In the minds of many fans, Georgia’s quarterback situation for next season is pretty clear-cut: Aaron Murray will be the starter, Zach Mettenberger will be the backup and Logan Gray, the only QB on the team with any game experience, will yield to the inevitable and switch to another position, possibly wide receiver, in order to get more playing time.
Nice and neat.
But that scenario might be in for some rewrites. First, the coaches indicate that whether Gray moves or not is up to him. You’d think he’d want to go into spring practice in the position he’ll play next fall, but he might decide to give the quarterback job one more try, at least through G-Day. And, who knows, if he’s still at QB come September, Mark Richt might decide to play it “safe” and at least start out the season with Gray.
That would not be a popular decision, but Richt has gone that route before with Joe T. back in Matthew Stafford’s freshman year.
Also, fan expectations might be shaken up in another way. Despite the fact that Murray got off to the faster start last spring and received more of the practice reps this season when Joe Cox took Wednesdays off to rest his arm, not everyone is convinced he’ll be Georgia’s starter. The other night on “The Dawg Report” on CSS, Kelin Johnson and Ray Goff seemed to think Mettenberger is likely to start because Murray fell behind in learning the offense while missing several weeks of practices last fall suffering from triceps tendonitis.
Murray is the more mobile of the two and more of a threat to run, but some observers think he’s a bit short. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, but that might be using the elastic ruler that’s often applied to quarterbacks. Still, he could counter that with his ability to roll out and throw downfield, which we saw in last year’s G-Day game.
Height certainly isn’t a problem for 6-foot-5 Mettenberger, who hails from Oconee County just outside Athens. I saw him play once in high school and he clearly towered over everyone else on the field. I also was impressed with how far he could throw. He has an NFL-caliber arm and reportedly throws a more catchable ball than the early Stafford did, but he came to Georgia needing more development than Floridian Murray, who played among a richer talent pool in high school. Mettenberger’s footwork, in particular, wasn’t very good.
“I think it’s going to be a race,” receiver A.J. Green told the Athens Banner-Herald. “Both of them look real good. Zach’s probably got the bigger arm, but Aaron is just prepared like he’s going to be a starter.”
Departing receiver Michael Moore said in the Athens paper that “Mettenberger is a prototype quarterback with a cannon of an arm. He’s like the Ryan Mallett-type kid if he gets everything together as far as mentally knowing the playbook. Aaron Murray is like the nitty-gritty guy with the pinpoint accuracy and has a little bit of mobility.” Not forgetting Gray, Moore adds: “Logan is just a guy that’s been here that has more mobility than all of them and is more of a dual-threat that puts a lot of stress on defenses.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has said that Murray needs to continue to work on progressing through his reads faster and understanding the offensive concepts, as well as getting used to working under center, since he operated out of the shotgun in high school. Mettenberger, Bobo says, has improved tremendously at not trying to rely just on his arm strength and putting more touch on the ball, but needs to continue to get quicker on his feet. Helping with that is that he’s trimmed down to about 232 pounds from 249 when he arrived at UGA.
Said Bobo in the ABH: “It’s going to be a fun spring.”
And Moore said he “wouldn’t be surprised if they go into the fall not really knowing who it is.”
Frankly, I’m hoping Gray goes ahead and makes the move to receiver or flanker. He has athletic ability but wasn’t at all impressive in his infrequent turns at quarterback this past season. And you’ve got to conclude that if Georgia’s coaches had thought he was capable of making a difference in a disappointing season, they would have played him more.
There no doubt will be rough spots in the Dogs’ quarterback play this fall, especially early on, because of the lack of game experience. But I think there’s a lot of upside in the choices Murray and Mettenberger offer Richt and Bobo. Whoever is the starter will have the advantage of working behind a veteran offensive line that proved adept at protecting the quarterback even when it was underperforming early last season. And in Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, the QB have a couple of backs who improved tremendously this past season and look to get even better.
Plus, of course, Georgia’s quarterback will have the phenomenally talented Green as a target.
Coming off a year when the Dogs were hampered by too many interceptions, Richt has indicated that “respect for the football” may be the deciding factor in who the quarterback is.
Despite what Johnson and Goff say, barring any more problems with the tendonitis I still think Murray is probably more likely to start, mainly because he’s the more mobile of the two and he’s known for his on-field confidence and gung-ho attitude. But down the road, I can easily see Mettenberger, who seems more of a pro prospect than Murray, behind center for the Dogs.
How do you see Georgia’s prospects at quarterback in 2010?