HOOVER, Ala. – On this day, five-star running back Isaiah Crowell didn’t have to go to his veteran teammates.
UGA's hyped freshman Isaiah Crowell is "more talented than I’ve seen in a while at running back," said quarterback Aaron Murray.
They came to him.
A group of about “six or seven of us” showed up at Crowell’s dorm room, according to quarterback Aaron Murray. They then conducted a little football with the hyped freshman in the hallway.
“We just wanted to go work with him,” Murray said. “We wanted to get him going, wanted to get him working. So we went ahead and, ‘Let’s go ahead and get this cranking.’ I’m excited to get him out there. I know what kind of talent he has and what he can do to help this team.”
Perhaps the biggest storyline of this offseason for Georgia’s football team has been the running backs – or lack of them.
First Washaun Ealey (last season’s leading rusher) transferred to Jacksonville (Ala.) State. Then there was Caleb King (last season’s second-leading rusher). King was expected to be a senior leader in the backfield before he didn’t make grades to be eligible for the fall.
In the fallout, inside linebacker Richard Samuel agreed to move back to his previous home at running back, and concern mounted with news – confirmed by Richt on Thursday – that junior Carlton Thomas (last season’s third-leading rusher) enters the season with a one-game suspension that will take him out of the Boise State opener.
Nonetheless, Richt’s current attitude toward his backfield has an Alfred E. Neuman quality to it: What, me worry?
“I’ve seen so many young backs play well over the years that I’m not fretting right now,” Richt said. “I don’t lie awake at night going, ‘Oh my goodness, what are we going to do now?’ We have got some guys on this team that can be highly productive offensively.”
Converted linebacker Richard Samuel is back at his old position as will open preseason as Georgia's No. 1 tailback.
The general consensus outside UGA’s program is that it will be Crowell’s show in 2011. The blue-chip signee from Columbus was the highest-rated addition to a touted class.
But Crowell-or-bust? Richt disagrees with that assessment.
“We’re not going to sit here and say, ‘It’s Isaiah or bust,’” Richt said Thursday. “I don’t want him to feel that kind of pressure. And it’s not there.”
“He’s going to have a lot of expectations, a lot on his shoulders this year,” Murray said of Crowell. “The advice that I’ve been giving to him is just ‘Learn the playbook.’ He has all the talent in the world. Everybody knows that. When we go out there and do drills, he's more talented than I’ve seen in a while at running back. I mean, he can do it all. It’s just how much he can learn and how much of the playbook he can handle.”
The current hand-wringing over the current running back situation at Georgia comes after a season in which the Bulldogs finished 10th in the SEC in rushing.
Ealey (one game) and King (three games) each dealt with suspensions, and with a few exceptions, the passing game under Murray generally fueled the team's offensive attack.
“A year ago, I can’t sit here and say that I was ever really at a point here I said, ‘Our running backs are really being highly productive and kicking butt and I guys I can count on.’ I mean, that wasn’t happening,” Richt said. “By the end of this year, I might say, ‘These guys are kicking butt and guys I can count on.’ So I wouldn’t sit here and say our running back situation is worse this year than it was a year ago. We’ll see on that, but there are going to be some talented guys that are going to get an opportunity.”
In Crowell’s case, his talent has never been called into question. There is a reason he was rated the nation’s best running back in the 2011 signing class, which is reflected in Richt’s statement that “There’s a buzz out there that our veterans believe he’s a very talented guy.”
Georgia’s coach still remains careful to not put too much too soon on Crowell.
“We don’t expect Isaiah to save the program,” Richt said. “We don’t expect Isaiah to put the team on his back. We expect Isaiah to learn what to do and to do things the Georgia way and to try to do anything he can to help the team win as a freshman. We’ll see how far that goes.
“I’ve got a sense of anticipation. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen when we put the pads on for the first time and go live and just see what he does, see how he handles getting hit real hard, see how he handles the speed of the Southeastern Conference. … We won’t treat him whole lot different than any other player who is talented but we’re wanting to make sure he has success.”
Along those lines, Crowell will not have the starter tag right off the bat. Neither will redshirt freshman Ken Malcome, who is using a lack of attention as motivation in the current climate.
Richt said Thursday that Samuel will enter preseason as Georgia’s No. 1 tailback.
“If anybody needed to be soothed a little bit, that will do it,” Richt said of Samuel. “He’s very mature physically, and he’s a mature man in the way he goes about his business. He has two years of experience within our system to know what to do.
“He’ll be in that meeting room, and he’ll be a great example of how to prepare and how to play the position.”