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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Samuel: No Real Progress

This time last season, Richard Samuel was the fresh-faced 17-year-old taking in his first few months of college life. Each day on the practice field brought something new. It was a challenge, but it was exciting.

Back then, Samuel was simply hoping to fend off a redshirt season. With Knowshon Moreno on the roster, carries for a true freshman would be minimal. This spring, everything's different. Samuel knows the offense better. He isn't overwhelmed by everything he has to learn. Moreno is gone and opportunity is everywhere.

And all he can do is watch.

“It’s hurting real bad just knowing that last year I was out there and a big part of everything," Samuel said. "Now I just have to sit back and watch.”

After serving as the No. 2 tailback for most of his freshman season, Samuel injured his wrist in Georgia's bowl game against Michigan State, eventually undergoing surgery several weeks later. The injury means he'll be sidelined until June, while Caleb King and Carlton Thomas use his absence as a chance to nail down carries of their own in a wide-open competition to be the primary runner in Georgia's backfield.

The watching is tough. The waiting is nearly impossible. Just minutes after surgery, Samuel told his position coach, Bryan McClendon, that he wanted to get back in the weight room. Instead, he has a cast on his wrist, and the progress toward recovery seems far more grueling than any mat drill he missed during offseason workouts.

“It’s dragging by," Samuel said. "I don’t see any real progress. My arm’s feeling a bit better now, I have more motion in my shoulder, but I don’t know. It’s a slow process.”

The frustration has grown with each passing practice he misses, but for all his on-field talents, what sets Samuel apart at Georgia is how much he learns off it. So rather than simply lament his status as a spring spectator, Samuel is using the time to work on the little things his game was missing a year ago.

“I notice details," he said. "I’m paying attention to certain ways certain people block or people run. Being forced to sit back and watch, I’ve been focused on little details I was unable to focus on last year.”

It will be at least three more weeks before Samuel can do much of anything with the wrist. He'll have a second surgery then to remove a pin and screw that was inserted to stabilize the bone while it healed. After that, he'll begin the long road back into a backfield battle that may already have declared a few winners.

Samuel said his goal remains earning the No. 1 tailback job, but the possibility of a running back-by-committee approach seems just as likely a scenario. King and Thomas each bring a special set of skills to the table, and the trio, Samuel admits, could be a daunting group of playmakers on offense.

Of course, any group of runners these days needs a nickname, something like "Earth, Wind and Fire" or "Thunder and Lightning." With all the down time recovering from his injury, however, Samuel figures he has plenty of time to come up with something clever. After all, he said, the season is still a long way away, and he plans to make the most of his time.

“I haven’t really thought about that yet," he said. "We’ve got all summer to come up with something.”

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