Backfield depth could be new issue

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's coaches hesitate to publicly look beyond their Jan. 1 meeting with Nebraska, but they should experience an entirely new problem within the next few months.

For the first time in years -- maybe as far back as 2006, when a loaded backfield prompted coach Mark Richt to redshirt future All-American Knowshon Moreno -- Georgia could actually have too many good tailbacks to take full advantage of everyone's abilities.

[+] EnlargeDouglas
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Brendan Douglas averaged 4.3 yards per rush this season for Georgia.
“There's some great backs here, and it's good to have that many backs that you can roll in there with the different kind of running styles they have,” said Brendan Douglas, who rushed for 337 yards this season as a freshman. “It'll be interesting next year, plus we're getting those two good backs coming in here and we'll just have to see what happens when they get here.”

Those two good backs -- ESPN 300 prospects Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among the top eight prospects at the position -- have committed to sign with Georgia in February. Presumably they will join a backfield that already includes sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and freshmen Douglas, J.J. Green and A.J. Turman.

All-SEC honoree Gurley and Marshall were obviously the group's leaders after rushing for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012, but the freshmen entered this season as complete unknowns.

When Ken Malcome opted to transfer after the 2012 season, Georgia's coaches knew they would have to play at least two of the newcomers behind the two returning stars. They couldn't have expected, however, that injuries to Gurley and Marshall would cause them to rely so heavily on Green and Douglas.

“Douglas and Green we were probably going to have to play because of the depth issue,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We were getting those guys ready to play special teams. They probably might not have gotten as many snaps at running back.”

There was a time where the coaches considered playing Turman, as well, but they were able to preserve his redshirt by sticking with Douglas and Green until Gurley returned from a three-game absence to play against Florida on Nov. 2.

Gurley recently described Turman as “a beast” and predicted that he will also make an impact once he wins an opportunity to contribute.

“People know their roles,” Gurley said. “I'm pretty sure guys, just like Turman, he would have loved to have come in and played. Sometimes you've got to know your role and if that's redshirting, then it's getting redshirted. And if not, then just try to do your best to get on the field or keep getting better.”

That's what Green and Douglas accomplished as freshmen, establishing themselves as potentially productive SEC tailbacks should they remain at the position. Both players possess the ability to play elsewhere -- Green at receiver or cornerback and Douglas at fullback -- and said they are willing to play wherever needed, although they consider themselves tailbacks first.

Asked recently about Green, Richt said the coaches also view him as a running back, although his role might someday expand to include some receiving duties, as well. So it appears that even with Michel and Chubb set to join the roster in 2014, the Bulldogs could soon possess tailback depth that will rank among the best in the conference. And with Gurley and Marshall both entering their junior seasons -- meaning they will be eligible to enter the NFL draft after next fall -- now is a good time to reload.

“I don’t know if you can ever have enough backs, and certainly injury is an issue,” Richt said. “Guys that are talented enough to possibly have a three-year career instead of a four-year career, you’ve got to plan for all of those things. I don’t know what decisions guys will make down the road, but certainly we’ve got some very talented backs that will have some decisions to make, as well. That’s all part of the reason to continue to recruit great players.”

Michel and Chubb have certainly earned that distinction within recruiting circles, so this could legitimately become Georgia's most talented backfield since the 2006 bunch that included future NFL players Moreno, Danny Ware, Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown.

Green said he, Douglas and Turman will show the newcomers the ropes just like Marshall and Gurley did, but predicted that a fierce competition for playing time will await the freshmen once they arrive on campus.

“Competing at practice, who wants it more? Working out, who wants it more? That's why you have an offseason. Who's going to want it more?” said Green, who is second on the team with 365 rushing yards. “Who's going to step in there and learn the playbook? That's all it's going to take: who wants it more?

“You watch Keith, you watch Todd. You're going to want to be just like them. You're going to try to ball out.”

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