Murray is Bulldogs' heir apparent under center

Photo by David Manning

Photo by David Manning

ATHENS -- The start of preseason practice is always a time of renewal with any college football program.

But the theme of a new beginning seemed to take on a little extra resonance at Georgia as the Bulldogs met the media prior to their first official on-field workouts Monday.

While an 8-5 season and a trip to the Independence Bowl may be deemed as a success with some programs, it was a bit of a disappointment last year at Georgia.

And the Bulldogs are eagerly looking forward to 2010, rather than back at 2009.

"I get jazzed up about every year," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But I like the looks of this team. I like how a lot of things are going right now."

There has a new look to this Georgia team in many areas ever since spring practice, and that sense continues into this preseason.

The most obvious areas are at quarterback -- where redshirt freshman Aaron Murray is the heir apparent at the top of the depth chart -- and a defense that enters the year with a new defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham and a new 3-4 alignment.

After spending his first season at Georgia learning the system as a redshirt last year, Murray will be on the spot to make things happen this fall.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo even upped the ante when he made an off-hand remark during the offseason comparing Murray's skills and demeanor to that of former Bulldog star and South Gwinnett grad David Greene.

While Richt preferred to downplay such a comparison, he didn't totally dismiss the potential for Murray to have an immediate impact the way Greene and current Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford did when they were freshmen.

"(Bobo) likes the way Aaron prepares," Richt said. "When David was in our meeting rooms, the very first spring when he got to Georgia and we're installing everything, David was just a tremendous student of the game. You could see he was absorbing it. He was able to verbally tell you what's going on, and then he was able to get on that field and able to take it from the meeting room to the field, so to speak.

"You can tell he's learning it in a systematic way that when it comes time to make these decisions, he should have a better chance of making a good one. ... He's just got to play. He's earned a lot of respect from his teammates."

For his part, Murray is every bit as excited to prove himself as Richt and Bobo are to see what he can do as the starter.

"I pretty much haven't been able to sleep the last month or so," Murray said. "I'm extremely excited about this. It's something I've been waiting a long time for. It's going to be a great feeling coming out of this tunnel and going onto the field for the first game."

The other area Georgia fans will be most anxious to see when the Bulldogs charge out of the locker room and onto the Sanford Stadium field for the Sept. 4 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette is the defense.

They are hopeful the switch to Grantham and the 3-4 will be enough to bring about a radical change from a disappointing season last year that saw the Bulldogs give up an average of 339.4 yards and 25.9 points per game.

But as important as the new coordinator and new alignment will be in achieving that goal, at least one defensive veteran believes an even bigger factor will be a new attitude.

"It's good to change," said senior linebacker Darryl Gamble, the team's third-leading returning tackler from last year. "It seems like it's going to be a more aggressive 'D.' That's something that we need here."

While changes have made for a refreshing new start in some areas, there are others that the Bulldogs are looking for more of this season.

That is especially true about the running game, which emerged with the development of a veteran offensive line and the 1-2 tailback punch of Washaun Ealey and former GAC and Parkview star Caleb King late last season.

While it is still unclear which of the two will be dubbed the starter, both appear primed to get plenty of work and help keep the pressure off Murray early in the season as he eases into the starter's role.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't matter (who the starter will be)," said King, who ran for 440 of his 594 yards and six of his seven touchdowns last year in the final five games of the season. "But we know we'll both get a lot of touches. So, we just have to go out and see who can get it done.

"You should never feel comfortable on the first day of practice. You should always come ready to work. But I do feel more confident. This year, there wasn't a whole lot of certainty. This year, I feel like a veteran."