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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ball on C. King: 'Jury is Still Out'

I'm working on a freelance story for Scout's Dawg Post Magazine on running back Caleb King that won't be out for another month or so, but in doing the reporting I had a rather candid conversation with Tony Ball about his former pet project that I thought I should pass along.

I spoke with Caleb a couple weeks ago, and he told me about a meeting he had with Ball during the season following a stretch of games in which he had struggled badly. Ball, who has since moved from RBs coach to WRs, said the meeting took place after King had a terrible game against Tennessee in which he had missed several key assignments. (You'll recall that was two games before King was benched for missing a key block against Florida.)

Both player and coach agreed on the subject matter of the meeting -- that King had been too quiet and needed to come out of his shell and take ownership of his role on the team.

The impact that it had, however, seems to differ depending on who you ask. For his part, King says he is exceptionally excited about the opportunity he has this season and thinks he has made great strides. Ball, however, isn't so sure.

Ball said he met with all his running backs regularly, but the meeting with King to discuss his personality had a pointed agenda at the time...

"His focus and attention to the detail, you saw him regress," Ball said. "His energy level went down. It was a combination of those things, and I just felt like he needed to be more assertive, come out of his shell. That's what led to it, and the fact that there was a period of time there for a couple of weeks when there were way too many missed assignments, and assignments that he ordinarily wouldn't have missed. So I knew something was there.

"The other aspect, and as a matter of fact I was just talking to (Bryan McClendon) about it today, when he's in the secondary, with him being as talented as he is, he should be able to make bigger plays once he's in the secondary. That's where he's got to make it happen. I just think he needs to look at that from this past season and make it a point this offseason to get better. When he gets in the secondary, that's when he's got to make it happen. It was just a combination of things."

I asked Ball if he thought King's overly relaxed attitude toward his practice and preparation could have been a function of his limited playing time. With Knowshon Moreno clearly established as the No. 1 guy, that may have hurt his concentration -- something that won't be a problem this year.

"It won't be much of an issue (this year), that's for certain," Ball said. "But I think that's immaturity. Because the thing that they are taught, Day 1, is that you are one play away from being the starter, and the fact that he did regress, went through that period, had something happened and he'd have been in the game or when he got a chance to play, he was never really ready to take advantage of it. So to me, that's immaturity because he knows he's always one play away from being the starter. That should have never been an excuse, and especially when you've got a guy like Richard (Samuel) right there barreling down your throat who is very capable of taking the job over and sustaining that position. It doesn't make sense when you think about it."

I had spoken with Mark Richt about Caleb a month or so ago, and Richt had commented that Caleb had his best academic semester last fall, which he thought was a good sign of maturity. That was an opinion Ball shared, but he wasn't sure it was something that would translate onto the football field -- and he didn't see much difference in the latter part of the season for King.

"When you factor in how he's handled himself academically, one would feel that he's turned a corner," Ball said. "But I don't know. To me, I think the jury is still out. You hope that he has, you pray that he has, but I don't know if there was an indication in the latter part of the season in the Georgia Tech week or the bowl week that would make me say he has turned a corner. I don't know. He's got to do it on a consistent basis. That's what you've got to look for you've got to look for consistency. You don't want anyone who is going to be up and down. Up-and-down performance is going to get you beat. You need consistency. So I don't know if he's actually turned a corner yet."

Interesting comments to say the least. King may be one of the two or three most important players to watch this spring. He has a huge opportunity in front of him, with Knowshon about to be part of an NFL roster and Samuel healing a wrist injury. Carlton Thomas will be the only other scholarship running back to be a full participant in spring practice. King certainly has the potential to become a superstar, but comments like those from Ball make it hard to assume a successful career is guaranteed for the talented tailback.


Anonymous said...

I've followed King since he played in high school and my impression is that his performance all depends on how confident he feels. In high school, he had a swagger, and as a consequence, he was unstoppable. Since he's been at UGA, though, I haven't seen any of that confidence, and predictably, his performance has been kinda blah ... to say the least. I don't know what it'll take, but he's just got to get that swagger back. In terms of raw talent, I really think he's up there with Knowshon. But as we all remember, Knowshon's confidence was NEVER an issue.

Bernie said...

Great point Anon about the importance of confidence. But I fall a little short of putting him up there with Knowshon. I didn't follow him much in hs, but from what I've seen I'm not fully convinced he's ready to pound out those runs between the tackles that Knowshon was willing to do. If King does, he'll get more of those opportunities in the secondary that Ball was referring to.

I'm very eager to see King this spring. I think we'll know a lot more about King's attitude April 12th.

jferg said...

It's sad to see a guy with that much talent be held back by lack of confidence or heart or whatever it is. It's like I've said sounds like the entire team is motivated by the opportunities at hand-- if CK isn't then he better get out of the way because I have a feeling these young guys want it and will run through a firey brick wall to get it...
Watched "Gridiron Gang" this weekend on FX. CK reminds me of the RB in that story...maybe CK just needs to run between the dummies with Rennie a few hundred times!?!?!

Mike In Valdosta said...

I do not think he has every had to compete for playing time. I know he was not asked to block in high school. In short, he is going through a great period of change. Some players take longer than others to adapt to collegiate football, especially SEC football. I am confident he will make his mark on the program before his time is up. Coach Ball hit it on the head, it all comes down to maturity.

We have done the running back by committee thing before, and I bet we will be doing it again for the next two or three years. I really have no problem with it. Knowshon spoiled us. Musa had a great run, but Moreno was the first every down back we have had since Garrison.

I am far more concerned with the other side of the ball, the two-hand touch bunch. We cannot let every injury turn into 4 guys not playing tackle football. I have faith the coaching staff will not let that happen again.

April 12th cannot get here fast enough for me.

Mike In Valdosta said...

BTW, David, I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into this blog. Some of the other beat writers in this state, working for larger papers, could learn a great deal from you on a daily basis.

Keep up the good work, I know good things are coming your way.

David Hale said...

Thanks, Mike. I definitely appreciate the kind words, although I must admit, there are a good number of very good reporters on this beat besides myself. I'm not sure there's a college team in the country that is covered much better than UGA from the big papers to the independent bloggers. I'm just glad to be a part of it.

DawgCPA said...

No, David. I think Mike in VD is right. None of the AJC guys up here are able to put it together like you do. You're blog has consistently been the best read - much more insightful and informative - much less ego. You come across as one of us... a fan.
(maybe a little too much of that 'cuse orange-juice-men thing sometimes! Or worse... the Filly's!)

Hobnail_Boot said...

I'd love to know Rennie's thoughts on King. Brookwood used to stonewall Parkview when King was running all over everyone else.