Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. Today we examine the running backs:
Returning players/stats: Tailback: Todd Gurley, So. (12 starts in 2012, 222 carries, 1,385 yards, 17 TDs); Keith Marshall, So. (One start, 117-759, 8 TDs), Brandon Harton, Jr. (8-20). Fullback: Merritt Hall, So. (6 starts, 2-10); Quayvon Hicks, So. (no carries)
Newcomers: J.J. Green, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 58 CB in 2013 class. Enrolled in January); A.J. Turman, Fr. (No. 22 RB. Expected to enroll this summer); Brendan Douglas, Fr. (No. 4 FB. Expected to enroll this summer)
Key storyline: Gurley and Marshall made an enormous impact in 2012 as freshmen, so Georgia’s offense could become even more explosive in 2013 if they manage to expand their production. Keeping them healthy could be one of the biggest factors in Georgia’s offensive success this fall, as tailback depth is one of Georgia’s bigger roster concerns this fall. After Richard Samuel’s graduation and Ken Malcome’s transfer, the Bulldogs will rely on freshmen behind their two star backs.
Breakout candidate: Green could carve a niche for himself after generating buzz with his tough running this spring. It’s not a given that he will remain at tailback, as he enrolled in January thinking he would play receiver in college. But he could play both positions at times and also will get a look as a return man when the Bulldogs open fall camp. Also keep an eye on Hicks, who drew praise from coach Mark Richt during spring practice for emerging as a more physical player at fullback after playing only a small role as a freshman last fall.
Reviewing 2012: Gurley and Marshall formed one of the most dynamic freshman duos in program history, combining for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns last fall. Gurley was an All-SEC honoree after finishing second in the conference with an average of 98.9 yards per game and third with a total of 108 points scored. Marshall was one of the team’s top home-run threats with four touchdown runs that covered 50 yards or more. Malcome was a solid producer in limited opportunities behind the freshmen, rushing for 272 yards and an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
Projecting 2013: In reviewing Gurley’s breakout freshman season, it’s even more impressive to consider that he immediately stood among the SEC’s top backs despite arriving on campus only last June. He will benefit from a full season of offseason conditioning entering his sophomore season and could become an even more polished runner this fall. Likewise, the speedy Marshall is a bit bigger and hopes to become a more well-rounded back as a sophomore. But they can’t do it alone. Malcome and Samuel were tough runners whose absence will be felt. Green runs with surprising power for a player who stands only 5-foot-8, but the Bulldogs need Turman and/or Douglas to prove in August that they can at least play a supporting role to Gurley and Marshall as Green and Harton are more of the scatback type than the every-down runners that Georgia might need should one of the star sophomores suffer an injury.