Just two weeks ago, Bryan McClendon saw plenty of potential from what he thought was probably the most talented group of tailbacks he has had in his four seasons as running backs coach.
That’s before Isaiah Crowell was arrested early Friday morning on felony weapons charges and booted from the team.
The latest troubling news for a position that can’t seem to get out of its own way marked an end to the Bulldogs career of last year’s SEC freshman of the year.
Teammates and McClendon had talked about how Crowell was showing signs of maturing (“Man, he’s doing, I want to knock on wood, but he’s doing a great job,” McClendon had said. “He’s had a great spring.”)
Georgia’s leading returning rusher now from last season? Brandon Harton, the former walk-on who rushed for 247 yards and a touchdown in five games.
Here comes playing time for freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, the highly-regarded duo from North Carolina who were recruited not only for their talent but to bring some stability to a position that was a revolving door last year.
Ken Malcome, the redshirt sophomore who briefly quit the team last season, goes from co-No. 1 with Crowell to the top tailback entering the preseason. He led Georgia in rushing in the last three games of last season, but only had 29, 37 and 51 yards.
Marshall practiced with the team in the spring. He was rated as one of the nation’s top tailback recruits.
Gurley already was being groomed to play as a freshman. Now it’s a lock.
“My plan is to get him ready to play,” McClendon said before Crowell’s latest and biggest misstep. “My plan is to get him and both Keith ready to play. Right now, initially in my thought process that will be it. How things will work out? Who knows? He may end up being the best one of them all. He has just a good a chance to play as any.”
While Crowell caused headaches around the program (two suspensions) in a season in which he rushed for 850 yards, Marshall offers just what a coach would want from a player on and off the field. He’s excelled in the classroom as well as on the field.
“He does everything exceptionally well that we ask him to do,” McClendon said. “Obviously the biggest thing with coaching young backs that I’ve come to realize is all young backs have to learn how to play and play well without the ball. Those running skills, those transfer over quicker than some of those other skills. That’s one thing I really enjoyed about Keith. He’s very conscientious. He’s going to do everything (you ask).”
Fifth-year senior Richard Samuel seemed in position to be a fullback who would be used perhaps as an emergency tailback. Now, he may be asked to focus again more at tailback.
Freshman Quayvon Hicks will be the one to watch at fullback behind walk-on Merritt Hall, who is listed as starting fullback.
Of course, all of these tailbacks will be working behind an offensive line with three new starters that had trouble for much of the spring creating room to run. How they block may determine Georgia’s ability to run the ball more than the guys running behind them.
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