it last year with the staff in terms of what we’re doing offensively, in terms of how we’re coaching our players and then honing in on who we want to be.”

Q: How different might you guys operate on offense?

A: When the season ends, you go through our cut-ups, and you say ‘what can I do better, what can the players do better, where can we put them in a better situation to have success? Because the majority of our players here have a skill-set, especially the skill guys, that you can utilize doing something. We just have to figure out what that is and where we can get them in those positions. Then, you spend the offseason heading into spring evaluating what other people are doing, trying to stay on the cutting edge of what people are doing offensively, and trying to utilize our personnel, which I thought we did a really good job of.

But, at the end of the day, the teams that are really good on offense do the same things and do them better than (opponents) do it. They tweak some, but they constantly are looking for ways to improve. But they have a philosophy of what they do, and they try to do it better than they did it. So, (opponents) having the film of what we do and how we do it, it’s up to us to mirror our plays up so they can look the same but appear different to the defense. You want to put them in run-pass conflicts with different ways that you’re able to do that. I’m excited about the direction we’re headed, and what we carried over from last season.”

Q: What does the quarterback situation look like behind Daniels?

A: We left spring with Carson Beck as our No. 2 quarterback, but we’re working through that now. With Brock (Vandagriff), it’s hard to assess a freshman player that comes in the spring. We put a lot on those guys. Right away, they’re not really able to show their ability because they’re processing so much. It slows down their feet; it slows down some of those things. There’s been tremendous improvement there. Obviously, Stetson (Bennett) has greatly improved. So, we’re still in the process of evaluating that and the next two scrimmages will have a lot to say on that in terms of how we end up going into the first game.

I’ve been pleased with all four of them. ... And Stetson is to be commended because it hasn’t been easy. You go from being a starter to, ‘hey, you’re competing with four other guys for even just the backup spot or the third spot.’ He’s worked awfully hard. He’s really intelligent. He has improved a ton. We’re fired up about the group.

Q: It seems like you have talent stacked up at tight end. How might you utilize that position?

A: You’ve got John FitzPatrick, who played a lot of football for us last year. I wouldn’t say he’s the most versatile but, in terms of trust, that is probably the biggest word with him. With ‘Fitz,’ you can put him at Y, you can put him at F tight end, you can flex him out. He’s going to be diligent in the way he approaches it and you can count on him. He’s a true Bulldog. Then you take Darnell Washington, who got here last year. Some of those things we saw later in the year, we hadn’t seen earlier in the year. … When we did get him the ball, we were able to see some of that ability -- I wouldn’t say down the field -- but run-after-catch and some of those things. We knew he’d be able to cover people up and develop that way, but he’s a unique player. I don’t really know other than to say that he’s unique in terms of his size and athleticism. At 6-foot-7, 280 (pounds) and ball skills and can run, he’s only going to continue to get better. He’s only really scratched the surface.

Then you’ve got Brock Bowers, who is the consummate F. You could hand the ball to him if you wanted to. In his high school film, he played some fullback and, in terms of route-running, he’s another guy who is a diligent worker. He’ll work himself into the ground and runs and competes. We’re really, really fortunate to have those three guys in the mix. And then you’ve got Ryland Goede and Brett Seither, who are competing for playing time. But those three guys, that’s a pretty special group that we have. With the ability to utilize them and their skill set.”

Q: You didn’t mention Arik Gilbert as a tight end. How is he adjusting to playing wide receiver and how do you see utilizing him in the offense?

A: Well, I think he’s adapted well. He’s a special talent. He’s in the Brock Bowers mode in that he’s athletic enough to play receiver but big enough to do some things on the interior. He’s a size matchup, he’s a run-after-catch guy. He loves to play the game. So we’re excited that he’s part of our program.

Q: How do you feel about your wideouts as a group?

A: Jermaine Burton returns as a starter and you’ve got Kearis Jackson, Marcus Rosemy who is coming off an injury. Those are the three guys coming back that have probably played the most football. Adonai Mitchell we think is going to be a tremendous player here. Arian Smith has a unique skill set. He can really run and is developing other aspects of his game. He’s really quick and twitchy and not really someone who is just a straight-line track guy. There are days that he flashes. Justin Robinson has improved; Jaylen Johnson is going to add to that group; Ladd McConkey has made some plays. You lose one guy (George Pickens), and it is what it is.

The other guys get a chance to step up. That’s why you recruit players that have talent and you’re moving guys around. You’ve just got to find the right combination of guys, which includes Arik and the tight ends. We also have the running backs. We can’t forget the fact that we’ve got multiple guys that we can get on the field at once.”

Q: How’s the offensive line shaping up?

A: We have (Justin) Shaffer, who comes back as a returning starter (at guard), and Jamaree (Salyer). Then you’ve got (tackle) Warren McClendon. And, yet, you’ve got a good number of talented young guys who are pushing those guys. So, really, in terms of the depth chart, it’s a work in progress. I do anticipate a good number of guys working with the 1′s and the 2′s. You’re talking about, on the left side, we’re looking at Amarius (Mims) and Xavier Truss (at tackle). On the right side, we’ve had Tate (Ratledge) and Devin Willock, who’s a talented young guy, and Owen Condon, who has been here. Then, you’ve got Broderick (Jones), who continues to grow. The good news is that we practice all of them and we continue to rotate them, so I’m excited to get to Saturday and see where we’re at.

Q: How can you introduce more explosive plays into your running game?

A: First off, we’ve got an excellent group of running backs and all five can play here. (Assistant coach) Dell (McGee) does a great job of keeping those guys fresh. They’ve been pretty selfless in terms of understanding that it probably benefits them to not have the wear and tear on them. Obviously, we have to become more explosive in the run game. I think we were consistent for the most part. Obviously, we had a couple of games with Mississippi State and the bowl game where we didn’t nearly run it as well as you would like to be able to. … You can’t control the game if you can’t run it. Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball to the perimeter because there is more space out there. That will help us.

Formationally, we can do some things differently. Then there were some games -- obviously, the Kentucky game – that we ran the ball well. But it’s more in terms of five-, six-, seven- or 10 (yards) here. But we definitely have to be more explosive. That’s how you win the game, to be explosive and not turn it over. So, there’s a balance. We’ve got to become more explosive in the run game and we have to do it without having a dual-threat quarterback.