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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Understudies

I have a story in today's Telegraph about the four running backs hoping to step into the starter's role should Knowshon Moreno decide to head to the NFL after the season. While none of the four has firmly entrenched himself as the de facto starter-in-waiting, each has shown some promise. Here's a quick run down of what the future may have in store (class in parentheses as of next season).


It was assumed King would grab the mantle of starter-in-waiting this season, but that never developed. From the opening of fall camp, he struggled to differentiate himself from the pack, particularly in his blocking. He was beaten out for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at the end of camp by Richard Samuel, although he regained the job by midseason and actually showed some promise.

Through the end of October, King had 59 carries for 245 yards and a touchdown and had shown a knack for making a few Knowshon-esque runs after first contact, but he missed a crucial block against Florida and saw just two carries the rest of the season.

Still, that doesn't mean he hasn't made progress. King had some trouble finding his niche in the locker room and on campus early, but head coach Mark Richt said he had his best semester grade-wise this fall and has shown a big leap forward in his maturity.

Caleb had his best academic semester, and that s a sign of maturity, of beginning to get it," Richt said. "I see a lot of signs of growth in Caleb, on and off the field.

That's an assessment King would agree with -- perhaps the best thing to come of his time on the bench this year.

I ve learned a lot, not just about football," King said. "Just sitting back watching, learning how to be a man. Learning the weight room the weight room is important. The playbook. Everything outside of football is important at making you better on the field. Little stuff is what counts.


Samuel came to Georgia as a 17-year-old early enrollee, so the fact that he has seen the field at all this season is quite an accomplishment. As it turned out, he landed the No. 2 running back job out of fall camp, a role that met with mixed results for him.

Samuel fumbled his first career carry, then lost his job after failing to hit a hole on a crucial red-zone carry against South Carolina. He touched the football just once on offense in Georgia's next five games.

What Samuel did do while relegated to bench detail was watch. Watch and learn.
That s the main thing," Samuel said. "I see what happens in the game, I see how other backs mess up or may do something wrong, and I use that as something I can work at during practice to get better.

Samuel's thirst for knowledge about his position has endeared him to coaches and teammates. He's a film-room junkie, and slowly but surely, he's applying that information to his work on the field. He regained the No. 2 spot on the roster after the Florida game, and ended the season averaging more than 5 yards per carry. He also showed flashes on special teams as Georgia's primary kick returner -- although he had some fumble problems there, too.

He really got a grasp of it really quick, probably quicker than I did," Moreno said of Samuel. "It s impressive that he s learned it so quick.


The Florida native drew plenty of attention during camp in an almost ironic sort of way. His diminutive size -- Thomas is just 5-foot-7 -- and quick feet made him an intriguing project on offense and a potential stud on special teams as a returner. As it turned out, Thomas became a victim of Georgia's depth at the position and was handed a redshirt for the year.

It s mentally rough, and that applies to the physical part," Thomas said. "You have the talent, and you know what you can do, but you re redshirted, and you re there to get better, and you have to see that there s a bigger purpose.

Thomas has still managed to impress, even when not playing. On the scout team, he has routinely played the role of the opposition's fastest player, including Florida's Percy Harvin. The experience of studying some of the best runners in the SEC combined with a strong work ethic in practice has helped get him ready for what could be in store next season.

You learn by going hard every time, going fast, trying to make plays, he said.

Still, it's Thomas' size that has critics concerned. At just 165 pounds, some pundits feel he isn't ready to take the pounding that comes with being an every down back in the SEC, instead pegging him as a third-down, specialty runner.

Four productive years in high school, however, where he racked up more than 6,600 all-purpose yards, would tell a different story, and Richt agrees -- even comparing Thomas to former Florida State standout Warrick Dunn.

When we signed him, we believed he could play any down," Richt said. "He s very tough. He s lot as tall, but there s some guys that aren t really big that can play. People thought Warrick Dunn was just a third-down back.


The lanky, 5-foot-10 runner from Heard County has flown under the radar through much of the season. He didn't grab much attention during fall camp, and while he has drawn some praise from coaches for his practice efforts and scout-team work, his season ended a bit early this week after knee surgery that will keep him out until spring camp. Still, he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and was ranked as the No. 23 running back in the country.

His build doesn't stand out the way Thomas's does, he doesn't run with as much physicality as Samuel, and he doesn't have the natural ability of King, but Jackson could turn out to be a nice blend of all three.

None of the four want to pester Knowshon about a decision, but Richt said that regardless of what his incumbent starter decides, there will be more carries on the line for the understudies next year.

"Even if Knowshon returns, those guys will be playing at a higher level, and we d be more apt to give them more reps," Richt said. "If Knowshon were not to return, I would think there s a ton of playing time up for grabs.

So, who are you most excited to see more of next season? If Knowshon heads to the NFL, which back would you expect to start? Where might next year's incoming freshman, Washaun Ealey fit in?

1 comment:

AlphaDawg said...

Love this type of stuff, I'd love for you to eventually do all the positions in a similar format(if possible), letting us know how the Fr and RFr have come along during the yr coming along.

I would of liked seeing Carlton return some kick/punts this year, to bad Richt loves redshirting(sarcasm), Saban and Meyers never really seem to have a problem letting their most talented on the field irregardless(Knowshon) of them being freshmen.