When Georgia fans outline the best-case scenario for how quarterback Aaron Murray will turn out, they naturally look back at the last time we had a redshirt freshman take over as signal caller.
After all, David Greene went on to become the winningest quarterback in NCAA history until supplanted in that spot last year by Colt McCoy.
So when I had the chance to chat with Greene this morning, we talked about what Murray is going through and what he needs to do to put himself and the Dogs in the best position to win games.
This summer, Greene said, the two most important things Murray can do is work in the weight room to get stronger “so you can take those hits,” and “more than anything, work on building a good rapport with his teammates.” Summer passing workouts “don’t completely simulate what it’s going to be like, but it allows you to work on your timing and get to know your receivers and how they run the routes. Everyone runs them a little differently.”
Organizing the summer sessions, which is up to the quarterback, is also “a great way to start his leadership role,” Greene said. “I loved it. It was really competitive, and there were no coaches on the field. So you could get a lot of work done.”
The biggest thing an inexperienced quarterback like Murray has to overcome, Greene said, is that “you really don’t see the field that well when you first get out there. You’ve got so much going through your mind that it’s hard to see everything you’re looking at. You might see the linebacker and not see the cornerback. You might think you’ve got a man open and then the cornerback comes over and makes a pick. Eventually, I could see everybody on the field. A lot of it is just getting confidence in what you’re doing, but you’ve got to go through it.”
With that in mind, Greene said, Mark Richt likes to ease his quarterbacks in to the offense. “Coach Richt said it’s like Football 101 when you start out. And then as I got more involved and understood the offense better, he gave me more to do. By the time I was a senior, I’d come up to the line with three or four plays and I’d pick the best one.”
We talked a bit about what it’s like to start your first real game, and Greene said it helped that he didn’t fully realize all that he didn’t know as a redshirt freshman “or I would have been a lot more nervous.” I asked if he remembered his first interception, and he laughed and said he didn’t. That’s the sort of thing you just shake off. “When you’re confident in your abilities, you just chalk that up to them getting lucky. You say to yourself, I just gave them that one. I’ve got to make sure I don’t do that again.”
Echoing what Richt has said, Greene said the key for Murray is “not to try to go out there and be the hero. Just run the team. Run the offense. And just be steady. Take what they give you. Playing quarterback is like a chess match. It’s about executing. Recognizing when you have the advantage and then exploiting it.”
How important is it that Murray will be surrounded by 10 returning starters? “That’s huge,” Greene said. “I’d much rather be in a situation where you have an experienced offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback than have an inexperienced line in front of an experienced quarterback. Georgia’s offensive line should be really good this year. If you can’t run the ball and all you can do is pass, it’s a nightmare. But if you can run the ball, it’s a whole other game.”
Greene already has talked with Murray by phone and plans on heading over to Athens in the next couple of weeks to work him. “I’ve been impressed that he has reached out to me and said, ‘I want to pick your brain.’ The kid wants to be great, and you’ve got to commend him for that. He’s fired up. He loves the game and eats and sleeps Georgia football. He wants Georgia to be great. I think we’ve got the right guy back there when it comes to having a lot of heart.”
Greene’s appraisal of Murray’s skills as a quarterback? “He can throw it. I’m not really worried about that. The key for a freshman is just making good decisions. Coach Richt has a saying, ‘Don’t turn a bad play into a catastrophe.’ Sometimes as a freshman you want to make it happen on every play. And sometimes it’s just not gonna happen and you have to accept that. It’s tough.”
Spending time in the film room also will pay off, Greene said. “I think it’s so important for him to be able to recognize coverages early on.”
Defenses will, of course, know that Georgia has an inexperienced QB. “I expect him to get blitzed a lot,” Greene said. “But one thing about blitzing is that if you pick it up, you can burn ‘em. He’s got an advantage in that he’s got No. 8 running down the sideline, so he can really make ‘em pay.”
Greene said he and Murray have “very different styles” as a quarterback. “He’s a lot more agile and can get out of the pocket and make some plays. I threw a lot more balls to my Dad in the stands. He also has a stronger arm than I did. I was more of a pocket passer, a touch passer.”
Last season, Greene, who now works in the insurance business in Atlanta with Matt Stinchcomb, alternated with Kevin Butler as part of the post-game call-in show on the UGA radio network, but he said he hasn’t heard anything about continuing that role this year. “It was fun,” he said, but it was also a challenge because after a bad game callers would “want me to throw a coach or a player under the bus, and I’m just not going to do that. I remember what it was like as a player. I might be a frustrated as everyone else, but I’m not going to bash players or coaches.”
Green said he goes to most, though not all, home games. Unlike some former players, he tends to stay in the stands rather than go down on the sideline “because I go to games with my wife and my 2 1/2-year-old son.”
Some fans might think his son is too young for the games, he said, but “that’s the only time he’ll sit still, is to watch the Dogs.” So might he be raising a future Dog? “Yeah,” Greene said with a laugh, “and he’s left-handed, too!”
COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF
Greene, along with Matt and Jon Stinchcomb, will play host at the annual Countdown to Kickoff Fan Day from 3 to 6 p.m. July 17 at the UGA practice fields, where you can meet Bulldogs players past and present and get autographs. There’ll also be lots of activities for the kids and the Redcoat Band and cheerleaders will be on hand. Tickets are $25 and benefit to the Georgia Transplant Foundation, Children’s Tumor Foundation, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and UGA’s Pediatric Exercise and Motor Development Clinic. Go here for more information or to buy tickets.