ATHENS, Ga. — It’s probably safe to say that freshman quarterback Zach Mettenberger won’t fondly watch the footage of his first scrimmage as a member of the Georgia Bulldogs.
The numbers for Mettenberger were downright ugly. He completed 1-of-10 passes for 4 yards and one interception.
It wasn’t all bad news for Mettenberger, however. Head coach Mark Richt blamed drops for a number of the misses, and starting quarterback Joe Cox said the miscues hardly could be pinned on Mettenberger.
“He knew where to go with the ball; he just had a lot of passes dropped,” Cox said. “With the group he was going with, there were a lot of guys running the wrong routes or weren’t running their routes deep enough, and the ball, he was throwing to the right spot, and it just wasn’t there.”
While Mettenberger struggled, fellow freshman Aaron Murray looked sharp in Monday’s scrimmage, including a 75-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the day’s highlight. From the recruiting trail to the pre-Signing Day hype to spring, Murray’s talents have overshadowed Mettenberger’s, but Richt said neither quarterback has separated himself from the other on the practice field, despite Murray’s more impressive stat line during the team’s first scrimmage.
In fact, quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said he has been impressed with Mettenberger’s work ethic. He also said the freshman has improved in at least one area that was a major concern entering the spring.
“I’ve been very pleased with his knowledge of the game and his approach to studying,” Bobo said. “I’ve been fairly pleased with how he moves, his footwork in the pocket. We knew we were going to have to work on his feet, but he’s worked hard at that and actually moved pretty good avoiding the rush.”
One aspect of Mettenberger’s game that never has been in question is his powerful arm. Bobo said the freshman flamethrower isn’t ready to step into the big time just yet, but it’s easy to draw some comparisons between Georgia’s newest quarterback and the player who manned the position a year ago: Matthew Stafford.
“He’s got a very strong arm,” Bobo said. “I would think it compares favorably, but Matthew’s release was a little quicker. But he does have a strong arm.”
Back to basics
For most of the Bulldogs, the spring is about picking up where they left off after their bowl game. For Georgia’s receivers, however, new coach Tony Ball has implemented some major changes from the program they were used to.
“He’s not changing the system, but he’s changing how we do a lot of the little things,” wideout Michael Moore said.
Where former coach John Eason took more of a big-picture approach to coaching, Moore said Ball has gone back to the basics. Instead of learning a play, the receivers are working on fundamentals like coming out of breaks and gaining leverage on a defender.
“(Eason) stressed more the play, while Coach Ball stresses how to run your route,” Moore said.
That has made this spring more of a learning experience for the receivers than for many of their teammates, and Moore said he has had to put in a bit of extra time at the office just to keep up.
“For us, we can’t have enough time,” Moore said. “After practice, me and A.J. (Green), we’re still out there working on the stuff that Coach Ball is teaching us.”
Nick Williams didn’t figure on playing linebacker when he came to Georgia, but, since making the move from safety late last season, he quickly has adapted to the new role.
Williams led all Georgia players with six tackles in Monday’s first spring scrimmage. Linebacker Rennie Curran said the freshman from Bainbridge, Ga., has looked right at home at his new position.
“He’s looking good,” Curran said. “He asks a lot of questions. He’s real confident but listens to what the coaches are saying. He’s a great guy to have around.”
While Williams adjusts to his new position, Curran said he has been adjusting to the role of mentor. He said he has taken Williams under his wing and tried to offer as much advice as possible.
One popular topic for Williams is the issue of adding some bulk to his frame. Having arrived as a safety, adding some heft has been a top priority for Williams, and the weight room just so happens to be Curran’s area of expertise.
“All of those guys, when they come in as freshmen, they go through a transformation,” Curran said. “I just try to let them know that it’s more about making plays. Don’t get stuck on gaining weight or anything like that. At the end of the day, it’s about who gets to the ball and makes the tackle.”
While the injuries at defensive end continue to mount for the Bulldogs, two other players who have spent the spring in green non-contact jerseys appear close to returning.
Running back Dontavius Jackson has participated in many of the non-contact drills. Richt said he could be ready to go at full speed by this weekend or early next week.
Richt also said linebacker Akeem Hebron appears ready to return to full participation by this weekend as well.