ATHENS — A wealth of individual stars made Georgia the star of the preseason polls one year ago.
Mark Richt is hoping improved team play makes up for the loss of the big names to the NFL.
After opening the 2008 season with its first preseason No. 1 ranking, Georgia finished 10-3 with losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech.
Ten-win seasons keep coaches employed, but it didn’t match the expectations.
Now Richt must replace quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, and tailback Knowshon Moreno, another first-round pick. Richt also must replace second-round pick Mohamed Massaquoi, one of the top receivers in school history.
Richt says he hopes the 2009 Bulldogs are remembered for more than high draft picks.
"We’re not interested in individual stars right now," Richt said. "We are interested in the team shining right now."
The last time Georgia turned to a fifth-year senior as its new starting quarterback, the Bulldogs won the 2005 Southeastern Conference championship, with D.J. Shockley taking over for David Greene.
Now the Bulldogs are hoping for similar leadership from fifth-year senior Joe Cox, who finally has his chance after playing behind Stafford for three years.
"Matthew, Knowshon and Mohamed and some other guys made a lot of plays last year and they got a lot of attention," Cox said. "But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have other guys who could make plays, too. A lot of guys on this team will be getting more opportunities. That’s football. Somebody moves on and somebody else gets an opportunity."
Richt said Cox was a team leader even as a backup and has been embraced by the players as the starter.
"Joe has prepared for this moment," Richt said. "He has been preparing to be the starter for quite some time knowing that in that game he might not get in and really throughout his career he might not get in. I think people see that.
"He doesn’t gripe. He doesn’t complain. He works. I think players respect a guy who knows the system and can tell me what to do on any given play. Not many guys are in position to even learn that let alone are willing to do that."
Cox only played in three games last season and has never attempted more than 13 passes in a game. His only start came in a win over Mississippi as a freshman in 2006, but he has had a long time to learn the system.
"He’s been around, he’s got a lot of experience in the program and he’s seen it all," said fullback Shaun Chapas. "Everybody loves Joe. He’s a great leader, and we all can follow his example."
Sophomore Caleb King likely will open the season as the starting tailback, but Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas, freshman Washaun Ealey and others could join King in a committee approach at the position.
A.J. Green is one of the SEC’s top receivers. Green caught 56 passes and led the SEC with 963 yards receiving and eight touchdowns as a freshman last season.
Linebacker Rennie Curran said the defense is looking for atonement after giving up more than 40 points in each of the team’s three losses.
The defense is led by a trio of senior linemen: Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston.a