Big Plays (Finally) in UGA Passing Game

ATHENS - Georgia’s first spring scrimmage under Kirby Smart had something that was too often missing last season for the Bulldogs.

Big plays in the passing game.

Georgia ranked 104th nationally in passing offense in 2015, but while the ground game was lacking Saturday in Sanford Stadium with Nick Chubb held out as he recovers from a knee injury, the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job made their share of plays through the air.

“We did have some good explosive passes, which I think is always important,” said Smart, the first-year head coach. “It’s not good on defense, but it’s good when you get a chance to do that on offense.”

Senior Greyson Lambert, who started all but one game last season, and junior Brice Ramsey split time with the first and second teams and both directed scoring drives, Smart said.

Freshman Jacob Eason went with the third team for two series. Smart said Eason was “a little nervous early,” but did some good things with some big plays for a unit that included receivers Riley Ridley and Shaquery Wilson. Eason also fared well working with the second unit that included receivers Terry Godwin and Reggie Davis rolling in.

Georgia hit its goal of completing in the 60 to 70 percent range of its passes despite some wind.

“Greyson and Brice both kind of did the expected,” Smart said. “I want Brice to manage the huddle a little better, be more efficient, get the call out, get to the line faster. I think Greyson is doing a nice job of managing the huddle right now on the call and executing the play. He’s got to be a little bit more mobile in the pocket, got to be able to create a little bit more and get out of there and make some throws.”

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Eason has “great arm talent, but sometimes arm talent can get you in trouble if you make poor decisions,” Smart said. “We’re trying to make sure he’s doing the right progression, doing the right check, throwing the ball to the right place. He had several times where he threw the ball to the wrong place but he made a hell of a play. You don’t want to take that out of the guy. You don’t want to overcoach a guy.”

Aaron Murray, entering his third season as a member of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, was on hand.

There is uncertainty at the quarterback position for the third straight spring since Murray’s final season in 2013.

Hutson Mason was a first-year starter in 2014. Georgia had three competing for the starting job last spring, but Lambert came in last summer from Virginia as a graduate transfer and won the job.

Only Ramsey remains from that competition a year ago.

Smart said Eason hopefully will earn a chance to quarterback the ones. He’s one of six early enrollees. Another, tight end Isaac Nauta, had a couple of catches, said Smart, who was pleased with the newcomers.

“That’s an awakening for them when they get out there and see how fast it really is,” he said.

The scrimmage--one of three this spring--was played before a mostly empty Sanford Stadium with only family members, recruits and other invited guests in the stands. Smart has urged fans to fill the place up on April 16 for the G-Day game.

Smart ran about 45 minutes late to the scheduled press conference because he said he was visiting with Georgia lettermen and players’ parents.

Under Mark Richt, the Bulldogs’ coach always liked to recite what he called “unofficial official stats,” except last preseason when he didn’t want to reveal the quarterback numbers with the job up for grabs.

Georgia did not release any statistics on Saturday and the scrimmage remains closed to the media under Smart who did not have any players available to talk about it afterwards. So the coach was the only one to offer a glimpse of what transpired during a sunny but windy early afternoon with temperatures in the lower 60s.

With Chubb doing limited practice work this spring and Sony Michel’s workload in the 8 to 10 carry range, redshirt freshman Tae Crowder had the largest workload. Brendan Douglas (wrist) got carries but wasn’t tackled.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball a little bit better on offense,” Smart said. “That running back situation made it tougher to run it but I still feel like to be a productive football team we’re going to have to run the ball first and then throw the ball down the field. We’re not where we need to be physically running the ball, dominating up front.”

The defense had a couple of goal-line stands, Smart said, but gave up too many big plays.

Inside linebackers Natrez Patrick and Reggie Carter were “flying around,” in pursuit of the ball.

Rodrigo Blankenship “did a nice job with field goals,” Smart said, even though one miss went off the uprights.

The first team offense went up against the second team defense and the first team defense against the second team offense for about half of the scrimmage. The other half was situational work with ones against ones.

“I thought the effort was good, but I do not think we’re where we need to be organizationally,” Smart said. “We took too long getting in and out of the huddle on offense and defensively we had some substitution errors and it just shows that we have to do a better job of coaches of getting off the field and letting the players play because a lot of the players couldn’t play on their own, couldn’t execute on their own and we’ve got to make it a little bit easier on them.”

Georgia returns to the practice fields on Tuesday for its 10th of 15 spring workouts.

Smart said coaches will look at the film and consider moving players to different positions to help out with depth at running back and the defensive line.

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