McClendon working with new level of talent in backfield

It’s not like Bryan McClendon has worked with the likes of Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams or Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson since he became Georgia’s running backs coach in 2009.


Still with a little more than a month to go until preseason practice, McClendon puts his current group of tailbacks ahead of the others he’s had with the Bulldogs.

“I think we’re very talented,” he said. “Probably as far as pure talent-base, probably the most talented that I’ve had in my room ever.”

Washaun Ealey and Caleb King were McClendon’s top rushers in 2009 and 2010. Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas led the way in 2011 in a season that included more than its share of off-field issues for the unit.

Crowell and Ken Malcome will be joined by freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley at the position this preseason. Entering their sophomore seasons, Crowell and Malcome are bracketed as co-No. 1s on the depth chart now.

“I will say, if we were playing tomorrow, those two would probably get the best crack of getting an early-down deal,” McClendon said. “The bottom line is, all four of those guys have got to compete. That’s what we brought those two guys in for. We didn’t bring anybody in to redshirt, to be honest with you. We brought those guys in here to get ready and compete and then the best guys are going to play.”

Behind an offensive line that lost three starters, Georgia’s tailbacks didn’t exactly tear it up this spring.

The development of that line figures to be critical for the Bulldogs’ running game this fall.

“I think we’ve got some talented backs,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said on Atlanta’s 680 The Fan this week. “If we can just get them going, they’re going to be able to do some damage.”

Fullback/tailback Richard Samuel also is in the mix.

“I think we have enough competition now that we’re going to find one, two, three, four or however many,” coach Mark Richt said last week.

Marshall and Gurley were the top two running back recruits in North Carolina.

Marshall made the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll in his first semester on campus. He was in the mix this spring before a pulled hamstring sidelined him for the second half of the practices.

“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.”

Gurley, who graduated this month from Tarboro High School, has gone out to eat a couple of times with McClendon since he’s been on campus.

“I’m just making sure that I’m staying in his ear,” McClendon said. “He’s around a bunch of good guys. His room is a very good room, a very positive room, so it will be good.”

Samuel will do “some double duty for us at fullback and tailback,” McClendon said.

The fifth-year senior brings some much-needed experience to the position.

“It’s only four guys after Richard Samuel and I went through four guys last year,” said McClendon, who was forced to rely on former walk-on Brandon Harton against New Mexico State and Kentucky. “You definitely have got to make sure that he’s abreast of everything that you’re doing and any new stuff that you may be implementing or putting in or new ways that you’re going to do stuff. He has to be clued in and be good at that stuff, too.”

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