ATHENS, Ga. -- Ken Malcome became Georgia’s presumptive starting tailback after Isaiah Crowell’s dismissal in June, but his status atop the depth chart is far from concrete.
With senior Richard Samuel returning to the position full-time -- following a spring during which he also played fullback -- and freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley officially joining the competition at Thursday’s first preseason practice, Malcome still must earn the starting spot.
“They’ve done a great job of absorbing everything,” quarterback Aaron Murray said of the new freshmen, “but we have Richard, who’s probably going to get the majority of the reps, so I know he knows everything. And when it comes to the game plan, actually, it’s not like you’re putting the whole offense into the game plan. So it definitely gets narrowed down and they’ll be able to narrow down their focus onto a certain amount of plays that they’ll need to work on for that week.”
Asked whether that meant he thought Samuel is now the odds-on starting tailback over Malcome, Murray hedged a bit.
“I don’t know. It’s yet to be seen,” he said. “I’m not Coach B-Mac [running backs coach Bryan McClendon]. I know he should be excited. I know both of them, along with the other guys, have had a great summer in the weight room and out there in 7-on-7 drills.”
Nonetheless, it’s a position battle that bears watching this preseason. Samuel has started nine games through three seasons and rushed for 768 yards, while Malcome started two of the last three games of last season, led the Bulldogs in rushing in all three and by all accounts had an excellent spring.
“Someone that people always forget -- I don’t know if you want to call him the dark horse or whatever -- is Ken Malcome,” tight end Arthur Lynch said. “Ken had a good spring. He finished up the season strong last year and he worked his butt off all summer in order to improve himself as a person and as a football player. So I’m in no way, shape or form worried about our running back position.”
The presence of the two upstart freshmen only adds to the competition, and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt hinted that he expects big things out of Marshall and Gurley. But he added that the two veterans blocked their path toward playing time as camp opened.
“Historically, true freshmen have been able to play big, so I’m thinking that there’s a chance those kids could possibly play big, but they have to beat our Richard and Ken first,” Richt said.
Safety dance: The debate surrounding Josh Harvey-Clemons’ college position only grew murkier Thursday, as the 6-foot-5, 207-pound freshman opened his first UGA practice at safety.
Harvey-Clemons -- whom ESPN rated as the nation’s top outside linebacker prospect in the 2012 signing class -- actually picked off a pass during Thursday’s practice, so he has already taken to the position.
It's not that the initial success was a great surprise, given that Harvey-Clemons played in a similar role for much of the summer passing skeleton drills.
Ogletree played safety as a freshman in 2010 before shifting to linebacker last season.
Weighty issues: Senior nose guard John Jenkins is listed at 358 pounds on Georgia’s preseason roster, although Richt recently revealed that he was actually over 360.
Jenkins -- who was listed at 351 last season -- laughed Thursday while confirming that Richt’s statement was true, but said the extra weight has not slowed him down at all.
“Yeah, man, it’s tough,” Jenkins said with a grin. “It’s crazy because when I’m out running, I’m in front of my whole group. My line group, I’m beating my whole group. I can just run. I don’t know what it is. If you ask any of the coaches, they’ll tell you, ‘Oh, he can run.’ I’m a runner. And my weight never bothered me.”
He is not the only Georgia lineman whose weight has fluctuated since the Bulldogs completed spring practice. Redshirt freshmen Zach DeBell and Xzavier Ward are both substantially larger than they were than they arrived on campus. Both players are listed at 293 pounds on Georgia’s preseason roster, where DeBell was listed at 273 and Ward at 264 on the spring roster.
Likewise, sophomore defensive end Ray Drew is listed at 284, up 19 pounds over his listed weight in the spring.
True freshman fullback Quayvon Hicks is already Georgia’s heftiest running back, with the roster listing him at 262 pounds.
Alternatively, Lynch has actually trimmed down from his 272 pounds of a year ago -- a change he believes was necessary in order to play a more active role as a receiver and blocker this fall. He said approximately 6-8 pounds of the weight loss came this summer while he joined teammates and close friends Ty Frix and Christian Robinson at Georgia’s study abroad program in Italy -- a locale that obviously lacks the weight training resources available within the Bulldogs’ football facility.