When J.J. Green enrolled at Georgia in January, he was a 17-year-old who was looked upon as someone who might be able to help the Bulldogs as a receiver or defensive back.
But by the time spring practice rolled around, Green was shuttled to tailback, and even though he‚Äôs got the likes of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall ahead of him, it appears as if he‚Äôs found a home in the Georgia backfield.
When both Gurley and Marshall were injured this season, Green and fellow freshman Brendan Douglas were pressed into duty and both answered the call admirably. Green earned two starts and was the Bulldogs‚Äô second-leading rusher this fall, picking up 365 yards and three touchdowns on 62 carries.
He ran for 129 yards against Tennessee and had a career-best 57 yard rush against Missouri (where he also picked up 42 receiving yards). Not too shabby for a guy who was recruited under the nebulous term of ‚Äúathlete.‚Äù
‚ÄúWhen I got here in January, I was just worried about what I could do to learn the playbook, to be honest,‚Äù Green, who turned 18 in June, said. ‚ÄúIt feels great knowing that this whole year has gone my way.‚Äù
‚ÄúJ.J. has done very well, considering that he was a guy we weren‚Äôt quite sure what position we wanted him to play,‚Äù said coach Mark Richt, whose No. 23 Bulldogs (8-4) will face Nebraska (8-4) on New Year‚Äôs Day at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. ‚ÄúWe knew we just wanted him at Georgia, and last year in the spring we really needed some help at the running back position. We knew he could do it. We didn‚Äôt know if it would be a full-time gig for him or not, but it turns out that he‚Äôs quite a back.‚Äù
As is the case with most recruits, Green was not particular about where he‚Äôd line up, just as long as he got to play somewhere.
‚ÄúI was recruited as an athlete and the first position I was moved to was wide receiver, to see how things would go,‚Äù Green, from Camden County, said. ‚ÄúThat was short, so I went to running back and I‚Äôve been there ever since. I just wanted to play; whatever the first position where I could get on the field and make a contribution and it‚Äôs stuck to me.‚Äù
The 5-foot-9, 183-pound Green has impressed his teammates with his ability to make a difference, in spite of his age, size and lack of seasoning.
‚ÄúHe was electric,‚Äù offensive guard Chris Burnette said. ‚ÄúIt was crazy to think he possibly could have been playing cornerback or receiver or something like that. The fact that he was able to come in and play running back and pick it up quickly and do a great job was awesome.‚Äù
‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure going into the season he wasn‚Äôt thinking about playing much at all, but with the year we‚Äôve had with all the injuries, there he is as a starter,‚Äù split end Michael Bennett added. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs grown up fast and that‚Äôs what it‚Äôs all about. We needed him so much in that Tennessee game and he delivered.‚Äù
While the 34-31 overtime victory over Tennessee (which was when Marshall suffered a season-ending ACL injury) was a big game for Green, the freshman pointed to Georgia‚Äôs 59-17 victory over Kentucky as his most memorable day as a Bulldog.
‚ÄúThe Tennessee game was probably my best performance but I also liked the Kentucky game,‚Äù Green, who rushed for 35 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats, said. ‚ÄúIt was nighttime, the feeling at the stadium was great, everybody was there and it was a blackout. It was great.‚Äù
He has excelled as a runner, but Green has also proven his value as a pass catcher and pass blocker.
‚ÄúOne of the hardest things for freshmen is to pick up the pass game, protection-wise, and to understand blitzes, and he and Brendan have done a phenomenal job for us protecting this year,‚Äù quarterback Hutson Mason, who took over the offense after Aaron Murray‚Äôs season-ending injury, said. ‚ÄúIf you can run the rock here but you can‚Äôt pass protect, you‚Äôre not going to play. That‚Äôs how you know he‚Äôs a special cat ‚Äî he‚Äôs playing as a true freshman.‚Äù
‚ÄúJ.J. added a different spark to it,‚Äù All-Southeastern Conference tight end Arthur Lynch said. ‚ÄúHe has good hands and he was able to catch the ball out of the backfield. For a guy who‚Äôs not that big, he‚Äôs tough. He broke some tackles and has that breakaway speed. Our offense was able to succeed because people stepped up when we needed them to, and J.J.‚Äôs a perfect example of that.
When next spring rolls around, it is expected that Green will remain a tailback and there are no plans currently divulged to change that.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve not had any conversation at all about him moving,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not saying he never could or that he couldn‚Äôt expand his role as having the ability to learn some things out in the slot to have a tailback that has the versatility to learn in the backfield and then get out in the slot a little bit in the future. I‚Äôm sure that will be something we talk about in the offseason, but it‚Äôs not something that we‚Äôre messing with now.‚Äù
Green knows that he‚Äôs got some excellent runners ahead of him, but he said he‚Äôll continue to work hard to earn his touches.
‚ÄúThere will be enough for everybody to go around,‚Äù Gurley said. ‚ÄúIt was like that at the beginning of this year when everybody was playing, so it will be alright.‚Äù
‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôve got (Gurley and Marshall) in front of you, you might think about one or two carries a game, but I got to start two games and I never thought I‚Äôd start as a freshman at Georgia,‚Äù Green said. ‚ÄúBut it became a reality and it seems kind of nice. It‚Äôs a job ‚Äî you know what you‚Äôve got to do when you get in there and there‚Äôs nobody to tell you what your role is. You have to practice the way (Gurley) practices. You get in there and ball out.‚Äù