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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thursday Football Notes (2/26)

Here are a handful of stories left over from yesterday's media session with the football team....

-- When Joe Cox competed at the Elite 11 camp alongside some of the nation's top passers, he knew his game didn't match some of the big-armed talent that surrounded him. Still, he managed to find his niche.

Each day the camp held an accuracy drill, where the quarterbacks had to hit a series of flags planted at various points around the field. Cox won the competition nearly every day.

"That's always been something I've had to pride myself on because I don't have the best arm and I'm not a scrambler," Cox said. "That's how I get by."

The deadly precision helped Cox make a name for himself amid a crowd of stronger throwers, and not much changed once he arrived at Georgia.

As a backup to Matthew Stafford for most of the past three years, Cox spent his days tossing sharp passes between the jersey numbers of downfield receivers running with the second-team offense, while the cannon-armed Stafford wowed onlookers with 70-yard bombs.

That big arm now has Stafford poised to be the first player selected in April's NFL draft, however, and Cox is ready to step into the lead role in his fifth season at Georgia, bringing a clearly different style to the position. But while Cox admits he probably won't have jaws dropping on the practice field, he doesn't expect much to change on game day.

"Matthew has an incredible arm, but it wasn't like we were running plays that only he could make that throw," Cox said. "All the plays that we run, all the guys here can make those throws."

While his arm never matched Stafford's, Cox hasn't had much trouble earning the respect of the players around him during his first four seasons at Georgia. Like he did at the Elite 11 camp, his precision, his attention to detail and his energy helped him stand out in the crowd.

"Joe has fun when he's out there," wide receiver Tavarres King said. "He just lifts everybody up in the huddle, and that does a lot for you when you're fatigued, and you're tired. Joe just has that it' factor."

Under Stafford, Georgia's passing game was among the most dynamic in the SEC. Cox probably won't engender the same amount of oohs and aahs when he steps on the field this year, but he's not concerned. The style of play won't change, he said, and the Bulldogs' productivity has a chance to be even better.

"I definitely think we can do a lot of things this year because of the talent that we have," Cox said. "If everybody keeps working like they have been working and we have certain guys step up, including me, I think we can do great things this year."

-- Considering he led the SEC in receiving, it's not like A.J. Green didn't command plenty of attention from opposing defenses during his stellar freshman season in 2008. But for all Green's talent, it was hard to ignore Mohamed Massaquoi, the standout senior, on the other side of the field.

Both receivers topped 900 yards last season, and the duo made it nearly impossible for defensive coordinators to slow Georgia's passing game. This year, however, the task of intimidating defenders will fall solely on Green, who said he'll be lining up in a few new places in order to keep the opposition on its toes.

"Just the offense switching me off the ball, putting me in motion a lot, stuff like that," Green said. "I think I'm just going to be all over the place this year. Not just a Z. I'll be the Y, the X, just everywhere."

Of course, before he gets back to tormenting cornerbacks, he needs to get healthy. Green said he's feeling stronger, and he has actually added 12 pounds to his frame since arriving at Georgia he weighs in at 207 pounds now but with a nagging groin injury still lingering, he still isn't guaranteed to be a full participant in spring practice.

"I'm still limited, but it's getting much better," he said. "I can run full speed now without feeling it, but I'm not changing direction."

-- Linebacker Rennie Curran has spent some time reflecting on the missed opportunities of the 2008 season, and he's convinced the solution to the team's problems isn't too complicated.

Excessive penalties and poor technique caused numerous headaches for the defense a year ago, and Curran said fixing those issues for 2009 is simply a matter of focusing on the fundamentals early, so players are already in the habit of doing them correctly down the road.

"Building a solid foundation that will hopefully last us through the entire season, doing things like tackling right, being disciplined, not getting offsides and things like that that killed us last year," Curran said. "We need to start off correcting those things and making sure they're not an issue."

So far, Curran said, he's happy with the early results. Veterans are being more hands on with the younger players, and those players have been willing to learn.

"It's guys not just wanting to be the cool guy, but everybody being on the same page and wanting to work hard," Curran said. "We've got a lot of hungry guys, a lot of freshmen that are stepping up and doing big things in mat drills. When they're in the weight room, they're really looking impressive."

