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Monday, September 21, 2009

Competition for Carries

It's sort of an odd scenario that Richard Samuel appeared to have the starting tailback job locked up heading into Saturday's game against Arkansas, then ran for a career-best 104 yards, and suddenly the picture is far less clear.

For the first time this season, Caleb King actually saw some action, and while Samuel's day consisted of one long carry and a bunch of short runs, King actually looked pretty strong in his long-awaited return to action.

After missing six weeks with a sore hamstring, King got 11 carries against Arkansas -- which is probably about double what most of us in the media figured he'd get. He racked up 59 yards (a 5.4 ypc average) and had three runs of 10 yards or longer. If you're keeping track, that's just one fewer than Samuel has all season.

And it wasn't as if King's short runs were particularly bad either. He was stopped for a loss just once, on his final rush when Georgia was simply running out the clock to set up a field goal, and quarterback Joe Cox said King was close to breaking several big ones.

"He looked good," Cox said. "He was close to really busting a couple of runs loose, but it was good for him to just get back in the game and feel the speed."

King got a ringing endorsement from his head coach, too.

"Caleb did a nice job," Mark Richt said. "He ran the ball well, protected the ball well and pass protected pretty darn good. Overall, he competed well, and he showed no signs of the hamstring injury."

King definitely pass protected well. It was a night-and-day difference from the lingering memories of the Florida game a year ago, in which a missed block essentially signaled the end of any significant playing time the rest of the season for King.

But it's the other aspect of his game that Richt mentioned that should really be given some notice. He protected the ball well.

Contrast that with Samuel, who had two fumbles in the game -- well, one officially, but no doubt the coaches saw two on film. The first fumble was on a pitch that Samuel simply dropped, and it set up an Arkansas touchdown. The second came after he was hit, and while the refs reviewed a replay and said Samuel was down, the film the rest of us saw told a different story. Samuel clearly coughed up the football, but was lucky enough to reach through the legs of his tackler and snare reel in the football before Arkansas could recover.

(EDIT: From what we heard in the press box (which was minimal) it sounded like it was ruled not a fumble. From what you guys have said though, the refs got it right -- a fumble, recovered by Samuel. Sorry for the confusion.)

The latter fumble came at a crucial point in the second half, and a turnover there could easily have cost Georgia the game. For a team with nine giveaways already this season, a fumble-prone tailback is a problem the Bulldogs' cannot afford.

Of course, the fumbles might have been a fluke, and they might be more easily overlooked if his numbers were as impressive as they appeared at first blush. But take away his 80-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Samuel tallied just 24 yards on 15 carries (1.6 ypc).

That's not to say we should take away that 80-yard run. On one hand, Samuel was never touched. It was easily the most dominant blocking the offensive line has done all season, and the red sea was essentially parted up the middle for Samuel to dart through. But having said that, it was the type of play where last year, Knowshon Moreno might have been tracked down from behind by a speedy safety. Samuel, however, turned on the afterburners and it was obvious why the coaching staff is so high on him. The kid has ridiculous speed.

Samuel clearly has big-play potential, and in the comments I've read from readers since the game ended, there's been a pretty distinct mix of people who love the kid and people who'd just assume see him ride the pine the rest of the season.

Clearly the latter is not an option. Samuel simply has too much talent to be wasted in reserve duty. But it's interesting to note that, in the second half, he and King each had six carries, and it was King in on the final drive to ensure that the ball didn't hit the turf. That's a big role for a player who has had exactly two full practice sessions since Aug. 12.

If nothing else, King's return signals an important turning point for the offense. Carlton Thomas was simply not equipped to handle the between-the-tackles running when spelling Samuel during the first two games. King provides a strong counterpunch, even if Samuel remains the starter.

But just how the carries shake out going forward is hardly cut and dry. It's probably fair to remember that Samuel is just 18 years old, and he's still got a lot of growing to do as a tailback. At this point, it's probably fair to say that King is the more polished all-around back. So should that mean that King should get the starting job? Should Samuel be moved to a role more tailored to fit his style and kept on the sidelines during crucial moments when a fumble could spell doom for the Dawgs?

If Cox knows, he's not giving anything away. He insists he has no idea how the carries will be split this week, but he does think that the competition is a good thing regardless of who sees more touches.

"It's good for all the backs that (King) is back," Cox said. "It's not a competition, but everybody knows that we have three backs and it's going to make all of them work that much harder, and I think we'll have three guys ready to go."

So how would you like to see the backfield dynamic look next week? Which of the two tailbacks do you think has the better longterm future? Were you more impressed by King's strong return or disheartened by Samuel's penchant for coughing up the football?


dawgy1 said...

Any word on Cuff's injury?

TDawg said...

If you look at Alabama's success on offense, it has a lot to do with the number of quality running backs that they have competing. Hopefully the coaches will make the right call on when to play Caleb or Richard. Samuel is still maturing and hopefully he will focus on his first priority of taking care of the ball.

