February 20, 2012

Looking ahead: RB

Competition is a wonderful thing.

It doesn't matter the position. That's especially true at running back, where assistant coach Bryan McClendon will be paying close attention to how his players respond when spring practice kicks off for the Bulldogs on March 20.

There will be no guarantees. Playing will have to be earned, no shortcuts, no promises of any sort.

That goes from veterans like senior Richard Samuel to youngsters like early enrollee Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley who arrives on campus in June.

"I think it will help everybody. Competition brings out the best in everybody, and the same with depth," McClendon said. "Depth is going to allow you to stay healthy, and stay fresh, with the guys who do end up working themselves in position to play. I think it's going to help because everybody is going to have to be on their A-game, no matter what."

That goes for every running back on the Bulldog roster.

It was a very disconcerting year for Georgia at running back, a season where suspensions, injuries and inconsistent play didn't help the Bulldogs' cause.

What will 2012 bring? UGASports.com breaks it down below.

Isaiah Crowell: Crowell may well have been the most scrutinized freshman in the entire Mark Richt-era at UGA. A myriad of in-season injuries didn't help Crowell's cause, nor did his suspension for the game against New Mexico State, which only reinforced the opinion of some that he wasn't quite mature enough to handle his role. Still, Crowell's 850 yards rushing were the most for a Bulldog true freshman since Thomas Brown earned 875 in 2004 (Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,334 as a redshirt freshman in 2007).

Ken Malcome: Malcome was basically an afterthought after he quit the team for one day before returning and actually started two of Georgia's final three games, finishing with 42 carries for 171 yards.

Carlton Thomas: Suspended three times last year by Richt for different offenses, Thomas has a lot to prove to coaches this spring. Although it's doubtful that he will ever become an every-down back, Thomas has been effective at times and actually finished as the Bulldogs' second-leading rusher behind Crowell with 73 carries for 361 yards.

Richard Samuel: A badly sprained ankle suffered on the final play against Florida ended the season for Samuel, who finished with 240 yards, although it took him 82 carries (2.9 yards per rush) go accrue his total. Samuel is expected to start the season at running back, although he did pose a question recently on Twitter, where he wondered if he'd be asked to play another position. Samuel worked at inside linebacker for two years before being moved back to running back prior to last season.

Brandon Harton: The former walk-on isn't very big, but did provide a spark when called upon, finishing as the Bulldogs' third-leading rusher with 53 carries for 247 yards. Although Harton doesn't figure to see much time this fall, Bulldog coaches could still try to work the speedster into certain packages.

Keith Marshall: One of three early enrollees, McClendon will waste no time seeing exactly what he's got in the Raleigh, N.C. native, who rushed for 1,891 yards and 25 touchdowns on 258 carries, leading Millbrook to a berth in the Class AAAA playoffs. As a junior he rushed for 1,539 yards and 17 rushing TDs.

But don't get the idea that Marshall can only make plays in space. According to McClendon, he's not bad between the tackles, either.

"When I went to evaluate, when I went and saw him play, that's sort of what I go on. I saw this guy, when I went to see him he had 25 runs and 21 of them were between the tackles. He ended up with almost 200 yards, that's what I saw," McClendon said. "The thing is, you see guys, and people always judge those things off size but this kid came in and he's 199 pounds right now, which obviously is great with the speed and everything that he has. I definitely think he is an every down back, a guy who can do everything we're going to ask him to do."

In June, Gurley joins the fold.

As senior, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder rushed for 2,600 yards and 38 touchdowns, leading Tarboro High to a state championship.

McClendon sees plenty of promise for both freshmen.

"They're both competitive guys, they're guys who love to compete, it doesn't matter what it is, they're very competitive" McClendon said. "But they're smart guys, guys who want to do it right, they're very conscience and normally when you group that with a talent base, I think they'll be good players. But both of them are very fast, neither one are going to try and dodge a bunch of contact. Obviously, once they get in open field they'll let that situation take care of itself. But I think you'll see guys who are very favorable between the tackles, which run with great pad level, with great hips, great vision. We think we signed the best two out there."