Georgia spring practice: Jake Fromm vs. Justin Fields a tougher call than you think
The defending SEC champs have one of the most intriguing quarterback battles this spring
Justin Fields, a five-star, dual-threat superstar from Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, signed with the Bulldogs during the Early Signing Period in December 2017. He will enter spring practice as the underdog against rising sophomore Fromm, who just so happened to lead the Bulldogs to an SEC title and berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship after replacing Eason early in the season.
So ... now what?
Fields might be incredible, but Smart can't possibly bench Fromm, can he?
Yes, he can. And he might.
"He's special," Pac-12 Network analyst and Elite 11 quarterback coach Yogi Roth told CBS Sports. "Since Jameis Winston, I don't think there's a quarterback who we've had and I've been around during my 10 years with Elite 11 that you can say has all the tools. You knew Jared Goff had unique arm talent. You knew Christian Hackenberg was built physically in a unique way. You knew that Jake Fromm was a great competitor and had the 'it factor.' You knew that Tua Tagovailoa was talented. But this guy has everything -- the mindset, the makeup, the physical traits, the football acumen, the competitive temperament, the functional football intelligence. I think he has all of those tools."
When Georgia kicks off spring practice, Fields will have the chance to unseat the man who has already stepped into Bulldogs' immortality with a freshman season for the ages.
"They're only so many guys like Justin Fields," Smart said in December. "He is a talented young man and so is Jake Fromm. I bet Justin Fields makes Jake Fromm better and Jake Fromm makes Justin Fields better. When you start looking at the dynamic that competition breeds success, you've sold this program on competition. Those guys are going to make each other better."
That's the way it should be.
What Smart has done in his two-plus seasons in Athens is build a program that thrives with competition 24/7/365. Players aren't just concerned about which team is next up on the schedule and what challenges they present, they're concerned with keeping their jobs during the other nine months of the year.
The environment of never-ending competition makes the players involved in the specific position battles better, and it creates a locker room that will be unfazed by whatever happens during the fall.
"One of the first things we talk to quarterbacks at Elite 11 about for 10 years now is the word 'compete,'" Roth said. "It's defined as 'strive against.' But when you scroll down, it says 'Latin root: Poland, strive together.' Jake Fromm looks at the word 'compete' in the Latin version of it, and thinks that this is going to make all of us better. I'm sure he's thinking, 'I'm the starter, too,' but he also thinks that Justin is going to make him better and he's going to make Justin better and that this entire situation is awesome."
Nobody knows about the benefits of internal competition much better than former Bulldogs QB D.J. Shockley, who entered a competition of his own in March 2002 as a superstar redshirt freshman who happened to be the centerpiece of Mark Richt's first recruiting class the year before.
The man he was battling, David Greene, was fresh off a stellar redshirt freshman campaign in 2001 in which he threw 17 touchdowns and nine picks, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt.
"Kirby is trying create that kind of culture," Shockley told CBS Sports. "If you don't do what you're supposed to do on a daily basis on and off the field, you can be replaced. And guess what, that next guy coming in will be just like you. That breeds for a lot of great competition in practice and brings out the best in the guys who want to be the best."
The result of that culture in Shockley's day was an SEC title in 2002 with Greene as the starter and Shockley as a role player who played in designated series throughout the season. When Greene moved on after the 2004 season, Shockley got his one shot as the full-time starter and made it count with an SEC title of his own.
The Fromm-Fields scenario feels similar to the Greene-Shockley experience to Georgia fans, but it might not be the best way for Smart to handle it. Fields, like Shockley, is an electric runner with tremendous passing prowess. If he gets relegated to the role of "change-up running threat," it could backfire.
"There were times where I really tried to put it in my own hands," Shockley said. "We would have a run-pass option called, and I pressed sometimes and tried to do too much. I wanted to show everybody that I could throw -- that I wasn't just a guy who could run. Sometimes I stood in the pocket too long. We'd watch film, and [quarterbacks coach] Mike Bobo and Mark Richt would be begging and pleading for me to take off and run. For a while, I tried to use those instances when I was in the game as a barometer to show that I can throw the football."
Georgia should consider that option, but only if it makes sense in August.
And there's a long way between March and August.
During that time, Fields will push Fromm, Fromm will push himself, and Georgia will be better for it. If Fields is too good to keep off the field, then so be it. But if Fromm fends off the challenge of Fields and the staff creates separation between the two by redshirting their hot-shot freshman, that's fine, too.
"Giving guys the ability to hit pause for a second in their careers, redshirt, sit, learn and evolve emotionally and on the football front is huge," Roth said. "Jake Fromm might be in a better position had he sat last year developed his body and learned from Eason. I know that sounds nuts because he did so well, but he didn't have the chance to have a full year to develop his body with that program. He's unique and did compete and went to the national title, which is insane"
This is an incredibly healthy quarterback situation, but it exemplifies the culture Smart is continuing to build in the Classic City.
It's a win-win situation for everybody involved -- especially the Georgia football program.
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