Mark Bradley wrote an interesting piece for the AJC today asking a simple enough question: What's the big deal about Logan Gray potentially leaving?
It's a fair question, really. After all, was anyone particularly enthusiastic about the idea of Gray starting at QB for Georgia at some point during the 2010 season? Chances are, if something happened to Murray and Gray had to step in, most fans would be covering their eyes in anticipation of the worst anyway.
And as Bradley writes, how often does the backup QB play anyway?
He mentions that D.J. Shockley never started a game while David Greene was in Athens. It's a good point. Of course, when Shockley became the starter in 2005, it turned out that his backup ended up playing a pretty vital role in how the Bulldogs' season played out.
That's the thing about backup QBs… you never need them until you need them.
So I agree with Bradley's overriding sentiment here: If Aaron Murray stays healthy in 2010, it doesn't matter if Gray stays, transfers or dons the Hairy Dawg costume and parades through the stands high-fiving small children. Murray is Georgia's future, and this season's success will in large part be measured by his production.
But in 2005, Shockley did everything asked of him, and yet Georgia still had to turn to the backup during a moment of crisis. These things happen from time to time, and while Joe Tereshinski's lone start didn't define Georgia's season, I'm willing to bet a few fans still sit back and think about what might have been had Shockley started against Florida that year instead.
So while Bradley reasonably asks what the big deal about Gray potentially bolting Athens would be, I might offer these 10 relatively reasonable questions, too...
1. What's Logan Gray going to do?
This is, of course, the biggest question. If he transfers, that leaves Georgia with just two scholarship QBs -- one of whom hasn't even arrived on campus yet. If he stays, he still could move to receiver, which would at least make him a viable alternative in an emergency situation -- but if playing receiver is the crux of his decision, does holding down the role of potential QB -- i.e., you can be a receiver until we tell you you're not anymore -- really appeal to him? And will it appeal to the rest of the team?
2. How does the lack of competition affect Aaron Murray?
My thought on this is not at all. Now, we may not be able to take everything coaches say about practice at face value. After all, things always seem a bit rosier when players are only dodging each other and not angry Florida, Alabama or LSU defenders on the field. But every report I got on Murray's preparation and dedication has been glowing, and Mike Bobo told me routinely that Murray prepared last year as if he were the starter, despite the redshirt. Of course, all the preparation in the world is no substitute for experience, and perhaps that's the biggest impact on Murray -- he'll be the elder statesman despite having never played a down on Saturdays.
3. How ready is Hutson Mason?
If you look at his high school stats, there's every reason to be excited about Hutson Mason's future. And at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Mason's probably better than just the upper middle class man's Joe Cox. He's a pro style QB and proved to be reasonably accurate during his days at Lassiter, so all those things work in his favor. Still, he'll be a true freshman, and that's a scary proposition. Matthew Stafford struggled as a true freshman -- 52.7% completions, 7 TDs, 13 INTs -- and he had far more physical tools and all of spring practice to prepare for the job. Mason may be a solid QB in the future (and you have to love the maturity he's displayed thus far), but he's not exactly being called a future No. 1 draft pick by Mel Kiper right now, so the expectations for him shouldn't be too high in the short term.
4. Who would be the third-string QB?
Mark Richt routinely praised Bacarri Rambo for his efforts leading Georgia's scout team offense in 2008 -- notably playing the roles of Josh Nesbitt, Randall Cobb and Tim Tebow to rave reviews. Rambo played QB in high school at Seminole County, so the job wouldn't be entirely unfamiliar to him. Of course, there are two not-so-small problems with that notion. First, Rambo's style doesn't fit what Georgia runs in the least. His arm strength isn't good enough to be a real threat at this level, and Georgia's offense is designed for a QB who can throw, not run the option. Second, Rambo does have some other responsibilities these days. He's perhaps Georgia's best defensive back right now (apologies to Brandon Boykin, who certainly can make a claim to that title, too) and moving him to the offensive side of the ball would be nearly impossible. So, beyond that, who would get the nod? Hard to say. A number of guys played QB in high school, but there's a reason they aren't still there now. No doubt Georgia will try to bring in a walk-on or three, too. But I'm also guessing no one is going to get too excited about a first-year walk on as a potential starting QB in an emergency situation.
