Easy Decision: Eason
By Jim Johnson
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Jacob Eason has to be the starter over Jake Fromm. There's simply no way around it.
Georgia's spring practice is set to get under way this week, and, in Kirby Smart's second season, expectations are sky-high in Athens.
KC Joyner wrote, for ESPN.com, that Georgia could be a legitimate playoff contender in 2017.
Paul Myerberg, of USA Today Sports, believes the Bulldogs to be the clear favorite in the SEC East.
Large portions of the fan base, often citing the schedule and recent class of signees, coupled with the returning starters from 2016, think Georgia could go undefeated in the regular season.
With such an optimistic forecast, both nationally, as well as in and around the program, Jacob Eason has to be the starter over Jake Fromm. There's simply no way around it.
In fact, by not making it clear from day one that Eason has the job no matter what, the coaching staff may be doing him a disservice.
This can go one of two ways:
A, Eason is the starter, no questions asked, and Fromm, at most, provides a source of motivation to put in the necessary work to make strides in the right direction. Georgia then has a shot, with a quarterback that has a year of experience as a starter, to get back to the SEC Championship for the first time since 2012, where, in a one game scenario, likely against a better opponent, anything can happen.
Or B, the door is left open for Fromm. Eason, who is not guaranteed to make the leap into the game's elite, struggles at some point and allows Fromm to win some playing time. If that happens, Eason is probably irreparably damaged from a mental and psychological standpoint, to the extent that he can no longer be relied upon as a viable option. That leaves Georgia being led by a true freshman, for the second consecutive year, which gives them a clear ceiling around what was seen last year, in the 8-5, 9-4 range.
For fans and analysts, of which there are many, that think Georgia can be playoff contender, and do it with Fromm at the helm, that seems like a stretch. Why would the Bulldogs be any better this year, behind another, less highly touted freshman signal caller, than they were in 2016?
Just as Eason was expected to be a messianic, program changing player, right away, his flaws were quickly exposed in by the game's best defensive conference. No different would it be for Fromm.
People believe Fromm can be the immediate weapon that Eason wasn't simply because they haven't been witness to the former's deficiencies. That's unrealistic. Fromm could start and Georgia would effectively be the same team it was. Eason should start and, while it's possible that Georgia would remain stagnant, it's also possible that the team could live up to some of the more reasonable, nevertheless lofty hopes.
The tl;dr version is as follows: If Fromm starts, no matter how good he is, there is a clear ceiling, just by nature of his being a freshman. If Eason starts, the floor is the same and the ceiling is unknown.
Eason had an up-and-down freshman campaign. There were bright spots and glimmers of what made him the top-rated pocket passer in his class.
The late throws against Tennessee and Missouri, specifically, showed off the arm talent that everyone raved about, and, perhaps more importantly, can be held up as examples of the immeasurables -- poise, guts, fearlessness -- of which there were questions, even though they are so often more important than anything you can see in a drill.
There were plenty moments to forget, as well, however.
The interception against Georgia Tech, or taking 10 sacks on plays when not blitzed, for instance, but the important thing is that he seems to have the ever important amnesia that all the greats possess.
The reason 5-stars bust is that scouting services overvalue the eye test with little regard to the intangibles that amount to so much more of a quarterbacks success. Eason proved that he has those unseeable attributes that won't allow him to bust, unless, of course, Georgia destroys his confidence by inexplicably going with Fromm. Whether or not, or how much, he gets better is ultimately up to him alone, but there is simply no chance that he would be a worse option than Fromm, this season.
The potential for Eason to be a special player exists. With a clean pocket, he completed 62% of his attempts for over 2,000 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six picks, as a freshman.
His primary concern is when he is under pressure, which he often was behind an atrocious offensive line, last year, and will be this year as well, with what will be a very young group up front.
When things were falling apart around him, his completion percentage dropped to around 32%, with less than 400 yards passing, two touchdowns and as many interceptions. His passer rating under pressure was cut in half, relative to when he wasn't.
That has to improve, but its a common problem for freshman field generals. Jalen Hurts had the same deal.
For all that arm talent, his deep ball accuracy needs to get better, too.
Every blemish Eason exhibited last year is correctable. That, obviously is no guarantee that it will be corrected, but the point is that Georgia has an easy decision, and one that it should make quickly.
Either the Bulldogs can go with another freshman quarterback and mirror its 2016 success, or lack thereof. Or they can start Jacob Eason with the promise of, at worst, another relatively mediocre season, but the possibility of a conference title run -- much more than Fromm can offer, for now.