Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has been through this before, but not often.
When the Bulldogs begin spring football practice next Thursday, the untested trio of Logan Gray, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray will compete for the starting quarterback spot. It's only the second time in nine years Georgia will enter spring unsettled at the position and the first since 2006, when Joe Tereshinski, Blake Barnes, Joe Cox and Matthew Stafford scrambled to replace D.J. Shockley.
Stafford was the clear-cut No. 1 entering the 2007 and '08 spring workouts, as was Cox last year.
"As you recruit, you like for it to be in place and have a guy in the wings who has maybe been here two to three years and has two to three years to be the quarterback," Bobo said Thursday. "In some years, it just doesn't work out that way for whatever reason. It's a difficult situation. You never want to start a season when you've got an unknown at the quarterback position, but at the same time I look at it as a great opportunity for a bunch of young guys."
Mettenberger and Murray enrolled in January 2009, went through spring and were redshirted. Gray completed 5 of 12 passes for 31 yards and was intercepted twice last season as a redshirt sophomore.
Bobo said Gray will take the first reps with the No. 1 offense but that the three will be rotated so each receives an equivalent amount of looks with the first team. He said the race could go into preseason camp, though he's not interested in a repeat of '06.
After Shockley led the Bulldogs to the '05 SEC title, Tereshinski was listed atop an '06 spring depth chart based on seniority and was followed by Barnes, Cox and Stafford, who was an early enrollee. Nobody emerged that April, and it wasn't until 13 days before the opener against Western Kentucky when head coach Mark Richt announced Tereshinski as the starter and Cox the backup.
"We probably should have weeded it down a little bit sooner from my personal experience of it," Bobo said. "It's just tough to get that many guys quality reps to get them ready for the season, so I don't see us going that far this year."
Tereshinski, Cox and Stafford started at least once during the '06 season, with Stafford starting the final six games. Several weeks after a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia Tech, Gray signed with the Bulldogs.
Georgia did not sign a quarterback in 2008.
"I would like to hope that everything is on an even keel," Gray said. "Obviously the coaches have in mind what they think is going to be best for the team, so we'll see what happens. Really, there's nothing that me or Zach or Aaron can do besides give it our best shot and do everything we can to prove to coaches that we should be the No.1 guy."
Bobo, who had stability with David Greene as a starter from 2001 to '04, believes protecting the ball will go a long way in determining who supplants Cox. The Bulldogs slipped to 8-5 last year largely because they had only one turnover-free game (Auburn).
There has been an upgrade in status for Bobo since the spring of '06, when he was quarterbacks coach and had yet to assume play-calling duties from Richt, but he believes his influence in picking the starter will be the same.
"Coach Richt is still going to be heavily involved in what we decide to do at quarterback," Bobo said, "and because he was a quarterback coach for that many years, he is always involved. I don't think it's that much different."
Odds and ends
Linebacker Darryl Gamble told reporters Thursday that Justin Houston, who had 7.5 sacks at defensive end last season, will begin spring at outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme. ... Walk-on Chad Gloer, who has played on special teams and as a reserve cornerback, has been moved to help at receiver.