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Insider

Loaded backfield amps UGA backs

1/17/2012
RB Richard Samuel, who'll be a senior next season, is ready to step into a leadership role in UGA's backfield. He's also excited about the variety of running styles coaches will have at their disposal. Daniel Shirey/US Presswire

ATHENS, Ga. -- Two of the nation's top running back prospects already have bought Mark Richt's sales pitch about Georgia's glaring needs at the position.

Now that Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) and Todd Gurley (Tarboro, N.C./Tarboro) -- ESPNU's Nos. 2 and 11 running back prospects, respectively, for 2012 -- are on board, the Bulldogs are unlikely to suffer from the depth problems that plagued them at points last season.

With seven scholarship tailbacks in the fold, it could be quite the opposite.

"There's a lot of different backs, a lot of different running styles, a lot of options for the coaches to choose from," said Richard Samuel, who, along with Carlton Thomas, is one of two rising senior tailbacks on Georgia's roster.

Also returning are leading rusher Isaiah Crowell -- ESPN's top running back in the 2011 class, who was named SEC Freshman of the Year after rushing for 850 yards this past season -- Ken Malcome and Brandon Harton.

However, the group was hampered by injuries and disciplinary problems throughout the season, motivating Richt's coaching staff to recruit extra talent in hopes of producing more reliable results. Thomas, Crowell and Malcome all sat out at least one game for disciplinary reasons in the fall, while Samuel missed half the season with injuries.

Georgia's coaches certainly hope the knowledge that two more talented backs are available will prevent further bad behavior. Instead, the well-stocked backfield could be the motivator that produces greater consistency from the group.

"With that type of talent in the backfield, you get excited about what can happen," Thomas said Friday, the same day Gurley made his verbal commitment to sign with the Bulldogs. "Hopefully we're going to make it to a point where the coaches don't know what to do with all the talent. That's starting to be the case right now, and that's something where we're going to have to fine-tune the team, and hopefully it'll motivate some guys to go out and have the best spring or the best summer camp possible."

Thomas already has been impressed by what he has seen from Marshall, who completed high school early and enrolled at Georgia this month.

Like Crowell last year, the speed back is considered the crown jewel of the upcoming signing class and is the only five-star prospect among Georgia's 17 commitments to date. However, Thomas complimented the newcomer for the humility he showed upon arrival.

"From what I've dealt with him, he seems like a pretty focused guy," Thomas said. "He's been at every workout and there's been no problems out of him. He's been consistent. He's been doing what he has to do, and that's all you can expect a young guy coming in to do -- to come in and do what he has to do, not be the loudest person in the room, but to make himself known in other ways. He's done that."

Thomas and Samuel were among 15 veteran players who joined Richt at a media gathering last week, when they discussed their decisions to return for another season and their belief that the 2012 team is capable of contending for SEC and BCS championships.

Samuel said he was proud of the group because, while several of them could have left school early and likely would have been NFL draft picks, their choice to stay "shows that we stand for something."

"I feel like we stand for the type leadership or connection -- or also the type of strong bond that we have," Samuel said. "A lot of us came in together, we all play hard together, a lot of us redshirted together, so we went through different stages as a class together."

He and Thomas are entering the final stage of their college careers together, and with so much talent in the backfield the size of their roles in the 2012 Bulldogs' offense will remain unclear for months.

They are the oldest members of the group, however, and they realize leadership responsibilities come along with that veteran status. That means not only saying the right things, but trying to do them.

"We had a great season last year, but for it to be your last year and for you to see all the pieces for it to be an even better year just motivates you as a person," Thomas said. "Everyone wants to go out in a blaze of glory, and we feel like this is the year it can happen. It definitely motivates you to make sure your end is taken care of and you do whatever is necessary for the team."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.