ATHENS — Mark Richt is asking Aaron Murray to do more in his second season as Georgia's starting quarterback.
The coach is asking Murray to tweak his play in such subtle ways as to avoid sacks by not holding the ball as long.
Richt also wants Murray to make another change: He's asking the third-year sophomore to lead the team.
It's a major step up for Murray, who says he was focused only on his own play one year ago as he started every game as a redshirt freshman. He says he's ready for the added responsibility of taking a leadership role as Georgia prepares for its Sept. 3 opener against Boise State.
Murray emerged as a rising star in Georgia's otherwise disappointing 6-7 finish in 2010. He passed for 24 touchdowns with only eight interceptions while ranking 14th in the nation in passing efficiency.
Even as a first-year player, Murray had to assume some leadership as the quarterback. Now he can more fully grasp the role.
"You're a leader, but what kind of a leader are you is the question," Richt said after Friday's practice. "Murray, just the fact he was a quarterback, was a leader a year ago, but now he's much more comfortable in his role. He knows that he's experienced SEC football for a year. He knows he's had enough success for the team to have confidence in him and he knows that if he keeps preparing the way he does he's going to have success.
"I think he feels like he has earned the right to lead, he's earned the right to speak up and encourage and reprimand if need be, that kind of thing. He's focused and he's ready to go."
Murray passed for 3,049 yards, the second-highest total for a freshman in Southeastern Conference history, behind Kentucky's Jared Lorenzen, who passed for 3,687 yards in 2000.
Only one Georgia quarterback — current offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo — has had a higher passing efficiency rating than Murray's 154.48.
Murray said Richt and Bobo "challenged me this offseason" to increase his leadership role.
"I definitely think I'm starting to earn the trust of my teammates a lot more," Murray said. "I know we've got some great older leadership, especially Ben Jones and Brandon Boykin. They have done a tremendous job of leading this team from the offensive and defensive standpoint."
Murray likely will be the most experienced starter in Georgia's offensive backfield, which lost fullbacks Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier to graduation. Georgia lost its top two returning tailbacks when Caleb King was declared academically ineligible after Washaun Ealey left school in May following two suspensions for disciplinary reasons.
True freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell and sophomore fullback Alexander Crowell could line up behind Murray on some plays against Boise State. Junior Carlton Thomas, the team's most experienced tailback, is suspended for the game.
Junior Richard Samuel, who has returned to tailback, his original position, from linebacker, said Murray "is doing a good job" with the young backs.
"He's getting people lined up, getting people to buy in," Samuel said. "He has gained new confidence and is trusting himself."
NOTES: Richt said cornerback Branden Smith "kind of stole the show" with at least five interceptions in Friday's practice. "Maybe a couple of them just kind of came down to him, but most of them he went out and got or snatched from somebody," he said. ... Richt said he has been impressed by the freshmen, including Crowell. "He's got great change of direction and balance, very sudden for a big kid," Richt said, adding "You can tell he really likes football. You can tell he really likes practicing and learning."... He said freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell "is just very fast, very quick" and has "tremendous ball skills, a great competitor. He's got a lot of ability."