ATHENS — His work ethic is thought of as polished. Teammates already want to run through a brick wall for him. And he seems to say all the right words.
Aaron Murray is well on his way to earning the respect of the University of Georgia football’s faithful before he even takes his first snap as quarterback this fall against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“He came to Georgia with the mentality that he wanted to be the guy,” Bulldogs junior tight end Aron White said Monday. “Aaron’s been able to put everything into perspective and knows he isn’t going to have to bear the weight of the entire offense.”
While Georgia coach Mark Richt was hit with questions about Murray’s development and maturity during Monday’s press conference for summer practice, he seemed to be at peace on the inside that his redshirt freshman quarterback will be able to take the heat in the Southeastern Conference. Not that he has much of a fallback plan if things don’t pan out.
Behind a seasoned offensive line, the potential of two 1,000-yard rushers, and one of the nation’s top wide receivers in A.J. Green, Richt is asking Murray to simply get the ball to his playmakers. In other words, don’t be a hero.
“We don’t want Aaron to try and prove his manhood out there running the ball,” Richt said. “He’s going to make his living by getting back in the huddle for the next play.”
The alternative to having Murray as quarterback is where it gets a little scary.
Behind his starter, Georgia’s options at quarterback are: A.) Freshman Hutson Mason, who was a star high school quarterback in metro Atlanta, but far from ready to play in the SEC. B.) Walk-on freshman Parker Welch. C.) A second walk-on Richt couldn’t even produce a name for when pressed during his media conference. Remember, Logan Gray has been moved from quarterback to wide receiver — a move some may want to undo at this point for the sake of having an adequate backup.
“Our quarterback room might be the youngest in all of college football,” Richt said.
However, Murray is handling all the pressure with ease. With every member of the media hanging on every word he said before the team’s first practice in helmets Monday afternoon, he remained assured in his own abilities without coming off as cocky, arrogant or entitled.
Since being named the starter last spring, Murray dove head first into learning the playbook, working drills with teammates, staying in the weight room and carefully watching the reps he takes throwing in practice to avoid aggravating triceps tendonitis brought on last season.
Murray is savvy enough to recognize the talent on the offensive line with three seniors and a three-year starter at center. He’s also got three targets at tight end able to work into the game.
Most importantly, he knows the right words to say to keep the blind side protected.
“Our offensive line is not only one of the best in the SEC, but one of the best in the country,” Murray said. “It’s nice to have 10 other guys that are so talented around me on offense.”
On the flip side, the offensive line is just as confident that Murray is going to be able to do the job. They’ve seen Murray make all the throws in practice that he’ll need to make when it counts. He also knows his progressions and the narrow window available to get rid of the ball.
Murray has even gotten into offensive line meetings to learn their side of the job.
“We have a lot of faith in Aaron to do a great job,” senior lineman Clint Boling said. “He’s earned everyone’s respect.”
Murray has also been a sponge when listening to what Georgia’s last two quarterbacks to start as freshmen under Richt have to say — David Greene in 2001 (the school’s all-time leading passer with 11,528 yards) and Matt Stafford (the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009). However, he makes it clear he wants to separate himself from those players without trying to mimic their style.
Murray is comfortable in his own skin.
“I can learn from what those guys have done,” Murray said. “But I just have to be me when I get on the field.”
With all the hype, praise and scrutiny Murray’s earned leading into the 2010 season, now he’s simply got to cut the ribbon on his career with his first pass attempt. No pressure, huh.
Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/gtimesbmurphy