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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Looking Deeper Into the RB Depth Chart

If you check out my practice notes from yesterday, you'll notice two things about the running back battle.

For one, Richard Samuel has clearly impressed his coach.

Secondly, his coach is doing his best to be coy about the situation.

I can't blame Bryan McClendon for playing his cards close to his vest. After all, his running game coordinator is a man who refuses to speak to the media at all. So he's just doing his job.

But that's not to say that we don't know a pretty good deal about things right now. So let's take a closer look at the contenders.

-- Dontavius Jackson missed more practice time last week and just hasn't shown anything to really prove he deserves significant consideration. He's had minimal production in both scrimmages, has been hurt almost the entire time he's been in Athens, and at this point, he's probably behind even rookie Washaun Ealey.

-- Ealey certainly has a lot of upside, and the reports through two-plus weeks have been encouraging. But the simple truth here is that he's a true freshman with little knowledge of the offense and, in particular, Georgia's blocking schemes. I don't think it's impossible for him to earn some special teams duty early and earn more time at tailback down the road, but I'd call him a longshot for any significant carries early on.

The battle is then back to the three main players we've known about all along -- Caleb King, Carlton Thomas and Samuel.

I'm not ready to write King off, and neither is offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, despite the sophomore's problematic hamstring.

"Obviously it's hard to evaluate somebody when they're injured, but he's injured right now, so he's just got to rehab that injury and we'll evaluate him when he gets back," Bobo said.

But Bobo's next sentence may be more telling: "I've been pleased with what Richard's done and Carlton Thomas. Both of those guys have stayed healthy and practiced hard."

That illustrates King's biggest problem. It may not be so much about what he hasn't done while injured as it is about what his top two competitors have done.

McClendon said he saw enough of King during the offseason and early in practice that he's not worried about evaluating him properly, but it sounds like Caleb might be.

"Caleb feels like it might be a tough break for him, but you still have a lot to base your judgment on about all of them," McClendon said. "You sort of had an idea how they ranked up before he got hurt, so you still get an idea."

Despite McClendon's lip service to a proper evaluation of King, the clear situation is that Thomas and Samuel are progressing and King is not -- at least at the moment. That's important because McClendon is making changes to the depth chart right now. He called each player into his office over the weekend to discuss the updated depth chart -- which he won't confirm the specific order of -- and he seems to be taking careful appreciation of King's concerns.

"The biggest thing is you have to understand that the decision you've made on whatever is based on what you think when everyone is healthy, not because Coach did this because I got hurt or Coach is keeping me down even though this guy is hurt in front of me," McClendon said. "You base your judgment on things you see when everyone is out there doing it full speed."

Well, for now, King isn't out there doing it full speed, but Samuel and Thomas are. McClendon also made a point of saying one or two backs getting regular touches would be preferable than three or four on game days, at least for him.

So where does that leave King?

Well, here are Samuel's stats through the first two scrimmages:

19 touches, 233 yards, 4 TDs

It's not hard to see why McClendon said Samuel is separating himself from the pack, and for his part, Samuel isn't satisfied yet.

"I wouldn't say 100 percent pleased because there's always room for improvement," Samuel said. "I would say there's areas I need to improve on, but just getting back out there, showing that I have the heart, the drive to get out and get better, I'm pleased with that. But there are things I need to improve on."

The top items on his list, he said, are his route running and his blocking, and that latter issue might be the saving grace for King at this point.

While Thomas has excelled in racking up yards -- even the tough ones between the tackles, which has impressed Bobo -- his frame makes the blocking game more difficult for him, and it's a nagging concern for Georgia's coaches, even as they marvel at his running ability.

"Some things, he can do better than the other guys. Some things, other guys do better than him just off sheer body type," McClendon said. "I think it would be real tough for me to have a peace of mind knowing that he has to go out there and be down blocking on D-ends all day."

McClendon made a point to say that he believed Thomas can be successful in the blocking game, but there are obvious reservations there.

"We've got to be smart about how we use our personnel and put them in the best place that they can succeed," is the way McClendon put it.

So that might be what keeps King afloat on the depth chart while he rests his sore hamstring. The bottom line is, he's a better blocker at this point -- maybe the best of the bunch -- and that carries a lot of weight in this discussion.

So, my best guess as to what the depth chart looks like right now:

1.) Samuel, 2.) King, 3.) Thomas, 4.) Ealey, 5.) Jackson.

How about you? Are you ready to give up on King or do you think this is a minor setback? Would you like to see Thomas given a chance to show what he can do as more of an every-down back? Are you sold on Samuel, or are his numbers a function of going against second- and third-team defenses?


Anonymous said...

Good post, David. My fear of seeing Samuel as the starter (and King, for that matter) is that my entire knowledge base on those two is what we all, as fans, saw them do last year in real games against real teams. Samuel had an inherent disdain for holding onto the football, and King was Knowshon was such a world-beater because of the way he hit holes, a talent not seen since Herschel (unless, randomly, you count the speed of Torin Kirtsey). I am skeptical of the offseason turnaround that is purported to have happened.

Anonymous said...

What about Daniels? Would he be above Ealey and Jackson?

Anonymous said...

Like the first poster, I am scared to death of Samuel and his fumbles. I bet King will start the season if he's healthy because of his experience, blocking, and ball security. But Samuel might take over later.

Anonymous said...

Samuel and Thomas are the guys. Samuel has more heart and smarts than King not to mention he is bigger and faster. King hesitates in the hole doesnt run with passion. I think he will transfer if Samuel holds on to the rock. Also got to get the ball in Thomas's hands. We wouldnt be having this discussion if Samual didnt break his wrist in the bowl game.

Anonymous said...

Wish 24 was running behind this years line. Would have been awesome

DFR said...

The thought of Samuel getting most of the carries sends shivers down my spine. Dude is a fumble waiting to happen. He will break some runs here and there, but most of the time he'll be running up the backs of his blockers and fumbling.
Let's just hope Ealey gets in form soon because he and Thomas are our best true "runners" that we have. They have the best cutting ability and vision.

Anonymous said...

This is a quote from Weiszer's blog that underscores the concerns about Samuel:

"Richard Samuel fumbled in Georgia’s first scrimmage and another running back coughed it up Saturday in the second scrimmage that was closed to the media."

Dog44 said...

I agree with Anonymous (the 4th Anonymous, that is). My best guess is that by the end of the season Samuel and Thomas will have proven themselves. If Samuel continues to fumble, however, or gets injured, I think then we'll see King a lot more.

I haven't "written off" Caleb, and by all accounts he had a good off-season. But... at this point the coaches have seen a lot of him over 2 plus years, and none of them have given me any reason to think they're real excited. It seems to me it's pretty rare for a guy to really break out that we haven't heard about it from the coaches in practice first.

As for Thomas, I think we're going to really enjoy him this year. Whether he can block well enough and hold up physically will make the difference between him having a moderate impact and quite a big one.

Anonymous said...

They all 3 will get reps but Thomas is the game breaker and will eventually get the most notariety. Samuel is the work horse and Caleb seems to be a balanced back with some talent, but I haven't seen him show any get lose speed and moves since he's been in Athens. Hope he proves me wrong.

bnwdog14 said...

Here's hoping King pans out. We really havent had a chance to see him in a significant role. Everyone seems to remember Spikes mauling him last year and writing him off.

It is funny how times change, two years ago in J'ville everyone wanted to pull his redshirt. Now, naysayers say he is a bust. The kid hasn't even had a chance to play. Let's give him a chance before we crucify him.