Anonymous said...

I want to know why the coaching staff continues to put Thomas in when it's quite obvious he's going to get the handoff. They have not put him in a position to succeed, and have hurt our chances on offense when he's in the game by running predictable draw plays and screens to get him the ball. If the substitution of a player more than likely means that the incoming player will get the ball, then it's not a substitution, it's a hat tip to the defense to get ready for one man to end up with the ball.

mp said...

I don't think the refs said that Samuel was down before fumbling, but that they saw he had recovered the fumble on the ground and had possession before Arkansas took it away.

Ant123 said...

I am wondering about Vance Cuff also. Any word? On Richard Samual: If Washaun Ealey is very good I think I'd like to see Samual at linbacker next year. The people I know in Cartersville thought that is where he would play anyway. They say he is a beast there and besides we would not have to worry about fumbles.

Anonymous said...

This may sound crazy, but I'm still not even convinced that Samuel is a tailback. The kid's athletic abilities are clearly immense. He is big, strong, and fast- all good qualities for a tailback. But he simply does not have the balance, vision, and cutback ability that a tailback needs and that Caleb King showed he has at Arky. Caleb could be great. Almost Knowshon-great. We might be alright with just Thomas and D. Jax backing him up. Samuel, on the other hand, would be a terror at linebacker with his straightline speed and power to shed a block.

Anonymous said...

Richard's long run was great....but take that away and his numbers were awful....
15 carries, 24 yds, 1.6 ypc, 2 fumbles.

King looked hungry to me...

Anonymous said...

I like playing them both. People may not remember that in 2007 Knowshon benefited greatly in a couple of games ( Georgia Tech and one more game) where the defense had Knowshon's number, but no answer for Thomas Brown. Having 2 talented backs with really different styles should help us down the stretch.

Fladawg said...

Fladawg. Agree with all comments and I will add this, Can anyone imagine Rennie and Richard and piok any other LB (MD). I could define that as speed, I think the coaches is wasting the kid at RB like we wasted Brandon Miller at LB.

IveyLeaguer said...

I think the Anonymous posts are spot-on. And so is your article, David.

King is easily the superior runner.

Samuel is a potential AA linebacker who is so athletic he can play RB. He's a great athlete, but he is not a runner - not in the SEC, and certainly not in the NFL.

But he has to be part of our RB picture this year. We can't do without him. Any SEC team needs at least 3 RB's. Next spring, with King & Ealey already on board, the coaches should move him so he has 2 full years to develop and secure a NFL future.

Great point about Thomas having no chance. That is Bobo's fault.


blackertai said...

I think what we've got developing here is a Thunder and Lightning group just like old White and Bush out at USC-W. Granted, ours may not be "that" talented, but King and Samuel look to have the makings of a great pairing. Samuel's got some amazing straight ahead speed, and an ability to just run over people, while King's a slippery 'little' guy with great hands. Tell me that's not an exciting pairing?!

Anyways, I think eventually King takes the starting job from Samuel, but we see a much more balanced use of the two backs in practice. Instead of this one-series for each thing we've currently got going, we might see uses a little more creative, a-la Ronnie Brown/Cadillac Williams at Auburn. Tell me Samuel doesn't look like he could throw a crushing block for King as a glorified FB? I can see a lot of flexibility in the backfield with those two.

Phil said...

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I believe in one true running back getting most of the carries with the backup coming in and spelling for a series or two. That being said, let's not get too hasty in proclaiming Caleb the best we have right now (I only say this because that hamstring injury could rear its ugly head again at ANY time). Dick has done well for us so far and with that speed I love him. Caleb, if he continues to perform well like he did at Arkansas, should continue to get solid reps at RB as well.

My only worry is that RBs lose momentum when they are continually shuffled in and out of games all the time (think back to Brown, Lumpkin, and Ware---none of them could get real momentum going in games against non-cupcake opponents). Hopefully the coaches stick with one guy for most of the game and let him get opportunities to bust it wide open for the O.

So, if CMR and Bobo keep Dick fresh via King then I think that gives us our best shot at winning (on the ground, anyway).

genxdawg said...

I thought King ran very hard, showed more fight for YAC than I've seen before and didn't seem to dance like he did last year, but I think I was most impressed with his blocking ability. Very solid. Glad he's back. Hope he has a great season.

Anonymous said...

While it's true that if you take away Samuel's 80-yard TD run he didn't have a great YPC average, he had a number of carries for negative yards. Many of those carries were doomed from the beginning and shouldn't be pinned on him. He had some clutch 4-6 yard carries. To me Richard is running with better vision and a really high motor. King looked solid, too. The competition will be good for both, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

What's up with Dontavious? Anybody know?

David Hale said...

Dontavious has not been healthy and is currently fifth -- at best -- on the depth chart.