ATHENS—It’s been 14 years, or Coach Mark Richt’s first season at Georgia, since the Bulldogs have had as much competition during a spring practice for the starting quarterback position.
In 2001, after redshirt freshman David Greene, true freshman D.J. Shockley, and junior Cory Phillips, who had two 400-yard passing performances the season before, battled it out for the top signal-calling spot, Greene and Phillips emerged from the spring as “co-No.1” quarterbacks. This spring, redshirt freshman Jacob Park, sophomore Brice Ramsey, and junior Faton Bauta are engaged in perhaps even more so of a competition for the starting slot. Which of the three will be the No. 1 quarterback in 2015 is anyone’s guess—at least, through the first four practices of the spring.
Meeting with the media Tuesday night were all three quarterbacks, beginning with the only one yet to see the playing field, but the signal caller many say is actually the odds-on favorite to eventually win the job—Park, who last year became the first Georgia quarterback signee from the state of South Carolina (Goose Park, S.C.) in more than 20 years (Brian Smith, 1992).
“As far as playing time and the opportunities out there, yeah, it’s a pretty equal chance,” Park said regarding the quarterback competition. As far as who has been under center for which particular offensive unit, Park added the three have been rotating with each practice: quarterbacking the first-team unit one practice, working with the second team the next, the third team the following, and repeat.
Similarly to 2001 with the arrival of Richt, a wrinkle, so to speak, thrown into the competition is the fact the three quarterbacks are having to learn a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“We’re picking up the offense petty quick, having a lot of fun out there with Schottenheimer,” Park said. “We’re enjoying it, getting better every day.” He added although it was difficult to fully compare the two systems through only four spring practices, and different terminology is used with the new from the old, there are similarities between Schottenheimer’s offense and the previous one coordinated by the departed Mike Bobo.
“Anytime you have a different offensive coordinator come in, you’re really going to have to switch a lot of things up,” said fifth-year senior tight end Jay Rome, who figures to be a frequent target of the starting quarterback, whoever that may be. “But, everybody’s attacking [the new offensive system] with enthusiasm. I feel like the offense being implemented here will work really well.”
When asked what he “brought to the table” over the rest of the competition if chosen to be the Bulldogs’ starter for the season opener, Park, as he exhibited the entire interview, didn’t differentiate himself from the others, but was confident: “[I bring] the same thing everybody else brings to the competition: I’m a competitor. I want to play, and I want to win—that’s what I bring.”
In 2001, Greene and Phillips remained “co-No.1” quarterbacks (Shockley would be redshirted) until towards the end of summer practice when Greene was solely named the No. 1, yet curiously not recognized as “the starter.” “It’s that close,” Richt said at the time. The head coach kept quiet for the rest of the summer until finally giving the starting nod to Greene just one day prior to the season opener, reportedly, because the redshirt freshman had picked up the Bulldogs’ new offense faster than the others.
“It’ll definitely be interesting to see [which quarterback] comes out on top,” said Rome. Then, when asked which quarterback he believed would prevail, the tight end took a page out of the book of his tight-lipped head coach, predicting, “I think Jay Rome is going to win,” Rome joked. “Definitely.”
Who actually wins Georgia’s starting quarterback job for the 2015 season could be determined similarly to how it was settled 14 years ago: which of the three can pick up the Bulldogs’ new offense the fastest. But, as Park indicated, the competition is only four practices old.
So, for now, who knows who’ll come out on top?