At the end of spring practice Georgia coach Mark Richt summoned each of his players to his office for a one-on-one. Among other things, the coach discussed the player's strengths and weaknesses, and at the end of every chat he asked the question, Who do you think is the leader of our team? All told, 106 players named quarterback Joe Cox, a fifth-year senior who has started only one game for the Bulldogs.
"There's not a player or coach on this team who doesn't have confidence in him and what he can do on the field," Richt says. "He gives us peace of mind."
Indeed, the biggest story in Athens this spring was how Cox took command of the team. Unlike last season, when Georgia had a high-powered offense led by Matthew Stafford, the first pick in the NFL draft, this year's unit will operate a ball-control attack. Richt believes Cox will excel at game management. In other words, don't expect the new QB to throw many interceptions or make mental mistakes such as missing a protection call. Cox doesn't possess Stafford's arm strength, but he is a deadly accurate short- to intermediate-range passer and can make plays with his feet (something Stafford rarely did).
"I've been in the program a long time, and I've learned a lot from the sideline," Cox says. "I'm ready to take charge."
Cox already is a proven winner who knows a thing or two about replacing a star. After taking over for highly touted Chris Leak at Independence High in Charlotte, Cox led the Patriots to a 31--0 record and back-to-back state titles, throwing a state-record 66 touchdown passes as a senior. Cox's most memorable moment at Georgia occurred in 2006, when he replaced a struggling Stafford with the Bulldogs trailing Colorado 13--0 late in the third quarter; Cox completed 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns to rally his team to a 14--13 victory.
"Everyone knows what Joe is capable of," says junior linebacker Rennie Curran. "We honestly don't think there's going to be a drop-off at quarterback."
If there isn't, Georgia will be right back in the middle of the SEC title race.
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"I'VE LEARNED A LOT FROM THE SIDELINE," SAYS COX.
COACH: Mark Richt (9th year)
2008 RECORD: 10--3 (6--2 in SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 13
RETURNING STARTERS: 13 Offense 7, Defense 6
5 at Oklahoma State
12 South Carolina
19 at Arkansas
26 Arizona State
10 at Tennessee
17 at Vanderbilt
31 Florida in Jacksonville
7 Tennessee Tech
28 at Georgia Tech
Quarterback Joe Cox will be tested immediately as the Bulldogs travel to Stillwater in one of the marquee matchups of the opening weekend. The Cowboys will have three new starters in the secondary, so Georgia should have big-play opportunities.
While the Bulldogs may be young this season, they won't lack for experience. No fewer than 21 freshmen logged playing time in 2008 for a team that started the year ranked No. 1 in the country.
CURTIS COMPTON/THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION/AP
Though Cox has thrown only 58 passes at Georgia, teammates believe he'll point them in the right direction.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS MORRISON/US PRESSWIRE
The Bulldogs have a sure-handed wide receiver in A.J. Green, who had 56 receptions and eight touchdowns as a freshman.