ATHENS, Ga. – – Kirby Smart doesn’t like to show his hand when it comes to Georgia’s quarterbacks.
If there are questions about who will be his starter, the trainer extends the puzzle for as long as possible.
There is no secret this spring. After just four starts with the Bulldogs, JT Daniels’ status as a starter – and the leader of the Bulldogs – is undisputed.
Daniels is only more confident in his role after his first spring training session, which ended with a 324 yard pass, three touchdowns and no interruptions in Saturday’s G-Day spring game.
A year ago, Daniels was still recovering from a serious knee injury after moving from Southern California. It was only released for play after the start of the 2020 season.
This spring gave Daniels an important opportunity for an extended period of practice. He described the value of the 15 spring exercises as “massive” for his further development.
“It has improved a lot for me personally, and a lot of people have stepped into the reception room, too,” Daniels said. “There’s a lot better chemistry that you notice in the Spring Game.”
Spring has also helped teammates adapt to Daniels.
“It was good to have him all spring and feel that connection with him,” said Warren McClendon. “It’s good to be with him every day.”
Daniels ended his abbreviated four-game debut as a starter last season by scoring three goals in the fourth quarter and passing 392 yards in the Bulldogs’ 24-21 win over Cincinnati.
After Daniels returned for his junior season, Georgia appeared to have most of his offensive for 2021. Instead, top receiver George Pickens is likely to miss the season after sustaining an injury to his right knee early in spring training.
Pickens’ injury robs Daniels of his most established playmaker, but the quarterback says the Bulldogs are deep in the receiver. The proof came on Saturday.
Freshman Adonai Mitchell joined Daniels on the first-team offensive, having seven catches for 105 yards, including a 24-yard scoring catch four seconds ahead in the first half. Demetris Robertson caught a 59-yard pass from Daniels, who also threw a touchdown pass to Kearis Jackson.
Smart said Daniels was “in command of the offense” despite having played less than half a season.
“He understands,” said Smart. “The key is his decision-making process. The quarterback has to be responsible for every single game and he does it very well for us.”
The scrimmage, played in front of 20,524 fans, was only Daniel’s second appearance at Sanford Stadium. His home debut will be hard to beat.
Daniels raised expectations in his only home game in 2020 by scoring four touchdowns in a 31:24 win over Mississippi State. In total, he threw 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns in his four games, all wins.
Georgia finished the last AP Top 25 poll 8-2, 7th. The Bulldogs’ offense, known as a run-first attack, found equilibrium with Daniels on the quarterback.
It is to be expected that the second season under offensive coordinator Todd Monken and the first full season with Daniels will only bring the passing game even more to the fore.
“He’s got a better understanding of his guns and he’s got a shipload more reps with each of these,” said Smart of Daniels.
Some of these guns are running back. Zamir White and James Cook together made 12 catches from the backfield.
“It’s very, very, very rare for the first man to tackle one of our setbacks,” Daniels said. “We trust our running backs with the ball so the guys will miss them.”