GEORGIA 2010 PREVIEW: Murray makes his Dog debut

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATHENS -- Georgia has a new starting quarterback and a new defense.

Those may be good reasons to embrace an old offensive philosophy.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray has never taken a snap in a game. No other current quarterback had taken a snap in a practice before this summer.

On defense, the Bulldogs have scrapped their four-man front for a new 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

That combination means Georgia will have to play some old-school football to win in the demanding Southeastern Conference.

"We must run the ball well this year," coach Mark Richt said this week.

A strong running game was the constant for Georgia in Vince Dooley's quarter-century as coach from 1964-88. Dooley won six SEC Championships and the 1980 national title by keeping the ball on the ground.

Richt prefers a run-pass balance to a run-dominated attack, and junior receiver A.J. Green is the team's biggest star. Even so, there is good reason for the Bulldogs to run the ball and take pressure off Murray and the defense.

Murray will be surrounded by 10 returning starters on offense, including three seniors and two juniors on the offensive line. Caleb King will be the starter at tailback after sharing the carries the second half of last season and moving up to No. 1 when Washaun Ealey was arrested last week. Senior fullback Shaun Chapas is a reliable blocker.

"I'd be very disappointed if we don't run the ball well, and if we do run the ball well it'll take pressure off (our QB)," Richt said.

Georgia finished its 8-5 2009 season with an upset win at Georgia Tech before beating Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl. The encouraging finish was not enough to make up for a disappointing season filled with too many defensive lapses.

Richt fired defensive coordinator Willie Martinez and two other defensive assistants before the bowl game. Grantham was hired from the Dallas Cowboys staff.

Grantham has placed a fourth linebacker on the field. He also has added a new attack mentality to the unit.

"It's going to allow me to put more pressure," said Justin Houston, who has moved from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Houston led Georgia with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore last season. He expects even bigger numbers in the new scheme.

"In that other system I had to read and I couldn't always attack," Houston said. "In this system, I'm attacking a lot more. It feels great knowing I basically have just one assignment, to attack."

Richt said he can understand fans' interest and excitement to see the new defense. He said that "extra little energy or whatever, that anticipation of something you're not sure of," has spread through the team.

"We're all intrigued by it," Richt said. "Our fans want to see it. I want to see it. Coach Grantham and our defensive staff and players, our offensive players, everybody is interested to see what it looks like."

Georgia lost two juniors -- linebacker Rennie Curran and safety Reshad Jones -- and its top three defensive tackles from last season. Junior DeAngelo Tyson is expected to start at nose tackle, and inside linebacker Akeem Dent likely will start today after having toe surgery in late July and missing most of fall practice.

The Bulldogs boast perhaps the nation's top pair of kickers. Drew Butler won the 2009 Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter. Blair Walsh was a Lou Groza Award finalist after making 20 of his 22 field goal attempts.

Georgia also has a strong return game. Brandon Boykin set the SEC record last year with three kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Murray, meanwhile, will be the third freshman to start at Georgia.

Richt has been upbeat in his early reviews of his team.

"I like the look of this team, I really do," he said. "I like how the coaches have been preparing ... I like how we've been recruiting. I like a lot of things right now. We've been very fortunate on injuries with nothing more than bumps and bruises. There's a really good feeling surrounding this team. It has a good mental edge to it."