2010 Looms for Dawgs' QBs

ATHENS – While the bowl game each year marks the end of one season's efforts, it also serves as a first peek at what could be in store for the following season.

For Georgia, however, the curiosity surrounding the most crucial job opening on the team in 2010 won't be satiated against Texas A&M.

Joe Cox will make his final start, which he hopes will be a fond farewell from an offense he spent five years working with, but the future of the quarterback position remains in the hands of freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, who will watch from the sidelines knowing one of the two will likely be handed the keys to next year's offense.

"They're coming along real good," receiver A.J. Green said. "Aaron, he knows the game. Zach's got that big arm. It could be either one of them coming up next year."

It was already going to be the biggest question of the offseason, but the mystery surrounding Georgia's next quarterback has only added a few twists and turns in recent weeks.

With Cox playing his final game in next week's Independence Bowl, it figured to be a three-man race for the starting job this spring between rising junior Logan Gray and Mettenberger and Murray, both of whom will be redshirt freshmen.

But after a quiet recruiting season at the position, Georgia's coaches suddenly decided to go hard after another quarterback, and rumors swirled that Gray was set to switch positions this spring to wide receiver. That would leave the Bulldogs without a single quarterback on their depth chart who had so much as taken a snap in a college game.

"It's definitely nerve-racking when you have to play a guy that hasn't started, but I think all three of these guys (including Gray) have been around here enough that they know what to do, and if we can stay healthy up front, I think we'll be better up front and at all the other positions to help that quarterback into his role," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

Gray has eluded interviews since news of the potential position change leaked earlier this month and the two freshmen have been hidden from the media since October, making the shroud of mystery surrounding the position all that much more intriguing.

While Bobo and head coach Mark Richt aren't ready to call a change for Gray official, they're both putting his future in his own hands. Bobo said he spoke with Gray and encouraged him to compete for the starting quarterback job leading up to the bowl, and Richt said Gray will make a final decision after that.

"Logan wants to play," Richt said. "Logan is the one who is going to decide what he wants to do this spring. If he wants to stay strictly at quarterback and compete in that area, I'm all for it. If he wants to try another position to see if he could get more playing time in that role, I'm fine with that."

Of course, Gray could certainly make a switch for the spring, then switch back if Georgia feels he's better served at quarterback, but all of that is simply speculation at this point.

And while the Bulldogs won't exactly be comfortable with two freshmen atop the quarterback depth chart next fall, wide receiver Israel Troupe said both Murray and Mettenberger have made huge strides this season, despite being redshirted.

"The first couple of times (in the huddle), they were nervous," Troupe said. "We knew what they were going to call, but they were stuttering the whole time because they were nervous. But now they have a lot of confidence, they're very forceful. They know what's going on and they understand the formations and the plays."

Mettenberger arrived at Georgia a bit further behind on the learning curve thanks to a series of different offensive coordinators in high school and a handful of problems in his footwork, but Bobo said he has improved greatly throughout the season. Mettenberger has shed more than 15 pounds from his frame and improved his fundamentals, but it's his cannon arm that has drawn plenty of praise from his teammates – even drawing comparisons to last year's No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, Matthew Stafford.

"Zach's got a real big arm just like Staff," Green said. "Staff had a little more heat sometimes, but usually you can't tell the difference."

While Mettenberger has a cannon, Murray is probably the more polished option. Murray brings strong instincts, natural ability and loads of athleticism, but more than anything, Bobo said, it's his work ethic that sets him apart.

"Aaron Murray comes in every day like he's the starter, looking at the game plan and takes notes and does a phenomenal job mentally of preparing like he's going to play every week," Bobo said. "And he's really been throwing the ball nice the last couple weeks. Really no effects of the injury and doing an outstanding job."

Both freshmen have seen increased work with the No. 1 and No. 2 units this season during practice, as Cox has taken at least one day of practice off from throwing each week to protect a shoulder injury. That's provided a bit more experience, but it doesn't change the fact that the future of the quarterback position remains murky.

So while the Bulldogs will return 10 starters on offense next year, it's that one new face that will likely draw all the attention. But while there might be some concern, the coaches and players who have worked with the two freshmen are also quick to add that the lack of experience at the position in no way means there's a lack of potential.

"They're very blessed," receiver Mike Moore said. "Mettenberger has a cannon for an arm, and Aaron Murray throws a good ball, too. I think we'll be pretty good in the future with quarterbacks."

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