"I am just very thankful to have him," Bulldogs' head coach Mark Richt said. "He loves the team; he loves football; he loves to prepare to be great. There's not one guy on our team right now that would look at Aaron and say, ‘This guy isn't paying the price for us to have a shot to be the Eastern Division champions this year.' He's what you're looking for in a leader and a player – the whole thing."
Murray, a Tampa, Florida product, was third in the SEC in passing last season with a 234.5-yard per game average. He completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 3,049 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"My goal was to get better day in and day out, and from week one to the end of the regular season, I think I made progress," Murray said. "It's true the game does slow down a little bit."
Now that the game has slowed down for the quarterback, Richt believes Murray will be more "consistently accurate" in 2011. Last season, Richt said, Murray might have taken his coaches' preaching about ball security a little too much to heart and been too careful with the football.
"He'll have more confidence to make more throws that maybe he wasn't sure of in the past," Richt said. "He erred on the side of being careful, which I think was good. Now I think he's got a better idea of what he's capable of doing and what is open and what is not open in this league. I think he'll be a little more free to cut it loose."
This season, Murray will be asked to do even more. Star wide receiver A.J. Green is gone after being selected No. 4 overall in the NFL Draft. Second-leading receiver Kris Durham – and his 20.6-yard per catch average – also departed via the NFL Draft.
Without those safety blankets, Murray will have to make magic out of a receiving corps led by Tavarres King, who caught 27 passes for 504 yards last season. Marlon Brown (11 catches for 133 yards) is the only other Georgia wide receiver returning who caught more than seven passes last year. Rantavious Wooten (seven catches for 41 yards) and Israel Troupe (three catches for 28 yards) also return. Brown and Wooten both have added muscle and weight, Richt said.
King is moving from split end to flanker, filling the shoes worn by Green last year.
Green "is a tremendous receiver, but we have a lot of tremendous receivers," Murray said. "We have a lot of guys who are looking forward to stepping up to the opportunity and showing the Bulldog Nation what they've got. Our guys have been working hard. They are ready for the challenge to step up and fill that hole."
Richt, like Murray, believes at least one person from the group of receivers will step up this fall.
"There are a lot of guys I think that can make plays for us," he said. "We have a bunch of young guys coming in who are going to be hungry. I think we're going to be fine."
If none of the Bulldogs' wide receivers step up, Murray may look to his tight ends, where Orson Charles returns after catching 26 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns last season. Charles, a teammate of Murray at Plant High School, was named the co-MVP on offense along with Murray at the conclusion at spring practice.
Charles is sure to make a lot of preseason All-SEC lists this summer and could end up being Murray's favorite target. Aron White also returns after catching nine passes for 125 yards. Bruce Figgins has been moved to fullback and could be used at both positions this fall, giving the Bulldogs the flexibility to line up in different formations with the same personnel on the field depending on whether Figgins lines up at tight end or fullback.
At running back, junior running back Richard Samuel returns after playing linebacker the last two years. According to Richt, Samuel will enter the fall at the number one running back spot. However, the transfer of Washaun Ealey and the departure of Caleb King this summer has left plenty of room for Isaiah Crowell to step in and get plenty of playing time in 2011.
Crowell rushed for 1,627 yards and 17 touchdowns on 127 carries (12.8 yards per carry) as a high school senior a year ago.
King "has to see if he can hold off the pup," Richt said.
The development of the skill positions won't matter, of course, if the Bulldogs can't take care of business on the offensive line. Guard Clint Boling and tackle Josh Davis are gone and a third ACL injury to tackle Trinton Sturdivant left Georgia scrambling to finish spring practice.
Ben Jones remains a stalwart at center and the Bulldogs expect big things from Glenn at tackle, but the rest of the offensive line remains a question mark. Kenarious Gates (guard), Chris Burnette (guard) and Justin Anderson (tackle) probably could be penciled in as starters entering August, but they will enter fall practice with something to prove.
"Some of the true freshmen who are coming in could also end up throwing their hat in the ring," Richt said.
Once the offensive line is set in the fall, all eyes will turn back to Murray, who has proven to have the athleticism to make plays with his legs even if he'd rather not. Georgia was fourth in SEC in scoring (32.1 points per game) and eighth in yards (385 per game) last season, but the offense still believes it has something to prove, Murray said.
"We are definitely motivated," he said. "We have been extremely motivated all offseason. We have been really pushing each other. I feel we are ready to go."