ATHENS, Ga. -- When Mike Bobo says he wants to see a more mobile Aaron Murray this season, Georgia’s offensive coordinator doesn’t envision his quarterback running circles around defenses like Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick.
Sure, maybe Murray will run a bit more than he has the past two seasons, but Bobo actually means that he wants the senior to have a better sense of where defenders are around him in the pocket -- and to have the wherewithal to move into positions that maintain clear throwing lanes.
“We were trying to say, 'Hey, there’s an example of extending the play.' It’s never going to be perfect that you drop back, you hitch twice, you go to your second progression, boom, completion. That doesn’t happen, really,” Bobo said. “It’s move to the side, slide to the right, step up, run two yards, bang, throw the ball.”
The convenient aspect of coaching a fourth-year starter is that Bobo can focus on such finer points. Technique and knowledge of the Bulldogs’ offensive scheme are certainly not problems for a player with Murray's maniacal work ethic.
“Since halfway of last year, there’s really not anything that I didn’t feel comfortable giving him,” Bobo said. “Really, he understands the whole playbook. He’s really an extension of our offensive staff.”
That partnership has produced back-to-back SEC East titles and never-before-seen offensive production at Georgia. The Bulldogs set a program scoring record last fall and Murray set single-season UGA records for passing yards (3,893) and touchdown passes (36).
He became the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards in three seasons, and could become just the fourth in FBS history to surpass the 3,000-yard mark in each of four seasons.
That’s not why he turned down the NFL to spend another season at Georgia, however. Murray insists he essentially made that decision as the final seconds ticked away in the Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, a few yards shy of a chance to play for the BCS title.
“The No. 1 reason why I came back this year is to win a championship -- to win an SEC championship game, to win a national championship,” Murray said. “So I think that’s pretty much it. If I leave here with a championship, with some rings, that’s all I care about.”
To reach that goal, Murray worked on another of the areas Bobo asked him to improve: leadership.
Bobo split the team into approximately 10 groups this summer and asked at least one team leader to take ownership of each group. The groups won points in such categories as attendance at class and in summer workouts, and multiple veterans said summer participation was the best it had been in their UGA careers.
“I think we really lucked out,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “I came in with him and I didn’t really start realizing until he started molding into a leader. He always wanted to be that and he kind of molded into it and grew into that leadership role.
“Really now I think he’s got a lot of respect for his performance on the field, but now it’s even that much more respect off [it]. I think that’s kind of one thing he’s always wanted, not so much for himself, but so he could help lead a better group of guys to become a better team.”
If Murray only duplicates his numbers from last season, he will break the SEC’s career records for pass attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. So it might seem strange that he was voted as only the third-team quarterback on the media’s preseason All-SEC team.
However, with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and AJ McCarron of back-to-back BCS champion Alabama still around, Murray must continue his upward trajectory in big games to earn more love. Correcting that one hole in his resume -- and he has that opportunity with games against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before the end of September -- is nearly all he has left to accomplish.
“In my opinion, he doesn’t have to prove anything,” right guard Chris Burnette said. “But I know the outside opinion is for him to just continue to do well and even better in the big games. Honestly, he’s a great leader of our team. Anytime we do well in a big game, he has a large part of it.
“Especially being a quarterback, I think a lot of the blame can get lumped on him when it’s not really his fault. I feel like if we come out and achieve our goals this year, I don’t think anybody will really be able to say too much about him.”