- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon agreed with Coach Mark Richt’s assessment that Ken Malcome is the likely starting tailback for the Bulldogs’ Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo.
But McClendon said after Thursday’s practice that Malcome’s starting status is subject to change, and that he sees no need to publicly rank his four tailbacks before the Buffalo game.
“It’s likely that Ken will be there, but it’s definitely not final right now,” McClendon said. “Like I said, I don’t think we’re going to put out anything, even a solid 1.
“I don’t think we’re going to put anything like that out right now, especially with us having these few more practices,” he said. “You don’t want to put anything out now and come back in three days and have them change it and then that’s a whole other story that you’ve got to deal with. We’re just going to keep evaluating them and keep those guys progressing like they’re doing.”
McClendon said freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley continue to impress and that he is not concerned about the two “even-keel guys” being mature enough to handle the spotlight. He said senior Richard Samuel continues to work at both tailback and will continue to do so unless circumstances force him to focus on a single position.
“We’re going to try to keep him at both as long as we possibly can before we have to have him at one spot or another,” McClendon said. “The thing that he does so well is he allows you to be in a couple different personnels at the same time, just as far as him being that versatile player both being at the fullback and the tailback.”
“Right now it’s Merritt Hall, but Richard’s right there. He’s definitely going to play at fullback,” McClendon said. “He’s right there, so if you want to think of them as a 1A, 1B kind of thing. But Merritt is going to start the game at fullback.”
Washington update: Cornelius Washington has worked with both the outside linebackers and defensive ends in recent practices and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes what that versatility brings to the Bulldogs’ defense.
He predicted big things for the senior this fall.
“When he puts his hand in the dirt as a true defensive lineman, now you have some athletic ability, a little bit of a mismatch sometimes on guards in space,” Grantham said. “So that’s a benefit, and then because of his body type and athletic ability, he can still play outside backer or on the edge of guys and give you some pass rush out there.
“So he’s going to play both in the rotation and I think he’s going to have a really good year.”
When Washington shifts back to outside linebacker, Grantham said the Bulldogs have a number of options to fill his spot at end, starting with junior Garrison Smith.
“Garrison’s been there,” he said. “[Nose guard] John Jenkins actually knows how to play some end, too, so we’ll rotate those guys. You’ve also got Ray Drew that can do some things, so we’re going to mix and match those guys to get athletes on the field.”
Speaking of versatility: Grantham said sophomore Michael Thornton’s juggling nose guard and defensive end responsibilities is an attempt to let him play more this season. With Jenkins and Kwame Geathers entrenched at nose guard, Thornton did not get to play much last season -- and Grantham said he’s too good to leave on the bench.
“We’re saying, ‘How can we get him on the field?’ I think Mike’s done a good job of working hard and trying to do things the way we want them done,” Grantham said. “With John and Kwame there, it might be hard for him to get snaps as a nose so we’ve given him some reps at end for what-if.”
“What-if” means injuries in this case. And Grantham said Georgia’s best move if a starter goes down would be to have someone capable of filling one spot instead of completely reshuffling the line.
“If injuries happened, I think you’d be better served to keep those guys at nose and have another end rather than moving one of those guys to end,” Grantham said. “I don’t think it’s good to move two positions because then you’re maybe not as sound at either position. So if there’s an injury or something, I think it’s best to take the next guy for that position if you can.”
Extra points: Actor Samuel L. Jackson visited the Bulldogs’ practice at Sanford Stadium on Thursday. UGA men’s basketball coach Mark Fox tweeted a picture of himself preparing to play golf with Jackson earlier in the afternoon. … Grantham predicted that freshman outside linebackers Josh Dawson and James DeLoach will both play in some capacity this fall. Dawson seems to be a no-brainer, but Grantham seems to be more on the fence on whether DeLoach will contribute: “I see him playing. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes,” he said. “Both those guys have got a really bright future, but Josh is going to be playing.”
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough