Zach Mettenberger was arrested last week near Valdosta on five charges including underage consumption, possession of a fake I.D. and obstruction, meaning a suspension is likely. But while it certainly won’t help Mettenberger’s chances of earning the starting quarterback job, Richt said the off-field problems won’t change the current plan for the remainder of the spring.
“It won’t effect Zach’s reps in the spring at all,” Richt said. “If he’s suspended for the first game, when we get ready to practice – once we move into the phase of getting ready for the first game – anybody who’s suspended, they don’t get any reps.”
Richt acknowledged that unless charges are dropped against Mettenberger, the redshirt freshman quarterback will be automatically suspended for one game to start the season. Richt said he could extend the suspension, but he won’t have a firm decision on that for a few more days.
“I still want to get all the information in before we make some public decision on what’s going to happen,” Richt said.
Aaron Murray took the first reps with the first team during Tuesday’s practice after Logan Gray was the first of the No. 1 quarterbacks during the March 4 practice session. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Mettenberger is still set to take the first reps with the starters when the Bulldogs return to work again on Thursday, and the three will continue to share an equal number of reps throughout the remainder of the spring.
Beyond that, Richt said, Mettenberger’s primary job will be rebuilding the trust from his teammates, coaches and fans – a job that, if he can complete, will put him squarely back into the competition at quarterback.
“He knows he’s dug himself a hole, and he wants to climb out,” Richt said. “He knows that what has happened this last week is not going to define who he is and define his career. He’s very anxious to prove to everybody he’s a very solid person and leader. We’re all disappointed and we all know there’s consequences to that kind of action.”
It took Washaun Ealey more than four games before he saw any action last season, and it wasn’t until the final few weeks of the season that he really came into his own as a running back. But when he found his stride, he turned in huge results. Ealey tallied at least 70 yards rushing in each of his final seven games, including a huge 183-yard performance in a win over Georgia Tech.
In the months since the season ended, Richt said Ealey has only managed to climb even higher up the learning curve, and when he hit the field Tuesday at practice, his head coach marveled at how far Ealey had come.
“Washaun is just a whole lot different than a year ago in my opinion,” Richt said. “He was a true freshman. He wasn’t in the greatest of shape, and now he’s in much better shape, he knows what to do, and he’s having fun out there practicing with a lot of tempo and confidence.”
Returning to returner
Gray may still be in the running for Georgia’s starting quarterback job, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be giving up his part-time gig on special teams.
Richt said that, while Gray isn’t likely to see much special teams action this spring, the rising junior quarterback is likely to resume his duties as a punt returner once fall camp opens in August. While Gray is unlikely to be the full-time return man, Richt said Gray has proven he’s adept at fielding deep punts that require the returner to decide whether to fair catch the ball or allow it to bounce into the end zone. Gray played on several other special teams as well, but Richt said those duties would depend heavily on his position on the depth chart at quarterback.
“In the fall I think he will either be the guy or be a very strong candidate to do what he did last year on the punt team,” Richt said. “When we’re backed up and you’ve got a guy at his heels on the 10-yard line to decide should I field it or let it go, he did a very good job of that last year, and that’s kind of a hard thing to teach. I think he would do that, and we’ll just see what the future holds. I’m not counting him out for any other special teams either. It just depends how this QB race goes.”