ATHENS - Outsiders might walk into Georgia football practice, study the offense and the quarterbacks and think they are witnessing part of the resistance to change. Alive and well is an increasingly boring notion: the pocket passer.
It’s not just the system, it’s the faces at practice and the history that goes with them. The head coach is Mark Richt, a pocket passer during his college days in the early 1980s. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is Mike Bobo, who during his playing days at Georgia amassed minus-280 yards rushing. And Richt’s own brother-in-law, who occasionally visits practice, is Brad Johnson, the prototypical pocket quarterback who won a Super Bowl a decade ago.
Yes, from all appearances Georgia is the home of the traditional quarterback, where the big decision on what to do with your feet is whether to drop back two, three or four steps before passing.
“You’ve still got to be able to throw the ball,” said Aaron Murray, the team’s prolific-senior quarterbacks. “The game’s not gonna turn into a run-run-run.”
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And yet, even Georgia is not closing its mind to the wonders of the quarterback who can run.
The man who makes this the most clear is Bobo, who in the past two years has expanded the playbook by adding the no-huddle and elements of the spread. Now he doesn’t rule out going further, if in the future the team acquires a true dual-threat quarterback.
“We’ve got elements of that stuff in our offense, but I don’t have the quarterback for that,” Bobo said. “If a guy that has a ball in his hands can do different things, you’ve gotta put him in position to make plays. With (Tim) Tebow and Cam Newton, those type of guys, if you’ve got those guys you’ve got to do things that they do well. Give them a chance.”
Bobo and the Bulldogs were very interested this year in a dual-threat quarterback, Deshaun Watson of Gainesville. Watson ended up committing to Clemson, which runs an up-tempo system conducive to a running quarterback, and has one in senior Tajh Boyd. The Bulldogs have to try to stop Boyd and that Tigers offense up close on Aug. 31.
Georgia ended up securing a commitment from Jacob Park, who can run but is more of a traditional quarterback. In other words, he’s a lot like Murray, who has used his legs in decreasing amounts since his freshman year. The top backup and presumed starter in 2014 is Hutson Mason, another pocket passer, as is Brice Ramsey, a freshman who could be in line to start after that.
Third-year sophomore Christian LeMay and redshirt freshman Faton Bauta are more dual threats, and the playbook does include some run-oriented packages for LeMay. But he’s a long way from being used in the critical time of a game.
“Our offense has gradually changed the last couple years due to personnel,” said Bobo, pointing out the Bulldogs now use the shotgun a lot more because Murray is more comfortable in it. “We’re gonna adapt and do what we feel like the guy is most comfortable with and can have success with. So I think it’ll depend on who the person is and what other pieces you have around him. If you don’t have enough strong pieces, and your quarterback’s gotta be a runner, maybe you change. I think it depends on your personnel.
“Now, I don’t see us being wholesale that way (read-option). But I don’t wanna say you never say Never. If a guy comes here and is that type of player, then we’ll do what we’ve gotta do.”
Mason and Murray said they watch and admire the NFL’s latest breed of fast quarterbacks, especially Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick. Watching the latter take the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, it stuck out to Mason how many times Kaepernick extended a play with his feet.
But the quarterback who impressed Mason the most is Russell Wilson, who took Seattle to a playoff win in his first year, despite being just 5-foot-11.
“He can sling it, and he can make plays with his feet. And when you have that asset at quarterback it just makes you very dangerous,” Mason said. “I know how tough it is to see out there. I’m like 6-2-and-a-half, and he’s 5-11, maybe. I think at the end of the day those are all intangibles. People are always gonna overlook the size, but they can’t see the size of the heart.”
Bulldogs at a glance
Head coach: Mark Richt (118-40, 13 seasons at Georgia, overall).
2012 record: 12-2 overall (7-2 SEC, including championship game).
Returning starters: 10 on offense; 4 on defense.
Key players on offense: QB Aaron Murray (6-1, 202, S.r), RB Todd Gurley (6-1, 232, Soph.), WR Malcolm Mitchell (6-1, 190, Jr.), TE Arthur Lynch (6-5, 254, Sr.).
Key players on defense: OLB Jordan Jenkins (6-3, 246, Soph.), ILB Amarlo Herrera (6-2, 244, Jr.), CB Damian Swann (5-11, 178, Jr.), S Josh Harvey-Clemons (6-5, 212, Soph.).
New names to watch: FS Tray Matthews (6-0, 196, Fr.), CB Brendan Langley (6-1, 181, Fr.), S Shaquille Fluker (6-1, 192, Jr.), DL Toby Johnson (6-4, 305, Jr.).
Outlook: Georgia’s offense is good enough to carry the team all the way if its defense is at least average. If the defense is better than that, and the offense doesn’t slip, the Bulldogs should have one of the best teams in the nation.
The question on offense is whether the offensive line will hold up, especially against South Carolina, LSU and Florida. The question on defense is whether talent (there’s lots of it) or youth (there’s lots of that too) will prove more important.
Aug. 31 at Clemson, 8 p.m.
Sep. 7 South Carolina, 4:30 p.m.
Sep. 21 North Texas, TBA
Sep. 28 LSU, TBA
Oct. 5 at Tennessee, TBA
Oct. 12 Missouri, TBA
Oct. 19 at Vanderbilt, TBA
Nov. 2 Florida, 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 Appalachian St., TBA
Nov. 16 at Auburn, TBA
Nov. 23 Kentucky, TBA
Nov. 30 at Georgia Tech, TBA