A couple of battle scars still remain from Aaron Murray’s first season in the Southeastern Conference.
“Arkansas, and then Nick Fairley’s the other one,” the Georgia quarterback said when quizzed asked about a mark on his chin.
Murray was referring to his first SEC home game and a November game at Auburn when the Tigers’ defensive tackle played a big part in leaving him “probably the most beat-up I’ve ever been.”
Murray more than showed he could perform at a high level in his rookie season — throwing for the second-most yards for a freshman in SEC history (3,049) and leading all freshmen nationally in pass efficiency — but the preseason All-SEC pick set out to add more muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame this season to better withstand hits.
“That was one of my goals this offseason,” said Murray, who said he now weighs 212 pounds. “I feel good. I don’t feel I got any slower. I feel like I put on mostly muscle. I feel like I can definitely take the beating a lot more. Hopefully I don’t have to.”
Murray showed an ability to make plays on the run when he rushed for 167 yards and four touchdowns last season, but took some shots in the open field and in the pocket.
“He’s really worked hard to get stronger and get a little bigger and that was the main goal, to handle some of the punishment that a quarterback takes in this league,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He’s feeling pretty good about himself that he weighs close to 210. He calls it his 10 pounds of muscle to handle the people in this league.”
Murray suffered a bruised sternum and bruised left knee in Georgia’s 49-31 loss at Auburn. The sternum was injured in the first quarter on a couple of hits. The knee injury came in the fourth quarter via a shot by Fairley, who is gone to the NFL after the Detroit Lions selected him in the first round.
“Thank goodness,” Murray said.
He has worked on moving around better in the pocket after Georgia gave up 25 sacks last year.
“I think there were times when he held the ball a little too long,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Sometimes that turned out to be a sack, sometimes it turned out to be a scramble for a touchdown. … We didn’t want him to be wild with the football. I thought he respected the ball extremely well. Twenty-four TDs and eight picks, that’s pretty strong for any season for any guy.”
Murray said at times last year he was getting too far back in the pocket, allowing defensive ends to rush “high” and get to him, or he was standing still in the pocket instead of moving around.
“As a quarterback, you watch the NFL and you might get hit here or there, but they find ways to take a step and take glancing blows instead of a head-on full blow,” said Murray, a redshirt sophomore. “Maybe step to the right real quick and deliver the pass and they’re only hitting the side of you instead of a full-on tackle to bring you to the ground. There’s little things here and there that change the angle for the tackler that can lessen the blow.”
Said Bobo: “You’re going to get hit in this league and you’ve got to be a strong individual to stand in there and take it. To play his position, you can’t be running around like your head’s cut off like a chicken.”
Center Ben Jones said he’s noticed Murray putting in extra work on his balance and getting rid of the ball quicker when his receivers aren’t open.
“Now he knows just to get rid of it or get out of there, instead of just sitting there and taking it,” Jones said. “I think you’ll see a new Murray this year. He’s going to get rid of it and make big plays for us.”
The good news for Murray is that Georgia’s starting offensive line has worked together for most of the preseason without major injuries.
“I thought Murray was really able to stand in there and make some throws comfortably,” Richt said after Georgia’s second scrimmage.
Protection like that will make Murray’s job easier whether he’s better equipped to take punishment doled out by mammoth pass rushers or not.
“I hope he never gets hit,” Jones said. “That’s the plan.”