GREENSBORO, Ga. — The three-man battle taking place at Georgia among senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason will be one of the major storylines of the offseason, thanks to the 5-star hype Eason brings in, the coaching change from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart and the need for the Bulldogs to stretch the field.
There's no question that Eason is the future, but could "the present" be a two-quarterback system, at least in the opener vs. North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta?
"I think you play the guy who gives you the best opportunity to win," Smart said at the Chick-fil-A Challenge in Greensoro, Georgia, on Monday. "I think you make that judgement during the game with how guys are playing and how they've played the 28 practices prior to that. I'd be open to that. Certainly, it's not something that's beneficial for the overall program. But if one guy is not playing well, you have to be willing to do that."
If the Georgia quarterback battle bleeds into the season, that takes away No. 1 reps from the eventual winner during fall camp—when it's imperative for quarterbacks to grow. Is Smart worried about that perhaps hampering Eason's development?
"I don't think so, because they all get equal reps," he said. "You can get three quarterbacks during summer ready to play. They kind of take care of themselves as far as reps go. The better they play, they more they get."
Going up against a North Carolina defense that finished third in the ACC in pass defense (188.6 yards per game) last year and boasted Broyles Award finalist Gene Chizik as its coordinator, the Bulldog quarterbacks have a big challenge in front of them in Week 1.
It sounds like Eason will see the field in some capacity in his first game in the red and black. Whether that means as the starter or the first guy off the bench remains to be seen.
A big part of that equation will be summer workouts, when the three quarterbacks will be charged with leading throwing sessions and seven-on-seven workouts.
"It's hard to evaluate them in the summer toward fall, because we obviously aren't out there when those guys are getting to throw and do things," Smart said on the SEC East coaches teleconference on Wednesday. "I challenged each one of them in our exit interview to be a leader, be organized and structure things."
The last time Georgia used a two-quarterback system prior to last year—when Lambert and Ramsey rotated early before Lambert took over full time—was in 2006, when Matthew Stafford was a true freshman in the Classic City.
In that season, Joe Tereshinski opened the season vs. Western Kentucky as the starter, with Stafford and Joe Cox rotating in throughout the first half of the season before Stafford took over as the full-time starter on Oct. 21 vs. Mississippi State. Stafford finished the season with 1,749 passing yards, tossing seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but established himself as the future of the program down the stretch with wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech.
|Georgia 2006 QB Statistics|
|Joe Tereshinski||Sr. (RS)||32-for-57||56.1||423||3||2|
|Joe Cox||Fr. (RS)||17-for-28||60.7||225||2||1|
Smart could be following the same path with this cast—which is a mirror image of that group.
Lambert is the veteran who can manage a game, but with limited upside. Like Cox, Ramsey was a highly touted recruit who hasn't seen much time under center. Like Stafford, Eason is the 5-star stud with the weight of a fanbase resting on his shoulders.
After facing the Tar Heels in the 2016 opener on one of the biggest stages in college football, Georgia gets Nicholls State and a road trip to Missouri prior to the trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in Week 4.
Smart testing the waters in September to find out who can handle the offense and just how ready Eason is for the SEC sounds like a reasonable option for the 2016 Bulldogs.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.