Will Joe Cox be the next D.J. Shockley? That seems to be the popular belief and the obvious comparison being made as Georgia sets to open spring practice with the fifth-year senior as the new leader of the offense.
Of course, not everyone is so sure, and I doubt fans in Gainesville are exactly quaking in their jorts over the prospect of Cox running Georgia's offense this season (even if he was responsible for the Dawgs' lone TD last year). Dr. Saturday offered some analysis in a post last week at Yahoo! and wonders if perhaps Cox is drawing the wrong comparison:
"Because Cox is a fifth-year senior, he's drawing comparisons to D.J. Shockley, who waited years behind David Greene to lead an SEC title run in 2005. He's probably closer to Joe Tereshinski, who held down the fort before finally ceding the job to Stafford when the season started to come apart at the seams a year later."
As is often the case, Senator Blutarski laid out the follow up in his Get the Picture blog, too:
"We’re fans, don’t forget, and we tend to think more of our own than others do sometimes. For example, I’ve seen many comments from the Georgia faithful here and elsewhere that take it as a given that Joe Cox will be fine running the show this season."
First, let's dispense with the initial question posed by Doc Saturday: There's about a 99 percent chance that Joe Cox will be Georgia's starting QB this season. (And to be honest, I can't really respect Doc's analysis of any competition when he neglects to include Aaron Murray's name.)
Coaches will give lip service to the competition this spring and in the fall, saying that Logan Gray, Zach Mettenberger and Murray have a fair shot to earn the job, but it ain't happening. And that's where the first part of any comparison to Tereshinski falls apart.
The situation is similar to what coaches faced in 2006, with one fifth-year senior QB, one inexperienced QB with a bit of time in the system, and another (or in this case, two other) true freshman with tons of talent. That's where the comparisons end, really.
When Georgia opened fall camp in 2006, Tereshinksi was the lone veteran quarterback on the roster, but he was hardly experienced. Cox has started one game and seen action in 11 others during his career, while Tereshinski played in just six games total prior to taking over as the starter in 2006 -- and all came the previous year. Cox, meanwhile, has taken snaps on game day in each of the past three seasons, which has clearly helped in his growth process -- far more similar to the career arc of Shockley.
Just as important as past experience is the current preparation. In 2006, there really was no true starter named until midway through fall camp. Matthew Stafford had enrolled early, and through the spring and a good part of the fall, Stafford, Cox and Tereshinski all took turns running with the first team and prepping as if they could be the starting quarterback.
Cox's situation this season will be far more similar to what Shockley stepped into in 2005. From the moment Stafford announced he was heading to the NFL, Georgia's coaches said the job was Cox's to lose. He has already taken the reins as a weight- and film-room leader this offseason, and the spring will be all about sharpening his skills rather than winning a job. Gray, Mettenberger and Murray are all talented, but they aren't ready to be starters. Gray missed way too much practice time last year while playing on special teams, and while Murray and Mettenberger could both develop into solid (perhaps great) QBs, you need look no further than Mark Richt's comments about Stafford in 2006 to know how he feels about starting a true freshman quarterback.
The on-field scenario isn't all that counts, either. In the locker room, Cox is far more similar to Shockley. Throughout the past four years, Cox has garnered a lot of respect from his teammates, and when he stepped into the starting role, he didn't need to prove himself. His teammates already expected him to be the leader on offense. It's not that Tereshinski wasn't a good guy or a strong voice. It's that he still had more to prove, and guys like Thomas Brown and Nick Jones were really the vocal leaders on that team. This year, the offense belongs to Cox, just as it did with Shockley. That's exactly the way the players want it.
Of course, the comparisons with Shockley aren't exactly fair either. When you compare skill sets, it's apples and oranges, really.
Cox was an exceptional high school quarterback, and he was recruited by some decent enough programs (UNC, NC State, Tech), but Shockley was arguably the most highly coveted QB recruit in the country the year he signed with Georgia.
Moreover, their skill sets are remarkably different. Shockley was an athlete. Cox has fine footwork, but he's not outrunning many defenders. Shockley had a stronger arm than Cox as well. And yes, Shockley had a good bit more playing time under his belt than Cox at this point in their careers.
There are advantages for Cox, too, however. Cox has an exceptionally high football intellect, he's incredibly accurate and -- most importantly -- he has better weapons around him than Shockley had in 2005.
When Shockley took over the offense, he was the playmaker. His top wide receivers were Mohamed Massaquoi (a true freshman at the time) and Bryan McClendon (a good but nowhere near great wideout). He had a trio of talented tailbacks, but none were game-breakers. Leonard Pope was probably the biggest game changer on offense in 2005 besides Shockley.
This year, Cox will go to battle with a deep corps of wideouts that includes both A.J. Green and Marlon Brown -- a duo that will cause countless headaches for overmatched corners in 2009. While his backfield won't have the experience of the Thomas Brown-Kregg Lumpkin-Danny Ware trio, Caleb King and Richard Samuel both come with as much talent as anyone Shockley played with. And most importantly, this year's offensive line will easily be the best Georgia has seen since the one that blocked for Shockley in '05.
In the end, the comparisons between Cox and Georgia's pre-Stafford QBs aren't particularly useful. As with most of these discussions, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, and the variables are impossible to account for. Whether 2009 more closely resembles '05 or '06 depends on far more than how well Cox plays, and if it turns out that the latter comparison is the right one, it won't be solely (or even mostly) because he didn't handle the job.
Yes, fans are probably a bit too optimistic about the potential of Cox's 2009 season, but isn't that what the spring is all about?Well, actually, what this spring should really be about is exactly what Blutarski suggested in the first place: What happens after Cox leaves? Georgia is lucky to have a player with five years in the system under center this season, regardless of his physical skills. But next year, things get a lot dicier, and finding snaps for Gray, Mettenberger and Murray wherever possible in 2009 will be a key to ensuring 2010 isn't another 2006.