ATHENS — After helping Georgia secure back-to-back national championships and enjoying the go-to starter role last season, quarterback Stetson Bennett is gone and readying for the NFL draft.
So, the Bulldogs’ quarterback situation looks much different this spring, with junior Carson Beck and sophomore Brock Vandagriff in the mix, plus freshman Gunner Stockton. It’s hard for Georgia coach Kirby Smart to glean too much from the first scrimmage Saturday (especially given there was no tackling of the quarterbacks allowed), but Smart gave his evaluation of how all three played when he addressed the media Saturday afternoon.
There were highs and lows for all three, though Smart had high praise for Beck’s ability to lead the offense (Beck got playing time in seven games last season, behind Bennett, with Vandagriff playing in the Samford, South Carolina and Vanderbilt games).
“(Beck) understands (the offense) inside and out,” Smart said. “He communicates it, gets things correct. He had a couple of poor decisions and choices today, but he also made some plays. He made some really good throws. He has really good presence in the pocket to move around. Brock made some plays. He made some plays getting out of the pocket. He made some good throws. He had a couple of downfield throws I think he wishes he had back, give us a chance in some 50-50 situations and keep the ball in bounds with that, but he did a really good job in (the) two-minute (drill), and then Gunner made some plays.
“Gunner made some plays with his feet. He’s still, the administration of the offense and getting everybody lined up, getting going, getting the call in ... he’s growing and getting better. He made some nice throws. I’m going to keep repeating myself, but we’ve got three pretty good quarterbacks. They’ve grown each one of them, and they’re all three different in their own right.”
Both Beck and Vandagriff took reps with the first team, per Smart, and Stockton took some reps with the second team and predominantly with the third.
Smart said the dynamic hasn’t changed among the quarterbacks, with the coaching staff still needing to evaluate the first scrimmage (again, easier said than done when none of them technically can take a sack).
“I think we’ll evaluate this scrimmage and come back in on Monday and be able to say, ‘OK, what did they do well or poorly with no coach on the field?’” Smart said. “It’s still a tough evaluation because there’s probably 10 plays out there in the scrimmage where I have to say a guy got sacked. Well, did he get sacked or did he not get sacked because we didn’t tackle? So you give the benefit of the doubt to the defensive player that’s standing there unblocked, but they actually have to get them on the ground. Until you tackle a guy live, which we’re not going to do, it’s not going to give you a true evaluation.”
The two biggest things Smart is looking for when evaluating his quarterbacks? Demeanor and communication, along with the ability to process information, get the signal, get personnel lined up, evaluate the defense and go from there.
Georgia has a quarterback-driven offense, Smart pointed out, so there’s more pressure on the signal-caller to limit costly mistakes.
“Can you make consecutive decisions over and over that don’t cost our team games?” Smart said. “Because we have enough playmakers and we have enough plays that you will make a play inevitably. Don’t make a boneheaded play, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Aside from quarterback play, Georgia’s first spring scrimmage followed most of the usual patterns – meaning, nowhere near as far along as Smart would prefer.
Overall, though, through nine practices, he’s pretty pleased with the Bulldogs’ efforts as they look to keep the momentum of back-to-back national championships going.
“We don’t tackle well,” Smart said. “We are a little lackadaisical. Probably more penalties than I’m used to having in the first scrimmage. Administrative penalties, the signal getting in. Delay of game. Communication. Things that you shouldn’t have but that we typically have in the first scrimmage, but I was proud of the guys for pushing through.
“... I keep thinking, defensively we should be ahead of where we are, and we’re probably not where we need to be in terms of that. We’ve played really physical up front on the offensive line. We’ve got some (players) dinged up that have been out, but we’ve got some young guys that are coming along and picking things up. The good news, those 21 freshmen, new guys, mid-years, whatever you want to say, they’re going to be a lot closer to being ready the next time we have scrimmage one, in (August). I’m excited about where they’re going to be, but maybe not where they are.”