"Obviously there is pressure," Georgia senior Joe Cox said at the recent SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "But it's not something I think about. The success of this team is not all on my shoulders. There are 10 other guys that get the job done as well. I won't carry the team. We'll work together, and that is where our success will come from - the team."
Cox showed poise with the media, just as he shows poise with his teammates. That's why he might be the perfect guy to guide the 2009 Bulldogs. What he lacks in physical skills he offsets in leadership skills. A survey conducted by the coaches in late spring showed that 106 of 110 Georgia players mentioned Cox when asked to pinpoint the team leaders.
"He was the No. 1 vote-getter," head coach Mark Richt said. "For a guy who hasn't started but one game his entire career - and that was three years ago - I think that says a lot about what the guys think about Joe and what Joe has done in preparation for this moment."
While Cox has done a lot in practice to prepare for the starting job in 2009, he has done precious little in games. His lone collegiate start came as a redshirt freshman in 2006 against Ole Miss. Limited to mop-up duty behind Matthew Stafford in 2007 and 2008, Cox threw just 30 passes the past two seasons, completing 16 for 167 yards.
Since concluding his career at Independence High of Charlotte, N.C., Cox has endured four years of relative inactivity at Georgia. Still, his team has complete faith in him.
"I don't think there's any player on this team that doesn't believe that Joe was ready last season," Richt said. "And the year before, if something were to happen to Matt, they knew Joe was ready to go. They believe in Joe right now, as the staff does, and I do certainly."
At an even 6-feet, Cox is three inches shorter than Stafford, and his arm isn't nearly as live as his predecessor's. Still, Cox has some positive attributes that could pay dividends this fall.
"When it comes to quarterback play you need to have an accurate passer; you need to have a great decision-maker; you need to have a young man who can handle the pressure of the job, because there's a lot of pressure that comes with that job," Richt said. "And you need a guy who can lead.
"Joe really personifies all of those characteristics."
After three years spent waiting his turn behind Stafford, Cox is understandably eager to prove himself.
"I have stepped into my role as a leader of this team," he said. "I am right where I want to be. I've worked hard, and a lot of guys look up to me and are ready and willing to follow me."
Where he leads them could be one of the most compelling story-lines in SEC football this season.