The Bulldogs return all but one starter from a team that set a school record in scoring, won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and finished 12-2 to rank fifth in The Associated Press’ final poll.
With Georgia’s spring game one week away, Murray believes depth at each position will pay dividends as several starters and role players are learning new positions and accepting more responsibility.
“It’s pretty smart rotating guys in, seeing who fits with who, especially with the offensive line,” Murray said this week. “They always want to get a set guy in there. This is the time you want to experiment.”
Murray said he hasn’t been too concerned with personnel groupings this spring because he knows coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo want him to concentrate on his timing.
“I don’t even know half the time who’s where — running back, receiver, linemen, tight end,” Murray said with a smile. “I just say, ‘Hut,’ and hopefully I get some protection and somebody ends up in the right place to catch the ball.”
Murray’s most talented receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, is hardly averse to making big changes before the season starts.
Two summers ago, Mitchell was a true freshman learning the playbook and trying to gain the trust of Murray and Richt. Last spring, Mitchell was learning to play cornerback because Richt had suspended three defensive backs who missed games in the first month.
Mitchell, who had an injured hamstring and couldn’t play in the 2012 spring game, played four games on defense before returning to his natural position of receiver before the Sept. 29 win over Tennessee.
Now with the departure of longtime starter Tavarres King, Mitchell has moved again — this time from flanker to split end.
“It’s just a lot more field to get open with,” Mitchell said. “I’m loving it. It is a lot to get adjusted to. On the boundary, the ball comes a lot quicker. You don’t have that much time. The ball’s out. But in the field, you have to be patient sometimes for some of your routes and know the quarterback’s going to get it to you.”
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who comprise one of the nation’s top tandems at tailback, are concentrating on pass protection and communication skills to give others a chance to run the ball.
Gurley took just two handoffs in a scrimmage earlier this week, and Marshall hasn’t been working a full load in practice since coming back from a slight hamstring injury.
Richt and his staff want to take a longer look at early enrollees J.J. Green and A.J. Turman. Kyle Karempelis is getting extra snaps with the second team as Brandon Harton returns from an undisclosed injury.
Gurley and Marshall last year combined for 2,144 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns, so the Bulldogs know what to expect from the two rising sophomores.
The pair’s experience has been a blessing to Murray this spring, particularly when he’s running the no-huddle.
“To be able to line up quickly, call a play and go instead of having to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and tell them what to do,” Murray said. “That slows it down and lets the defense get set up. It definitely helps. Those guys know what they’re doing. They’re confident. I trust them when it comes to protection, route running, everything. It’s definitely comforting knowing those guys have been in battle with me for a full season already.”
Gurley, who said he’s added 12 pounds of muscle since Georgia beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, understands his role this spring has expanded beyond the field.
“I’m not a freshman anymore,” Gurley said. “With you guys coming in like J.J. and A.J., it’s like I’m taking on that role to look after those guys and teach them just like Ken (Malcome) and Richard (Samuel) and all those other guys did for me last year.”
The Bulldogs got a boost on Thursday when right tackle John Theus returned to practice for the first time since undergoing offseason foot surgery.
Theus, who started 14 games as a true freshman last season, said he worked with the second-string. He’s one of five returning starters on the line.
“Mainly the big thing today was me just getting back in there and trying to get after it and get back in the swing of things,” Theus said. “Football is a game of repetition. The more you do it, the better you get. It’s just a matter of me getting back into it after the time off.”