- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Bryan McClendon has presided over one of Georgia’s most turbulent position groups over the last few seasons, so the current state of tranquility in the running backs’ meeting room is a pleasant change.
The Bulldogs have had four tailbacks leave the roster for various reasons in the last 16 months and McClendon dealt with numerous disciplinary issues among his players last season, but he said things have changed for the better.
“Right now I think just as far as the mind state that our room is having right now is just very positive,” McClendon said after Sunday morning’s practice. “Everybody’s working, everybody’s excited to be there. You’re not having to spend time on a lot of negative things, so to speak, that’s going to take away from anything that’s going to try to get to the main goal that not only you have as a segment, but you have as a team.
“Everything’s been positive to this point. All those guys are conscientious, they’re going to make sure that they’re on time, that they’re doing everything right, so you’re not having to waste a lot of time on things like that.”
The Bulldogs’ top two rushers, Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas, have both left the team since March, but McClendon added two top-tier tailback recruits in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley as well as freshman fullback Quayvon Hicks on signing day.
Thus far, he is pleased with the work the trio of newcomers has put in.
“I think they’re ahead of schedule,” McClendon said. “If you ask where a typical freshman would be, I think they know a lot more. And I think they’re a lot more conscientious on the front end of things.
“I think all three of those guys come in and they ask all the right questions. They’re not scared to ask questions, which is very good, because you would rather it be that way than the other way, honestly.”
Changing positions: Cornelius Washington said he is becoming more comfortable in his role at defensive end after shifting to the position during spring practice.
“I’m definitely a lot better at it,” Washington said. “I’ve got a little technique to it and I’m doing a whole lot better at it and I just play in my element. I don’t try to take on those huge 320-pound guys and just shoot gaps.”
Nonetheless, Washington has not completely abandoned his old position, outside linebacker. The senior said he still works with that group here and there during practice -- as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham maintained that he would.
“I do it every now and again,” Washington said. “I’ll go down and work drills sometimes. It’s not an even balance, but just whenever they need me.”
Washington is one of many defensive players who work at different positions in practice, in order to give the lineup as much versatility as possible.
Nose guard Michael Thornton is another player who is rotating between multiple spots, also working intermittently at defensive end in practice.
“Right now I’m just trying to get on the field. I’ll do anything the coaches ask me to do to get on the field. I’m trying to learn all the positions so I can do that,” Thornton said.
“I played end mostly all [Saturday]. [Friday] I worked at nose. I just swap in wherever they need.”
A moving number: Recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner wouldn’t specify exactly how many players Georgia intends to sign in its upcoming recruiting class, but when a reporter asked if the Bulldogs might want to sign 34 -- including nine early enrollees -- Garner responded, “You’re in a good neighborhood. I mean, it’s a moving number.”
Garner said it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number because there are so many factors that can alter the coaching staff’s plans.
“You’re just trying to manage your roster, making sure that you’re making critical decisions, trying to project not just this year, next year, two years, three years, just trying to see the overall picture, where the class stacks up at each position,” Garner said. “So it’s constantly, that’s why you have those meetings, talking about, ‘Hey, this is where we’re at. This is how many we’ve got left. These are the guys that are first on the board that we want to take,’ just trying to get a pecking order.
“We don’t have the luxury of the NFL where we can draft and get on the wire and trade, do all the Plan B and all that. We wish you could, but we don’t so it’s just a different strategy.”
Extra points: Offensive line coach Will Friend said right guard Chris Burnette missed practice because he was under the weather. … Defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said freshman Josh Harvey-Clemons is playing both free and strong safety. “He’s got some pretty good cover skills,” Lakatos said. … McClendon said he is trying to give senior Richard Samuel nearly as many practice reps at fullback as he is at tailback. Samuel is getting “just right under that halfway mark at fullback,” he said. ... Grantham said Jonathan Taylor would be the most likely defensive freshman to redshirt simply because of the veteran depth ahead of him on Georgia's defensive line. "It doesn’t make much sense to play him with Kwame [Geathers] and Big John [Jenkins] right now. So that’s a case where we’re going to work and develop him, but we’re going to get him ready for down the road," Grantham said.
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough