Georgia QB Carson Beck turning heads in spring practice

Georgia football-spring practice-halfway

Credit: Mackenzie Miles

Credit: Mackenzie Miles

Georgia redshirt sophomore quarterback Carson Beck has been doing some impressive work with the No. 1 offense and giving returning starter Stetson Bennett a run for his money. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)

ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs held their first full scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. The takeaway depends on whom one asks, but generally it was described as a spirited affair in which the offense got the better of the defense, as it has over the last three weeks.

Running back Kendall Milton had a long touchdown, tight end Arik Gilbert made a lot of plays and slot receivers Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock stood out, according to observers.

The chatroom scuttlebutt on fan sites continues to be about redshirt sophomore quarterback Carson Beck doing some impressive work with the No. 1 offense and giving returning starter Stetson Bennett a run for his money. But one objective observer said Georgia’s whole offensive plan still revolves around Bennett, the sixth-year senior and returning starter.

The coaching task at hand is to make certain that Beck, redshirt freshman Brock Vandagriff and true freshman Gunner Stockton are ready not only for the G-Day game on April 16 but also to be prepared to step in when needed as the Bulldogs begin their national title defense next fall.

Still, coach Kirby Smart continues to speak highly of the work he has seen from the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Beck this spring.

“I think he has really good composure,” Smart said. “Carson is never up, never down. I think that’s a great quality in every quarterback I’ve seen. … He’s pretty even-keeled. He’s got another year in the system, so it comes naturally to him. He’s not nervous about what the call is, what’s my read, what’s the motion, what’s the shift. He’s very cool, calm and collected and does a good job of managing those things with the offense. So, he has earned some confidence and earned some confidence with the players.”

None of those descriptions would have applied to Beck last season. In four games, he completed just 43.5% of 23 passes for 176 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Beck was slated to start in last year’s Week 2 game against UAB but got beaten out by Bennett during the week of practice. In the game, Bennett threw 5 touchdowns on 10-of-12 passing, while Beck went 4 of 10 with a TD and an interception.

From that point on, Beck assumed a third-string role behind Bennett and JT Daniels. Bennett went 11-1 as a starter, earning offensive MVP honors of the Orange Bowl and College Football Championship. Daniels, a rising senior, entered the transfer portal.

“He's very cool, calm and collected and does a good job of managing those things with the offense. So, he has earned some confidence and earned some confidence with the players."

- Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart, on redshirt sophomore QB Carson Beck

As it stands, Beck is the first man in should Bennett falter or suffer injury. And in the age of the transfer portal, it’s critical that he understand his importance to the team. Accordingly, Beck is getting a lot of intensive work this spring and has responded well to it.

“Carson Beck has been a quarterback who’s come in and is always ready to work, always a good teammate, a great teammate,” Georgia defensive back William Poole said last week. “I’ve seen great improvement from him, and I’m looking forward to the way he can play this fall.”

The key for the Bulldogs is that all the quarterbacks keep improving.

Smart reiterated that he’s seeing that in varying degrees from all the signal-callers.

“Great quarterbacks are accurate, and they make good decisions,” he said. “… I want to see them execute the offense, lead the offense, make plays with their feet when things break down and overcome mistakes, because there’s going to be some adversity out there. The good thing is that those guys get the opportunity to do that every day at practice.”

Neck injury for freshman linebacker

Linebacker C.J. Washington got a scare and gave the Bulldogs one, too, when he suffered a serious neck injury in practice last week. The 6-1, 225-pound early enrollee from Cedartown was concussed and immobile for a time after making a sideline hit in a full-contact practice March 26. It has since been determined Washington suffered a neck injury. He is in a brace and is going to be out at least for the rest of the spring.

“We don’t know the complete severity of that or the length of time it will take to recover,” Smart said. “But what we do know is he has all his extremities and he can walk. … He’s going to be in a neck brace for a while, but he has a great spirit. He’s smiling, laughing, cutting up over here every day.”

Georgia needs all the help it can get at inside linebacker, where it’s having to replace NFL-bound stars Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker.

Meanwhile, offensive guard Tate Ratledge (foot), tight end Ryland Goede (knee) and tight end Darnell Washington (ankle) remain out of action.

Special teams

Newly arrived punter Brett Thorson was taking the majority of the reps with the No. 1 punt team this past week, with redshirt freshman walk-on Noah Jones getting the others. The 6-2, 210-pound Australian has the tall task of having to replace All-American Jake Camarda.

Thorson, who starred in Australian Rules Football back home in Victoria, can punt on the move, rugby style, but so far hasn’t been doing that with the Bulldogs.

“That is something that we will explore, but that is not what we are working on right now,” Smart said. “We are working on our different protections, different looks, checking protections and allowing him to kick under pressure because that is the thing that he has not been able to simulate, to kick under pressure. Replacing Jake Camarda will be key, but I thought he had some good punts today, and he hit his directions, which is important.”

Jackson was first on the field as punt returner. The fifth-year senior from Fort Valley was Georgia’s primary punt returner last year, recording 22 for 189 yards (8.59 per attempt) without any touchdowns. Jackson also returned punts in 2020 (11-298). Rising sophomore Ladd McConkey went next and Blaylock went third.

Receiver A.D. Mitchell is working as a gunner on punt coverage, and tight end Arik Gilbert is also playing that on the first-team unit.

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