April 21, 2009

UGASports Breakdown: Running backs

So, how does one go about replacing someone like Knowshon Moreno?

New running backs coach Bryan McClendon isn't quite certain of that yet, but the options are certainly there.

When the Bulldogs kick off fall camp in August, no less than four players - Caleb King, Richard Samuel, Dontavius Jackson and Carlton Thomas will be battling it out for the starting tailback job. That number could even grow to five depending on how quickly incoming freshman WaShaun Ealey picks up the Bulldog playbook.

At fullback, the Bulldogs lose Brannan Southerland but Shaun Chapas (6-2, 236, Jr.) has quickly developed into one of the best in the SEC, while Fred Munzenmaier (6-2, 232) brings some needed experience. The Bulldogs also expect to return backup Justin Fields, who missed spring drills while recovering from a torn ACL.

But while there appears to be little question as to whom starts at fullback, the battle to become Georgia's starting tailback promises to offer much more intrigue than it has the past two seasons.

"Everybody's going to get their shot," McClendon said recently. "We're going to give all these guys a chance to show what they can do."

That said, there's still the chance that nobody does break away from the proverbial pack and the running back position could become a revolving door, much like it was several seasons ago when Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware were each battling for precious carries.

As long as the results are favorable, McClendon doesn't care.

Today, as UGASports continues its post-spring position breakdown, we examine the running backs, their strengths, their weaknesses and how they fit into this puzzle for next fall.

UGASports on Caleb King: King (5-11, 210) finished the year as Georgia's second-leading rusher (61 carries, 247 yards) but ran afoul with coaches due to his pass protection, or lack thereof.

To his credit, King has been very serious about getting this part of his game up to par. King did not miss a single film session, took part in all drills and even dropped his weight down to 210 pounds. King does have the speed to hit the corners, and is adept at following his blocks. He's probably got the best vision of any of the running backs, but still needs to establish himself as a player that McClendon and head coach Mike Bobo can depend on a down-by-down basis. King certainly hasn't the background and ability to do so, he just needs to go out and prove it.

UGASports on Carlton Thomas: Thomas (5-7, 174) was the talk of spring camp, showing a unique ability in the open field, but also was more adept at running between the tackles than many thought he would.

He's been described as a "thicker" version of former Bulldog back Tyson Browning and appears to be just as quick as the former Oconee County standout.

Although it's still too early to say if Thomas can become an every-down back for the Bulldogs, he's certainly someone the Dawgs will look to get on the field in a number of ways.

Thomas, who scored the only touchdown at G-Day on a 20-yard draw play, can be used both in the backfield in a traditional tailback sense, but should also be effective as a pass catcher on third down. Don't be surprised for the Florida native to see time returning punts and kicks as well.

UGASports on Dontavius Jackson: Jackson (5-10, 200) is still somewhat of a misnomer because he spent most his first season in Athens recovering from injuries (wrist and knee).

He finally got healthy enough to participate in spring drills, but until he's able to get in some significant practice time, it's difficult to say how he'll fit in.

Fortunately for Jackson, McClendon will wait until sometime in August before deciding on any pecking order as far as the depth chart is concerned, so it will behoove the former Heard County star to get completely healthy this summer and get off to a quick start once fall camp arrives.

UGASports on Richard Samuel: Samuel (6-2, 220) is recovering from wrist surgery but the Bulldogs' third-leading rusher from a year ago (26-133) will certainly be ready to go. He's easily one of the fastest players on the team, but still needs to work on his running technique and vision to fully take advantage of the talent he has.
Many have criticized Samuel for running to upright, but those same people also forget that he just turned 18 and is essentially still learning the position.

Everybody also knows that Samuel was a top-rate linebacker in high school, but McClendon assured UGASports that the former Cass star isn't going to be playing anywhere but on the offensive side of the ball.

If McClendon can help Samuel make those little adjustments in his game, there's no reason his future can't be a bright one. Look for Samuel to continue to get looks returning kicks as well after averaging 21.1 yards on 19 attempts last fall.

UGASports on Kalvin Daniels: Daniels (5-10, 192) is a walk-on who did not receive any carries last fall but continues to provide quality depth.

Daniels did rush eight times for 44 yards in 2007, but despite an excellent spring will see little, if any, action in the backfield this fall. Special teams are a possibility, however.

UGASports on WaShaun Ealey: Ealey (5-11, 205) is a tough, hardnosed runner who scored a state record 133 touchdowns during his career at ECI, including 58 as a junior in 2007.

There's obviously going to be plenty of competition, but Ealey will get his chance to prove what he can do.

With a strong fall, who knows? He might get some playing time. But barring injuries, with the players who are already here competing for time at tailback, it will likely be difficult for Ealey to crack the rotation. But we'll see.

UGASports on Shaun Chapas: Chapas (6-2, 244) stepped in for the injured Southerland last year and did a wonderful job, both as a blocker and runner. For good measure, he also proved a reliable receiver catching nine balls for 120 yards and one touchdown.

Barring injury, Chapas should be one of the best at his position in the SEC.

UGASports on Fred Munzenmaier: Munzenmaier (6-2, 240) got some looks at tailback this spring and could do so again this fall in short-yardage situations.

His only two collegiate carries have both gone for touchdowns.

UGASports on Justin Fields: Fields was moved to fullback from linebacker last fall to add some depth when Southerland went down. Fields is a hard-nosed player who was seeing time on the kickoff return team as an upfield blocker before the injury ended his 2008 campaign.

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