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Georgia Football

Georgia Bulldogs QB JT Daniels: Is He Really “The Man”?

August 17, 2021

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Pre-season practice has started, so all of the hand wringing of the last eight months can be put to rest. Right? The 2021 version of the Georgia Bulldogs, led by JT Daniels, brings renewed hope for the elusive national championship Dawg fans have been pining for over the last 41 years.

But this team, however talented they may be, still has questions. Who will be the five starting offensive linemen? Will they jell? Better quesiton: Will they jell in time for Clemson? How will the three transfers fit and perform? Who replaces Azeez Ojulari? What to make of the Scott Cochran departure? 

Ultimately, the primary question of Dawg fans, and many other college football analysts, is this:  Is JT Daniels the guy who can lead UGA to the promised land?

I’ll be up front with you - I am not a professional analyst. I played quarterback in high school and for a year in college, and I didn’t to that well. I’m a 54-year old retired Army guy, but an avowed football junkie. That’s it.

But, I spent some time researching JT Daniels over the last few months. I was encouraged by the four games he started at the end of the 2020 season, and I found a few things that both excited and concerned me. It’s a limited sample size, but there’s enough in those games to dissect. How well he sustains his positives, and improves on areas of concern, will assuredly have more to do with the success of the 2021 version of the Dawgs than any other singular factor. 

First, let’s talk about JTD’s positive points. I think he has a really high ceiling. His arm strength is better than average to really good. He’s also more athletic than he’s given credit. While I wouldn’t consider him a mobile quarterback, his lateral quickness in the pocket surprised me. We saw that in the Peach Bowl against a very good Cincinnati defense - where his lateral movement kept the play alive longer than anticipated. His ability to identify the “hot” read, or “hot” defender, and make really good choices based off that recognition, bodes well for the upcoming season (more to follow on this point). He throws a very catchable ball, and generally puts the ball in places where the intended receiver doesn’t have to adjust much. And finally, JTD seems to fully grasp what offensive coordinator Todd Monken wants to do with this offensive scheme. A full offseason can only help with his mastery of Monken’s system, and his familiarity with his playmakers.  These positives should make you very excited, as the 2021 version of the Dawgs’ offense has the potential to be the most prolific in recent years - especially under Kirby. 

There are, however, some concerns in watching his tape. I am hoping a full offseason of study and conditioning can help with these points, but we’ll see.

First, there were multiple instances where JTD’s throwing mechanics caused the ball to float or hang longer than intended. His leg / foot / hip angles used to generate throwing power weren’t consistent. We all know about his two right knee surgeries, and I believe that had more to do with inconsistent mechanics than anything. That right leg is the drive leg while throwing. If he wasn’t confident in the knee strength, that can absolutely lead to inconsistencies (see the deep balls in the Peach Bowl). Hip drive in the throwing motion is incredibly important. It helps with power, accuracy, and follow through. While arm strength is important, torso / trunk drive and power are the ultimate determining factor in throw power and accuracy. JTD’s hip drive was inconsistent in the four games he played last year. When his hip drive was strong and complete, the ball jumps out of his hand. When hip drive is incomplete, it leaves his arm hanging out to the side, and thus his accuracy and power are compromised. Several deep balls seemed to hang in the air, almost rainbow-like, and that can be directly attributed to technique. I think there are two questions that have to be answered here. First, how confident is JTD in his surgically-repaired knee, and second, how did a full offseason help refine his throwing technique? 

The second concern, after watching film, is his decision making. He had very good games against Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Missouri. Even though his stats against Cincinnati were pretty good (392 yards passing), it wasn’t his best performance. However, watching these games again showed a couple of tendencies I can only hope change with offseason work. First, JTD appeared to look for the deep, explosive play, eschewing underneath routes. Multiple plays in the Peach Bowl where JTD went deep found the underneath route wide open. Forcing the ball deep to George Pickens is at best a 50-50 option. He appeared to make up his mind early on in the play of where he wanted to go, and never looked at either the second or third option. What will a full spring practice regimen and offseason work with the skill players bring? 

For all of the positive and negative aspects of JTD’s game we’ve discussed, the one thing that proves to me he is “the guy” is the recent interview he gave on ESPN’s “Marty and McGee”. He was asked about the challenges and adversity he’s faced during the 2020 season (pandemic and transfer). JTD responded with talking about how he sought help from the program’s sports psychologist. Here are a couple of quotes from JTD’s response:

 “Learned a lot about myself. I had to handle adversity I’d never handled before”. 
“I’d never been tested with adversity….was very down on myself mentally”. 
“It was a personal move. I was in a place where I had to reach out”. 
“As soon as you do it (get help), you are a different person”. 

As someone who has dealt with PTSD, reaching out for help is a game changer. And while JTD isn’t going to get faster or throw farther based on getting this help, his mind will be clearer. His confidence will grow, and he’ll be able to deal with adversity better. His willingness to get help, and to be open about it, shows true leadership by example. He’s made it OK for others on the team to reach out to get help if they need it. His transparency and vulnerability don’t show weakness... quite the contrary. It demonstrates true inner strength that I believe will resonate across his team. Admitting weakness doesn’t lead to a loss of confidence in an individual. It’s been proven, through social science research, to improve confidence in leadership and to also help aid a sense of belonging and team cohesion. Arm strength and game smarts aside, JTD’s mental health progress proves to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that JTD is “The Man”.

I am watching three other factors that will ultimately determine season success for the 2021 Dawgs. First is the development of the offensive line. We saw in the Peach Bowl the challenges the line faced, as pass protection was suspect as was running game production. Now, that was a really good Cincinnati defense, and outside of Clemson and potentially Alabama, UGA won’t face defenses that prolific. But, both of those opponents stand in the way of a playoff run for UGA. 
Second is the development of the pass catching ability of Zamir White and Kendall Milton. As a general rule, when those two were in the game, UGA was running the ball or they were used in pass protection. When James White or Kenny Macintosh were in the game, the tendency seemed to put them into the route scheme, or at least that was more likely than with Milton and White. While Cook and Macintosh both ran the ball at times, and were effective, teams seemed to key on their insertion in the lineup. If White and Milton can develop as more reliable receivers, defenses will have a greater challenge in keying tendencies, which gives JTD greater flexibility to find the hot read or to change the play and put UGA in a better situation. 

Finally, I’m watching who becomes the lead sled dog at receiver. With George Pickens out for potentially the season, which receiver will demand a double team? Arik Gilbert? Jermaine Burton? Someone else? Pickens is a tremendous talent, and his absence will definitely hurt. What impact will the offseason work in California organized by JTD with the skill guys have on determining who the lead guy is going to be? 

All of this has me excited for that first game. While each of these things above won’t be completely answered in that tilt against Clemson, the picture will start to become a little more clear. Without a doubt UGA is going to ride JTD as he has the ability to win games with his arm and mind as opposed to not losing them. Increased mental and emotional strength, refined technique, and greater understanding of the system and personnel bode well.

And to be clear, yes, I believe JTD is “the man”. 

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