Joe Cox didn't appear in any of Georgia's final eight games last year, but coach Mark Richt believes his backup quarterback will play a more active role this season.
After a steady preseason, the redshirt sophomore may even appear in the Sept. 1 season opener against Oklahoma State.
"We're not promising him anything, but the way he's been performing, he deserves to get in there," Richt said. "Hopefully we'll find the right time to do that."
Matthew Stafford is unquestionably the Bulldogs' starting quarterback, but Richt said Cox has earned consideration for playing time and may even figure into the team's gameplan each week.
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"If he plays, it's because we believe he's earned it and right now we're leaning toward wanting to get him in the game," Richt said.
Largely because of his performance in last year's comeback win over Colorado -- when he came on in relief of a slumping Stafford and led the Bulldogs back from a 13-0 deficit to a last-minute 14-13 victory -- Cox has gained notice as a capable backup. In fact, a recent Rivals.com feature on the nation's top backup quarterbacks had Cox as No. 9 on the list.
He finished the season 17-for-28 passing for 225 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in limited action, although he started against Ole Miss the week after leading the victory over Colorado.
He doesn't figure to receive substantial playing time this year, either, but Richt said he'd be confident if he needed to turn to Cox.
"We're not afraid to play Joe Cox at all," Richt said.
Cornerback Ramarcus Brown has been suspended for the first two games of the season for violating upspecified team rules.
Richt refused to elaborate on what drew the punishment, but said the decision has been made "for a while."
Brown started nine of the first 10 games last year before giving way to Bryan Evans. He entered the preseason as a third-team cornerback and key member of the Bulldogs' special teams units.
His absence in the opener means Georgia will have only five cornerbacks with game experience available -- one of whom, Evans, has been sidelined for the last week and a half with a pulled hamstring.
"Against the first two teams (Oklahoma State and South Carolina), they do spread the field and we do need more help at corner. That hurts definitely there," Richt said. "Ramarcus is an outstanding special teams player also. He's a difference-maker on special teams."
Brown is now one of three Bulldogs who will miss the opener because of suspension. Tight end Tripp Chandler and backup quarterback Blake Barnes are suspended for alcohol-related arrests this summer.
After the Bulldogs' second kicking scrimmage of the preseason, held Wednesday morning at Sanford Stadium, Richt said freshman Drew Butler holds a slight edge in the race to be the team's punter.
It's simply a matter of consistency, he said. Junior Brian Mimbs has kicked more deep, booming punts, but he has shanked more as well.
"It's not an ability thing as much as a consistency thing right now," Richt said.
Although Butler has edged ahead, the decision is not set in stone just yet. Richt likened it to the preseason quarterback competition last year, when the depth chart was one thing two weeks before the season started, but something entirely different by the opener.
"It's very similar to the QB situation last year when we gave a pecking order and by time the games started, it changed. I'm saying this could change," Richt said. "It's very tight, but if we had to ... honestly say where we felt like we were, it would be just a slight edge to Butler right now."
If Stacy Searels' persuasive powers weren't speaking loudly enough to Kiante Tripp, the possibility of a professional payday surely was.
That's what helped win Tripp over, convincing him to switch from defensive end to offensive tackle this week.
"Every day in practice, coach Searels would come up, 'Hey man, I'll make you some money,' Tripp said, recalling how Georgia's offensive line coach tried to convince him to move.
That very well may not be an empty promise. In four years at his previous stop, LSU, Searels sent five of his offensive linemen on to the NFL, had two first-team all-Americans and a second-team all-American.
Tripp was in the middle of a deep group of defensive ends, but has the opportunity to contribute quickly on the offensive line -- if only by providing much-needed depth in the immediate future.
He said he hopes to add 15 or 20 pounds to his 270-pound frame and study his new offensive playbook religiously to learn his new position.
The redshirt freshman lined up as the second-team right tackle on Wednesday.
"I've just got to catch up with these plays. I'm a quick learner, so I'm trying to get it," Tripp said. "Hopefully I'll be ready for the first game."
Speaking of the offensive line, the depleted group was bolstered by the return of three injured players to Wednesday's practice. Tackle Chester Adams (ankle) and guard Scott Haverkamp (ankle) were completely cleared to practice and tackle Josh Davis (shoulder) also participated in some practice work.
That enabled true freshman Clint Boling to move from Adams' starting right tackle spot to backup right tackle -- although Boling continues to work at several positions -- and true freshman Justin Anderson to work some at backup left guard.
Like with the punting competition, nothing is finalized yet as to where the linemen will end up. Adams could move back to guard, where he started 11 games last year, which would result in further shuffling.
"We're rolling around a little bit and trying to find the very best combination," Richt said. "That's probably the biggest question mark we have right now."
While the line got some of its players back, a linebacker who had impressed his coaches recently suffered a setback. Middle linebacker Marcus Washington injured his groin and was limited in Wednesday afternoon's practice while wearing a green no-contact jersey.
Also attending practice in green were offensive linemen Tanner Strickland (foot sprain) and Chris Little (wrist), receiver Mikey Henderson (hip), tight end Tripp Chandler (ribs) and cornerbacks Thomas Flowers (shoulder) and Bryan Evans (hamstring).
Receiver Kris Durham (concussion) watched practice in shorts and t-shirt.
Pulling a fast one
Richt decided to have some fun with the reporters in attendance at Wednesday afternoon's practice.
Knowing how closely some media members watch the players' pre-practice stretching routine, attempting to determine if there have been any depth chart changes, Richt shuffled his lineups.
"We were out there and right at the beginning of stretching, and (Richt) was like, 'All right, let's mess with the media,'" Stafford said with a grin.
Typically the starters stretch together, with second-teamers stretching behind them and so on. But that was not the case on Wednesday. For instance, true freshman tailback Caleb King lined up as a starter, followed by redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno and seniors Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin.
Similarly, walk-on quarterback Jonathan DeLaureal stretched as a first-teamer, followed by Cox with the second team.
Stafford loosened up with the third team and made sure to joke to a pair of reporters watching nearby that he had been demoted.
"Did it freak you out just a minute?" Richt asked reporters after practice.
Coleman Watson led NaDerris Ward and Shaw grad Bruce Figgins going into last Saturday's scrimmage, but Richt said the three are now even for the No. 1 tight end duties in the opener against Oklahoma State. ... Michael Moore is the receiver who has made the biggest stride this preseason, Richt said, and is contending for a starting spot at flanker. ... The team held its annual watermelon cuttin' after Wednesday morning's special teams scrimmage. The 30-plus-year-old tradition celebrates the completion of two-a-day practices. The first day of school is today. ... Georgia's fan day is on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Uga VI will be available from 1 to 3 p.m., while UGA football players and other University athletes will be on hand from 3 to 5 p.m.