5. Does this put a target on Murray's back?
So if teams know Georgia only has two QBs, one of whom is a true freshman, wouldn't that put a thought into the minds of a few defenders that Mr. Murray is the one thing standing between them and enjoying the spoils of tormenting Mason in a crucial SEC game? Perhaps a well-time shot at Murray's knee is just what an SEC defense needs to slow down the UGA offense? I'd like to believe that, at this level, most players and coaches would be above such shenanigans. I'd like to believe that, but I'm not that naive.
6. Wasn't Murray hurt the past two years anyway?
Indeed he was. His senior season at Plant High School, he broke his leg and missed the latter half of the season before returning in the playoffs and leading his team to a state championship. A broken leg is hardly an indication that a player is injury prone -- these things just happen in football -- but he does like to pull the ball down and run a bit more than some other QBs, which will invariably put him in the line of fire more often, too. (Which leads to a Question 6a. -- If Murray and Mason are all Georgia has, does this affect playcalling in terms of allowing Murray to run with the football?) Last season, Murray may have had a real shot at playing time as Joe Cox struggled midway through the season. Unfortunately for Murray (and perhaps for Georgia fans, too), Cox's struggles coincided with yet another injury for the freshman QB. Arm problems developed, likely as a result of throwing more often than he had in the past, and it cost Murray several weeks of practice time and any shot at avoiding a redshirt. So, do two injuries in two seasons offer enough to label a guy as an injury risk? Hard to say, but three in three years probably would, and that's not a question Georgia is looking to answer.
7. What happens if there's a longterm injury to one of the QBs?
This is perhaps the most important question if Gray should end up leaving because there really is no solution. If Murray went down, Mason would have to step in, which would likely mean a very watered-down version of Georgia's offense would be in place. Moreover, Georgia couldn't risk Mason getting hurt, too, meaning the Bulldogs would be facing playing out the season -- to use a basketball metaphor here -- with four fouls. The Dawgs would essentially be one play away from flushing their season down the drain, and at this point, there's really nothing Georgia can do other than hope and pray that the QBs stay healthy.
8. Does this really matter all that much?
Hey, Georgia returns 10 offensive starters, has a veteran offensive line and a stable of running backs that should be able to run early and often, right? So who cares about the QB situation? I can understand that mentality from fans who remember the Herschel Walker era so fondly, but it's a foolhardy notion. First off, as much as I like Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, neither of them are Herschel Walker. Secondly, the SEC has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and teams cannot win by simply running, running and running some more. Yes, Alabama won a national championship last season with a foundation of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, but the Tide had a better defense than UGA is likely to have, which kept scores low, and even then, Greg McElroy had to step up and lead Alabama to wins on more than one occasion. (Without McElroy, Alabama almost certainly would have lost to Virginia Tech and Auburn.) The fact is, Georgia can probably win six or seven or eight games this year by minimizing the role of the QB if the running game and defense play up to their potential. But if the Dawgs want to get to nine or 10 wins and have a chance at an SEC title, eventually the QB is going to have to win a game or two for them. And as The Senator pointed out earlier this week, Joe Cox's shoes might be a little harder to fill than most fans think.
9. How does this affect the 2011 recruiting?
It was Gray's flirtations with a move to wide receiver back in November that caused Georgia to change its recruiting strategy at QB last year, remember. Had he not discussed the idea then, Mason likely wouldn't be wearing a Georgia uniform this season… so at least there's that silver lining. But if Gray were to leave now, with Zach Mettenberger out the door, odds are the Dawgs would be looking to ink two quarterbacks in the upcoming class, and with Christian LeMay and Nick Marshall on their list of potential gets, people may not be too sad to see Gray and Mett hit the bricks.
