ATLANTA — Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray will head into fall practice as Georgia’s No. 1 quarterback, though coach Mark Richt stressed Thursday he’s not yet ready to name a starter.
Richt released the much-anticipated depth chart almost two weeks after the Bulldogs completed spring practice, saying he wanted to give his staff time to meet with each member of the team. All eyes were on the quarterback position, where the highly recruited Murray has the upper hand on Gray, a junior who was Joe Cox’s backup last season.
Murray would have been at the top of the depth chart, according to Richt, even if another contender was still on the roster. Redshirt freshman Zach Mettenberger was kicked off the team last weekend in the wake of an alcohol-related arrest.
“We see Murray ahead of Logan right now,” Richt said in a conference call from Columbus, where he was speaking to a Bulldog Club chapter. “By no means does it guarantee a starting position in the first ballgame. But this is where we see him right now.”
If Murray hangs on to his spot through fall practice — and it seems highly unlikely that Gray could snatch it away unless there’s an injury or something else unforeseen — he’ll be the first Georgia freshman to start at quarterback in the season opener since David Greene in 2001, also after a redshirt season.
Matthew Stafford earned the starting job as a true freshman in 2006, but he began that season as a backup.
“On a consistent basis, he’s performed better than Logan at this point,” Richt said of Murray. “That’s all there is to it. It’s the usual things: accuracy, decision-making, those type of things.”
Murray, from Tampa, Fla., was rated the No. 3 quarterback in the nation by Scout.com and Rivals.com coming out of high school and was a Parade magazine All-America pick.
Now, the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder has the inside track on the starting job.
“If I thought it was enough to flat-out name a starter right now, I would do that,” Richt said. “At this point, I’m not ready to do that. But he’s definitely the No. 1 guy at this point. We’ll see what happens by the time we play our first game.”
The quarterback race took an unexpected turn when the 6-5, 230-pound Mettenberger, also a highly rated recruit, was arrested last month in south Georgia and charged with underage consumption and possession of alcohol, possessing fake identification and disorderly conduct-obstruction.
Both freshmen came in at the same time, graduating from high school early to get in extra work with the Bulldogs, knowing they would likely be battling each other to replace Cox after his lone season as the starter. Mettenberger, who grew up not far from Athens in Oconee County, was rated the No. 11 quarterback in the nation by Rivals.
The race never got a chance to play out. After initially saying that Mettenberger would be suspended for at least one game, Richt kicked him off the team Sunday. The coach hasn’t explained why he took such a harsh step when others have been allowed to stay on the team after brushes with the law.
“The bottom line is you want to do what is best for your football team,” he said. “You do the best for the young men, too. Sometimes, a young man loses his opportunity to play for your team. Hopefully a lesson is learned by him and everyone else is watching.”
As if to drive home the point that misbehavior will not be tolerated, Richt announced that walk-on punter Trent Dittmer was dismissed from the team, too, after being arrested early Tuesday on alcohol-related charges. He had served on the scout team the past two years and never played in a regular-season game.
Dittmer was the third player sent packing by Richt this spring. Linebacker Montez Robinson, a backup last season as a freshman, was removed from the roster on April 4 after being arrested for a simple battery charge involving family violence. He had already been suspended in December after an arrest on charges involving altercations with a female student.
Gray had an edge in experience but has never been looked at as the long-term solution at quarterback. He has appeared in 25 games, but much of that time came on special teams; he has more yards on punt returns than passes. Gray even considered a position change before opting to compete with Mettenberger and Murray for the starting job.
In the spring game, Mettenberger completed six of 10 passes for 150 yards, including touchdowns of 24 and 39 yards, but he worked with the second team. Gray was 10 of 17 passes for 132 yards and one TD. Murray was the least impressive of the three, connecting on 10 of 22 for 96 yards with one interception.
Throughout the spring, though, Murray was the most consistent of the three. The only throw in the spring game that really bothered Richt was the one that was picked off.
“When the pressure was pushed into his face and he was trying to make a play, he threw the interception,” the coach said. “But that’s part of the learning process. He’s got to understand when the situation is bad, don’t make it worse.”