ATHENS, Ga. -- Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo insists there is an open competition to become the team’s starting quarterback, but it’s difficult to envision anyone supplanting Aaron Murray atop the depth chart.
That said, there is plenty of competition within the group as the rest begin to establish a pecking order for the fall. Barring unforeseen circumstances with Murray, rising junior Hutson Mason intends to redshirt, leaving redshirt freshman Christian LeMay and recent freshman signee Faton Bauta to jockey for the opportunity to play as Murray’s backup.
That competition will carry over into preseason practice -- and possibly the fall as well -- but only now is it truly beginning, as the Bulldogs have nearly finished installing their offensive package this spring.
As the competition hits its stride, here is a look at the four scholarship contenders in the Bulldogs’ quarterback derby:
Player: Aaron Murray
Class: Rising junior
Last season: Started all 14 games and completed 238 of 403 passes for 3,149 yards, 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The 35 touchdowns established a new single-season school record.
Spring goal: Ball security is perhaps Bobo’s No. 1 point of emphasis with Murray this spring. Not only were his 14 interceptions too many, they were often costly -- as opponents returned four for touchdowns. If any issue ever jeopardized Murray’s position atop the depth chart, it would be his occasional turnover trouble.
Comments: Bulldogs fans occasionally clamored for Mason to get more of a shot last season, but it is clear that Murray is the coaches’ guy. He is a team leader and ranks among the Bulldogs’ hardest workers. Now as he enters his third season as the starter, the team needs him to show improved consistency that will help UGA compete against the highest caliber of competition.
Player: Hutson Mason
Class: Rising junior
Last season: Appeared in four games as a backup and completed 18 of 30 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Spring goal: Even if Mason is able to redshirt this fall, he knows he must prepare this spring as though he needs to be ready to play at any time. That’s because he does in fact need to be ready to play at any time. Murray has shown impressive toughness by absorbing some huge hits in the last two seasons and staying in the game, but Mason would probably still be the top candidate to play if Murray were unavailable. He has performed well in limited action over two seasons and should contend with his younger counterparts for the starting position once Murray is out of the picture.
Comments: After mulling a transfer, Mason sat down with Coach Mark Richt and worked out the redshirt plan. Even if Murray plays this season and next at Georgia, Mason would at worst have the opportunity to compete for the starting job in his final year of eligibility, 2014, if he redshirts. The competition will be stout -- not only will LeMay and Bauta be tough competition, but the Bulldogs already have a commitment from one of the nation’s top 2013 QB prospects, Brice Ramsey -- but Mason has already proven that he deserves a long look from Georgia’s coaches.
Player: Christian LeMay
Class: Redshirt freshman
Last season: Redshirted
Spring goal: Above all else, LeMay needs to show that the full year he has spent learning the Bulldogs’ offense has given him a strong working knowledge of Bobo and Mark Richt’s scheme. Not only is he competing with Bauta for the backup role should Mason redshirt, he’s competing with both Mason and Bauta for playing time should something keep Murray off the field. This spring is an enormously important time for LeMay to prove that he is starting to get it.
Comments: LeMay continues to shake off rust, as he has not played in an actual game since his junior year at Butler High School in Matthews, S.C. He boasts dynamic athleticism and a strong arm, so he has the tools to become an impact player in college. He simply needs to begin putting everything together in making the difficult transition from high school to college that typically takes a year or two for even the most talented quarterbacks.
Player: Faton Bauta
Class: Freshman (enrolled in January)
Last season: Passed for 1,432 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions at Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Also rushed for 779 yards and eight scores.
Spring goal: Bauta is in the difficult position that almost all Georgia quarterbacks face -- arriving as an early enrollee in January and promptly beginning to immerse himself in the Bulldogs’ offense. Mason is the only member of this group to have played as a true freshman. In fact, he is one of only a small group of Georgia quarterbacks to have played as true freshmen since Mark Richt took over in 2001. So Bauta will have to truly stand out with his playmaking skills and demonstrate a strong knowledge of the offensive scheme to surpass players who have been on campus for a longer period of time.
Comments: Bauta is a different type of quarterback than the other contenders. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he’s a load to bring down -- and his physical running style could potentially bring a different element to the Bulldogs’ offense. That said, he played only one year in high school as a full-time starting quarterback, so his development is ongoing. It will be interesting to see what his role eventually will be, but he has already impressed teammates with his work ethic and intelligence. He clearly will play a role in the competition moving forward.