-- Makiri Pugh was realistic entering his freshman season, hardly expecting to land a starting job. Still, he figured he could be a key contributor on special teams and find his way on to the field for a handful of defensive snaps each week.

Instead, his hopes were dashed before his season began. Pugh injured his ankle in the first week of fall practice, and he spent the rest of the year playing catch-up an afterthought on the depth chart, landing a redshirt designation and no playing time.

"It was really tough," Pugh said. "I had to mature quickly in a different way than some of the guys who were actually getting on the field last year. I had to learn how to be a better teammate while I couldn't be on the field."

Pugh said the time he spent watching from the sidelines helped him learn some important lessons. He said he worked on his body language and demeanor and learned to be more active even if he wasn't on the field.

This year, those lessons will be put to better use. He figures to be in the mix to land a job at safety, but will also be in competition for snaps as a nickelback and even has an outside shot and earning the job at the short corner position vacated by Asher Allen.

"It's going to be exciting to get in there and compete for positions," Pugh said. "I couldn't really ask to be in much of a better position as far as guys having left and there being open spots for other guys to step up and be ready to play. We've got a lot of room for improvement and a lot of room for some of us younger guys to step in and make an impact this year."


Anonymous said...

Greene could not throw it 70 yards but he played smarter. Stafford threw maybe 2-3 good bombs his entire career. Maybe Cox will be more effective. Of course, we will have to see the play calling goes. Hopefully that improves especially in the red zone for good opponents.

Anonymous said...

I think people are being a little hard on Stafford. His accuracy sometimes was hit and miss, sure, just like most big-armed QBs...but he hit a bunch of bombs in his career. Remember against Auburn in 06 AND 07? Florida 07? Tech this year? LSU? He had at least 2 or 3 good bombs in EACH of those first 3 I mentioned

The biggest problem with Stafford was people were thinking of him as our savior before he was even on campus. We were spoiled by our expectations. He was a very good QB for us, and would have seemed even better if he had the same defense this past year that Greene had throughout his career (no offense to Greene who was great)

Anonymous said...

Pretty much every bomb he threw which was caught, he under threw the ball. The receiver had to wait or come back to the ball or it was a risk of being intercepted by a good defense. He was a decent quarterback but in no way lived up to the hype or reached his potential. I agree about the problems with the defense I wish him the best but I do not believe he will be successful in the NFL.

Jim Dawg said...

Stafford will make us all proud in the NFL.

Sucks he's gone.

If all anyone can complain about is his deep ball, then we WERE spoiled.

Matthew Stafford: Damn. Good. Dawg.

--Man, there were a few anonymous commenters for this one.

Anonymous said...

Stafford was a good college qb. QB's are one part of the team. Football, like no over sport, is the ultimate team game. Fans refer to QB's as having won-loss records. The QB does not win-lose the game by himself. He should be defined by how he plays his position, just as any other player is defined. Any coach will tell you that a breakdown by any one player can reduce the team's effectiveness. Stafford did not play flawlessly every game or every play. However, he helped Georgia win a lot of games. With a lesser player at his position, Georgia would not have been as successful. Stafford has the tools and talent to be a successful pro. However, there are no guarantees. I believe that he will have a pretty good career.

IveyLeaguer said...

As far as Stafford goes, it is certainly true that he could not hit the long ball to save his life, for whatever reason. I can only think of one long ball in his career at Georgia that was on the money. Most of the handful of long completions were underthrows that were caught and one or two were overthrows that were snagged. Several others were there distance-wise but overthrown toward the sideline, forcing the receiver off the pattern to make the catch, which prevented a score.

Nobody is talking about it, but we can be sure the NFL has not missed that. Some of it is due to inconsistent receivers, and some is due to OL weaknesses that affected throws. But the most of it is on Stafford, and he will have to prove to NFL defenses that he can hit the bomb with consistency.

Another thing is Matt's ability to get the ball downfield with a lower trajectory. That's ideal, if you can hit them, because the ball gets there so much quicker, before the defense can react, which makes for a much higher percentage play. But you have to be able to hit it, because it's a much harder throw than putting more air under the ball.

Other than that, Matt Stafford has it all, including gamesmanship. His college career will forever be unfulfilled and he would have been better off, player-wise, with another year at Georgia.

But he will be a great NFL quarterback, IMHO.