ATHENS, Ga. --- As Matthew Stafford's backup the past 21/2 seasons, quarterback Joe Cox has "definitely earned the right to play," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
He's also earned the right to speak his mind.
Georgia's new No. 1 quarterback entering spring practice is looking forward to leading a team that won't be on anyone's preseason No. 1 list in 2009 after Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno decided to enter the NFL Draft.
"It's going to be a big help not being preseason No. 1," Cox said. "We've got to earn everything we get this year and I think that's going to bring everybody together and hopefully get everybody on the right track and have the same mindset every game."
The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder, a junior last season, has a firm grasp on the No. 1 position to start the spring, according to coach Mark Richt.
"Somebody's going to have to knock Joe out of the box the way I see it right now," Richt said.
That's not surprising considering sophomore Logan Gray focused more on special teams than quarterback this season and that freshmen quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger were scheduled to start classes Thursday.
Gray was on four special teams, but that took away from his development as a quarterback and meeting time at the position.
If Cox gets the start in the opener at Oklahoma State on Sept. 5, it will come less than three years from his only other start as a Bulldog against Ole Miss on Sept. 30, 2006.
"I was laughing, talking to one of my friends," Cox said. "It felt like I hadn't played quarterback in 10 years."
Cox will get what Stafford didn't the past two seasons: an experienced offensive line in front of him.
"Joe absolutely understands our system very well," Richt said. "He's a very accurate passer. He's similar to D.J. Shockley in that even though he wasn't a starter, he's one of the leaders of our football team.
"Shock was able to take on a leadership role without ever being a starter and I think Joe has those same type of abilities. And I like his hairdo," Richt said, referring to Cox's shaved head.
""I've always tried to be a leader," Cox said. "That's one of my strong points. I feel like I can get this team together and have everybody have the same goal and hopefully bring some fire to everybody."
Fire that a self-described "rah-rah" guy feels might have been lacking during Georgia's just completed 10-3 season when he said at times "we weren't as hungry as we should have been."
"I like being vocal, I like getting loud," Cox said. "That's just how I play. Hopefully if I can transfer that to a couple of people on the team, it could spread like wildfire."
Reach Marc Weiszer at email@example.com.