ATHENS, Ga. — If quarterback Aaron Murray had declared for the NFL Draft back in January, Georgia’s spring practices probably would have looked a lot like they did during Tuesday’s scrimmage.
Redshirt junior Huston Mason got the first-team work because Murray was at Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta to be honored as a role model at a banquet sponsored by the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
“It felt awesome,” Mason said. “I don’t get too many reps with the ones, so getting out there and getting all the reps, it felt good, man. A lot more time in the pocket. I thought we did well overall.”
Mason completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards with a touchdown pass (on about a 45-yard post route to Chris Conley) and two interceptions on an afternoon when the temperature was in the low 40s and the wind whipped at 15 mph.
“Hutson, I thought, did a nice job,” coach Mark Richt said after the first of three Bulldogs spring scrimmages. “There were some balls that just got blown sideways for everybody, but Hutson’s got a good feel of what we’re doing and getting everybody lined up. This is going into his fourth year in the system. He’s very capable of running the show.”
Murray said last week he was excited to “hook it up,” in an 11-on-11 live tackling scrimmage and play between the hedges, but rain washed out the scheduled Saturday date, pushing the first scrimmage back three days. It came just over a week and a half before the G-Day spring game.
Richt couldn’t remember the fifth-year senior ever not being in attendance at a Georgia practice since joining the team in time for spring practice in 2009.
Murray was a little concerned about whether he would still be in the running for the team’s “Iron Man” Trophy.
“We’re not counting this one against him,” Richt said. “He took care of his obligation today.”
The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Mason had been redshirted to create class separation with Murray.
“It feels like, honestly, I haven’t played football in so long coming off the redshirt year,” Mason said. “Getting back out there and getting in with the ones, you kind of got that new feeling. I had the jitters a little bit because I’m not used to going with the ones.”
Conley said Mason seemed to have the same demeanor he usually has.
“I like to call him Hutson Manning,” Conley said. “He gets in the huddle and he’s always like barking orders, `Hurry up! Lineup! Lineup!’ He’ll call plays. He knows the offense really well and he likes tempo. Hutson loves tempo and he wants to sling the rock.”
Redshirt sophomore Christian Lemay, working mostly with the second-team, had a rough day statistically, completing 1 of 11 passes for 13 yards, but he was the victim of some dropped balls, Richt said. The conditions weren’t conducive for throwing downfield, Richt said.
That led to some interceptions. Freshman Brice Ramsey had three on a day he completed 6 of 10 passes for 51 yards.
Sheldon Dawson, leading in his bid to join Damian Swann as a starting cornerback, had two interceptions.
The scrimmage was closed to the public and the media.
“What I liked is they played physical, they played with a lot of energy,” Richt said. “There was some emotion out there. I liked that. I thought they competed well. A couple of little scuffles but nothing too bad.”
Inside linebacker Ramik Wilson led all tacklers with seven. Freshman safety Tray Matthews had four tackles and a pass-breakup.
The defense didn’t give up a run longer than 13 yards on the day.
All in all, reasons to be encouraged for a unit that returned just three starters.
“The guys picked it up good and did well,” Richt said.
Wilson was upbeat about the defense, but said there are still areas to improve.
“We’re much faster and quicker,” he said. “They’re throwing screens to Malcolm (Mitchell) and we’ve got our D-ends already out there. It’s crazy, our team speed.”