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Why Jacob Eason Needs to Be Georgia's Starting QB in Week 1

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterAugust 3, 2016

Georgia QB Jacob Eason
Georgia QB Jacob EasonBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When Georgia's fall camp kicked off on Monday, it started the clock on Kirby Smart's biggest decision yet as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

Who's going to play quarterback?

Senior returning starter Greyson Lambert is looking to fend off challenges from junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason for the top spot on the depth chart, and all eyes will be on Eason—a former 5-star prospect from Lake Stevens, Washington—throughout the month of August in Athens. 

Eason needs to be the starter when toe meets leather in Georgia's season opener against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.

Georgia QB Jacob Eason
Georgia QB Jacob EasonBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This is no ordinary opener for the Bulldogs.

The status of running back Sony Michel is in doubt after he suffered a wrist injury in an off-the-field incident over Independence Day weekend. So too is the status of star running back Nick Chubb after he tore ligaments in his left knee last October on the first play from scrimmage against Tennessee.

It seems unlikely that Michel will play, but it appears Chubb might be ready to shoulder some of the load against the Tar Heels.

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"Nick has been doing for the last three months everything the team has done," Smart said according to Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph. "He will continue to that, everything the team is doing. We’ll continue to monitor his progress. The big thing for Nick is putting the ball in his hand because that’s what he really hasn’t had outside of drill work."

It's likely that Smart will be a little more cautious with Chubb, who is the primary weapon Georgia has to keep North Carolina's high-octane offense—one that averaged 7.28 yards per play and 40.7 yards per game—off the field.

Because of that, the opener might be a shootout.

Is Lambert capable of winning a shootout? Probably not.

He finished last year with just eight completions of 30 or more yards, according to CFBStats.com, behind former Florida quarterback Treon Harris, former Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles and current South Carolina quarterback Perry Orth.

Eason, however, has that potential.

QB Jacob Eason was Georgia's leading passer in the spring game
QB Jacob Eason was Georgia's leading passer in the spring gameBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

He dropped a couple of dimes deep downfield in the spring game, when he completed 19 of his 29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown.

"That kid can throw," said safety Dominick Sanders at SEC media days. "The kid is very talented and a very hard worker. It's a pleasure going against him every day."

Plus, Smart can use the grace period that is afforded to first-year head coaches to his advantage.

If Georgia goes 8-4 or 9-3 with Lambert or Ramsey taking the snaps, that'll likely be viewed as a disappointing season in the Classic City. But that same record with Eason taking the snaps, learning from mistakes and enjoying some success, would set the Bulldogs up to make noise on a national scale in 2017.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Smart is stepping into a program that has talent but glaring holes in key spots. Quarterback, wide receiver and running back all have questions for various reasons, and he's made no bones about the absence of trustworthy defensive linemen up front this offseason.

"The biggest concern for me and our team is the defensive line," he said at media days. "We have to do a great job there and stay injury-free. We have to develop the guys on campus."

Smart certainly isn't going to chalk the 2016 season up as a rebuilding year, because his Bulldogs have enough talent to contend for the division if a lot of the pieces come together quickly. But the most important piece of that puzzle is Eason. Throwing caution to the wind and letting the cornerstone of the program for the next three or four years loose early could pay immediate dividends and certainly would pay long-term dividends.

Smart needs to start Eason against the Tar Heels because he gives the program the best chance at winning a shootout, and it would benefit his star quarterback down the road to feel that big-game atmosphere right out of the gate.

Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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.

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