I'm not sure it's that simple an equation though. First off, odds are if Georgia signs two QBs, one of them is not going to be a stud in waiting. The fact that Murray and Mettenberger arrived in the same class met with questions about potential transfers from Day 1. It's a rare occasion that two top talents are willing to sign up for the same recruiting class. And then there's Murray. No one likes the idea of not having a solid backup for Georgia's top QB, but at the same time, no one should be too worried about Murray's long-term potential either. Odds are, he's going to be a very good QB for a long time. And while Stafford had NFL written all over him from Day 1 in Athens, Murray's road to the next level will be a bit tougher due to his smaller stature. So, while there was always a good chance that Stafford would be gone in three years, Murray's just as likely to be around through the 2013 season. The question then becomes, does a top-flight QB want to come to Georgia and sit behind Murray for the next three seasons? Maybe. Mark Richt has certainly convinced QBs to ride the pine before. But as Gray has shown us, watching from the sidelines isn't everyone's idea of a fun way to spent a Saturday in the fall.
10. How did this happen… again?
Once is a problem. Twice might be a sign of some chinks in the armor. Three times though? It's probably fair to ask Mark Richt (and Rodney Garner and Mike Bobo) some questions about how the QB situation in Athens has become so desperate yet again. In 2005, when Shockley got hurt, Georgia's national championship hopes rested on the notion that Joe Tereshinski could beat Florida in his first career start (and first significant playing time). As such, Georgia lost the game and Thomas Brown had the only TD pass of the day. Last season, Joe Cox played with a bum shoulder and struggled mightily at the midpoint of the year, and yet, there seemed to be no clear backup plan. (Of course, the caveat here -- and it's no small one -- is that Gray would have been the backup plan then, but obviously the coaches weren't thrilled with that option, so how does he become a more viable Plan B now?) And now, if Georgia hadn't changed its recruiting strategy at the last minute when Gray began discussing a position change, the Dawgs might have found themselves with just one scholarship QB in the fall. (And is it worth a side note here that the indecision on recruiting a QB played a role in Da'Rick Rogers bolting for Tennessee?)
In his career -- both at Georgia and at Florida State -- Richt has coached some of the best quarterbacks in college football and has rightfully gained a reputation for being one of the best in the business at preparing a QB. No one is arguing with that -- and given what he did with Shockley, Stafford and Greene (and heck, given what he got out of the limited resources of Cox), he deserves credit.
But that begs the question: If he's so good with QBs, why have there been so many times when he doesn't seem to have enough of them? In '05, Tereshinski was ill prepared to step in for Shockley. A year later, Tereshinski was still Georgia's best option until the coaching staff threw up their hands and decided to let Stafford take his lumps. When Stafford left early -- a move that surprised no one -- Georgia was left with Cox and little else. And now, here we are, on the precipice of entering the 2010 season -- a year in which Georgia returns 10 offensive starters and should be thrilled about its prospects for moving the football -- without a QB on the roster who has taken a snap in a game situation. It's hard to fault Richt & Co. for what happened with Mettenberger, but this has still been a precarious situation for a long time.
I've made the argument enough times throughout the past few years (and I'll continue to do so) that Georgia's lack of a national title has been as much about luck as it has been about talent. In 2002 and 2007, Georgia was as close as anyone, but things just didn't fall into place.
But sometimes you have to make your own luck. And if Georgia enjoys a 2010 season in which A.J. Green is an All-American and Orson Charles torments SEC defenders the way he's capable of doing and the tailbacks really do look a lot like Herschel and the defense really does turn around under Todd Grantham -- but the Dawgs still fall short of an SEC title because they had to play with a true freshman QB down the stretch, that will be more than just some bad luck.