Stafford and former Georgia linebacker Dannell Ellerbe took in the Bulldogs' first practice without them, making a surreal day just a bit more odd than usual, but also providing the perfect backdrop for a new beginning.
"It was weird seeing Matthew in the stands," head coach Mark Richt said. "It was weird seeing Dannell Ellerbe just watching. It was weird for him and weird for us, too. But that's just college football. You know after a certain amount of time, guys are gone and other guys have to rise to the occasion."
Tuesday's practice wasn't exactly a make-or-break day for the players hoping to fill the voids left by Stafford, Ellerbe and company, but it was the coaches' first chance to see the Bulldogs in action since they ended the 2008 season with a New Year's Day victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
Players were in shorts Tuesday and didn't go through any contact drills – that will wait until Saturday – but the energy on the field was a nice addition to the offseason.
"We've been putting a lot of hard work in so far, and everybody's ready to get to the football portion of it," said Joe Cox, the fifth-year senior who will be taking over for Stafford as the starting quarterback this season. "Everybody was shaking off some rust, but it was a good learning day and everybody had a lot of energy."
Cox expected Tuesday to be a turning point in his career, the first time he stepped onto the practice field as the leader of Georgia's offense. After going through the typical drills, however, it turned out it was a day just like any other.
"It was a little bit different, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Cox said. "It really turned out that I got as many reps as I did last year, it was just with a different group of guys."
The transition from Stafford to Cox at quarterback is the most obvious change from last season, but Richt said there isn't a lot of difference on the field.
"Joe's never had a problem stepping into any huddle any time and taking control," he said. "It's not very unnatural for him at all to step in there and be the leader, be the guy in control."