May 18, 2012

Bulldog breakdown: RB

While the offensive line may qualify as one of Georgia's most-watched positions, the Bulldogs' running back corps probably ranks as one of the most exciting.

At least on paper, that is.

Although many fans still have questions about the mercurial sophomore Isaiah Crowell, most agree that there is still plenty of opportunity for the former Carver standout to realize his vast potential this fall.

But he figures to have plenty of competition.

Along with a reinvigorated Ken Malcome, freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are expected to give the Bulldogs three more talented options.

The question is, how will head coach Mark Richt and his offensive coaches use the quartet?

As UGASports continues its post-spring breakdown, we take a look at the running backs, a position that has the potential to be one of the most talented on the team.

Isaiah Crowell (So., 5-11, 215): Has there been a more scrutinized player in Mark Richt's Bulldog tenure than the former Carver star? Perhaps, but you'll have to go a ways to look. Expectations were through the proverbial roof for the former five-star performer, and although Crowell went on to earn Freshman All-SEC honors by rushing for 850 yards, in the eyes of many, Crowell became the target of many who questioned his effort and desire to give 100 percent when he was on the field.

Further exasperating fans was Crowell's suspension for the game against New Mexico State after allegedly failing a drug test, along with Malcome and former Bulldog Carlton Thomas.

Injuries also didn't help his cause. From leg, shoulder, wrist and ribs, Crowell played with a number of nicks and bruises that coaches say hampered his performance, but few gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Many pointed to maturity as being Crowell's biggest problem as a freshman in 2011, and perhaps it was.

So what about 2012?

A year ago, teammates were reserved when talking about Crowell's progress. This spring, it's been an entirely different story. Tight end Arthur Lynch commented how Crowell was a leader during his group for Mat Drills. Others brag how Crowell attended every off-season workout.

Physically, he appears to be in excellent shape. A chiseled 215 pounds, in his last interview, Crowell said the injuries which hampered his play as a freshman are history.

But nothing will be given. Playing time will still have to be earned. Malcome, along with incoming freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley will push him for playing time - but that may be a good thing.

One Bulldog assistant mentioned last spring that competition may be just what Crowell needs to take that next step and become the type of back many expected him to be. Time will tell what the ultimate results are.

• RB Ken Malcome (RSo., 6-0, 226): OK, show of hands. How many of you expected Malcome to still be on the team after walking away for one day late last September?

The guess is, not many.

Instead, Malcome has risen from the depth of Richt's doghouse to the top of the Bulldog depth chart heading into preseason drills.

Yes, it's been quite the turnaround.

Malcome, who started the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech and later the Outback Bowl against Michigan State, has shown signs that he can be a tough inside runner, able to effectively run between the tackles and pick up tough yards. He can be a tough man to bring down.

Although he may lack the break-away speed most teams would like from their tailback, Malcome's "rebirth" if you will, has the former Southwest DeKalb standout primed to play an integral role for Georgia this fall.

• RB/TB Richard Samuel IV (Sr., 6-2, 243): Coaches appear ready to use Samuel in a fullback role, although it's still not clear if it will be in the traditional sense.

An ankle injury suffered on the final play against Florida cost Samuel the rest of the 2011 campaign, but he was healthy in the spring.

One of the team's most-respected players, Samuel will bring a lot of leadership to Georgia's young backfield corps, although his opportunities to carry the ball may be few and far between.

• RB Keith Marshall (Fr., 5-11, 205): One of the spring's biggest disappointments occurred when Marshall injured his hamstring and was not able to take part in G-Day.

But before the injury, the North Carolina native was doing everything coaches hoped he would, displaying the quickness and speed that made him such a coveted target.

For those who worried that Marshall might not have the ability to be an every down-type back - don't.
After arriving in January at just over 190 pounds, Marshall is up to 205. The hamstring issue that caused him to miss most of the spring - it's gone.

All he needs now is an opportunity.

He'll get it come August, and barring any future injury, should play an integral role for the Bulldogs this fall.

• RB Todd Gurley (Fr., 6-1, 215): Another intriguing freshman, coaches won't waste any time seeing exactly what the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder can do and will receive ample opportunity to earn major playing time, along with Marshall, Crowell and Malcome.

A big back with excellent speed, Gurley was the nation's 42nd-ranked player as a high school senior according to after rushing for 2,600 yards and 38 touchdowns in leading Tarboro (N.C.) High to its second straight state crown.

It's going to be interesting to see how coaches ultimately utilize the talent the team appears to have, but Gurley is definitely a part of that plan.

• RB Brandon Harton (Jr., 5-6, 174): Harton remains one of the fastest players on the team, but barring injuries, is not expected to have the impact he had when he rushed 53 times for 247 yards, due to Georgia's improved depth at the position.

• FB Zander Ogletree (Jr., 5-10, 226): Ogletree played in all 14 games for Georgia as a sophomore in a backup role but come preseason will go into camp atop the depth chart at fullback.

Although he may not posses the prototypical size for fullbacks in recent Bulldog history, Ogletree's toughness and knowledge of the offense ensures he'll get plenty of playing time, perhaps even as a third-down passing option.

• FB Quayvon Hicks (Fr., 6-2, 250): While Ogletree doesn't posses prototypical fullback size, Hicks most certainly does.

In the mold of former Bulldog Brannan Southerland, not only is Hicks a physically tough player, he also brings some added athleticism to the position.

Although it's still not clear whether or not Hicks will be asked to play as a true freshman, coaches are definitely excited about his future.