ATHENS, Ga. — When Joe Cox competed at the Elite 11 camp alongside some of the nation’s top passers, he knew his game didn’t match some of the big-armed talent that surrounded him. Still, he managed to find his niche.
Each day the camp held an accuracy drill, where the quarterbacks had to hit a series of flags planted at various points around the field. Cox won the competition nearly every day.
“That’s always been something I’ve had to pride myself on because I don’t have the best arm and I’m not a scrambler,” Cox said. “That’s how I get by.”
The deadly precision helped Cox make a name for himself amid a crowd of stronger throwers, and not much changed once he arrived at Georgia.
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As a backup to Matthew Stafford for most of the past three years, Cox spent his days tossing sharp passes between the jersey numbers of downfield receivers running with the second-team offense, while the cannon-armed Stafford wowed onlookers with 70-yard bombs.
Cox is ready to step into the lead role in his fifth season at Georgia, bringing a clearly different style to the position. But while Cox admits he probably won’t have jaws dropping on the practice field, he doesn’t expect much to change on game day.
“Matthew has an incredible arm, but it wasn’t like we were running plays that only he could make that throw,” Cox said. “All the plays that we run, all the guys here can make those throws.”
Considering he led the SEC in receiving, it’s not like A.J. Green didn’t command plenty of attention from opposing defenses during his stellar freshman season in 2008. But it was hard to ignore Mohamed Massaquoi, the standout senior, on the other side of the field.
Both receivers topped 900 yards last season. This year, however, the task of intimidating defenders will fall solely on Green, who said he’ll be lining up in a few new places in order to keep the opposition on its toes.
“Just the offense switching me off the ball, putting me in motion a lot, stuff like that,” Green said. “I think I’m just going to be all over the place this year. Not just a Z. I’ll be the Y, the X, just everywhere.”
Of course, before he gets back to tormenting cornerbacks, he needs to get healthy. Green said he’s feeling stronger, and has added 12 pounds to his frame since arriving at Georgia — he weighs 207 pounds now — but with a nagging groin injury still lingering, he still isn’t guaranteed to be a full participant in spring practice.
“I’m still limited, but it’s getting much better,” he said. “I can run full speed now without feeling it, but I’m not changing direction.”
Makiri Pugh was realistic entering his freshman season, hardly expecting to land a starting job. Still, he figured he could be a key contributor on special teams and find his way on to the field for a handful of defensive snaps each week.
Instead, his hopes were dashed before his season began.
Pugh injured his ankle in the first week of fall practice, and spent the rest of the year playing catch up — an afterthought on the depth chart, landing a redshirt designation and no playing time.
“It was really tough,” Pugh said. “I had to mature quickly in a different way than some of the guys who were actually getting on the field last year. I had to learn how to be a better teammate while I couldn’t be on the field.”
Pugh said the time he spent watching from the sidelines helped him learn some important lessons. He said he worked on his body language and demeanor and learned to be more active even if he wasn’t on the field.