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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Looking Deeper Into the RB Depth Chart

If you check out my practice notes from yesterday, you'll notice two things about the running back battle.

For one, Richard Samuel has clearly impressed his coach.

Secondly, his coach is doing his best to be coy about the situation.

I can't blame Bryan McClendon for playing his cards close to his vest. After all, his running game coordinator is a man who refuses to speak to the media at all. So he's just doing his job.

But that's not to say that we don't know a pretty good deal about things right now. So let's take a closer look at the contenders.

-- Dontavius Jackson missed more practice time last week and just hasn't shown anything to really prove he deserves significant consideration. He's had minimal production in both scrimmages, has been hurt almost the entire time he's been in Athens, and at this point, he's probably behind even rookie Washaun Ealey.

-- Ealey certainly has a lot of upside, and the reports through two-plus weeks have been encouraging. But the simple truth here is that he's a true freshman with little knowledge of the offense and, in particular, Georgia's blocking schemes. I don't think it's impossible for him to earn some special teams duty early and earn more time at tailback down the road, but I'd call him a longshot for any significant carries early on.

The battle is then back to the three main players we've known about all along -- Caleb King, Carlton Thomas and Samuel.

I'm not ready to write King off, and neither is offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, despite the sophomore's problematic hamstring.

"Obviously it's hard to evaluate somebody when they're injured, but he's injured right now, so he's just got to rehab that injury and we'll evaluate him when he gets back," Bobo said.

But Bobo's next sentence may be more telling: "I've been pleased with what Richard's done and Carlton Thomas. Both of those guys have stayed healthy and practiced hard."

That illustrates King's biggest problem. It may not be so much about what he hasn't done while injured as it is about what his top two competitors have done.

McClendon said he saw enough of King during the offseason and early in practice that he's not worried about evaluating him properly, but it sounds like Caleb might be.

"Caleb feels like it might be a tough break for him, but you still have a lot to base your judgment on about all of them," McClendon said. "You sort of had an idea how they ranked up before he got hurt, so you still get an idea."

Despite McClendon's lip service to a proper evaluation of King, the clear situation is that Thomas and Samuel are progressing and King is not -- at least at the moment. That's important because McClendon is making changes to the depth chart right now. He called each player into his office over the weekend to discuss the updated depth chart -- which he won't confirm the specific order of -- and he seems to be taking careful appreciation of King's concerns.

"The biggest thing is you have to understand that the decision you've made on whatever is based on what you think when everyone is healthy, not because Coach did this because I got hurt or Coach is keeping me down even though this guy is hurt in front of me," McClendon said. "You base your judgment on things you see when everyone is out there doing it full speed."

Well, for now, King isn't out there doing it full speed, but Samuel and Thomas are. McClendon also made a point of saying one or two backs getting regular touches would be preferable than three or four on game days, at least for him.

So where does that leave King?

Well, here are Samuel's stats through the first two scrimmages:

19 touches, 233 yards, 4 TDs

It's not hard to see why McClendon said Samuel is separating himself from the pack, and for his part, Samuel isn't satisfied yet.

"I wouldn't say 100 percent pleased because there's always room for improvement," Samuel said. "I would say there's areas I need to improve on, but just getting back out there, showing that I have the heart, the drive to get out and get better, I'm pleased with that. But there are things I need to improve on."

The top items on his list, he said, are his route running and his blocking, and that latter issue might be the saving grace for King at this point.

While Thomas has excelled in racking up yards -- even the tough ones between the tackles, which has impressed Bobo -- his frame makes the blocking game more difficult for him, and it's a nagging concern for Georgia's coaches, even as they marvel at his running ability.

"Some things, he can do better than the other guys. Some things, other guys do better than him just off sheer body type," McClendon said. "I think it would be real tough for me to have a peace of mind knowing that he has to go out there and be down blocking on D-ends all day."

McClendon made a point to say that he believed Thomas can be successful in the blocking game, but there are obvious reservations there.

"We've got to be smart about how we use our personnel and put them in the best place that they can succeed," is the way McClendon put it.

So that might be what keeps King afloat on the depth chart while he rests his sore hamstring. The bottom line is, he's a better blocker at this point -- maybe the best of the bunch -- and that carries a lot of weight in this discussion.

So, my best guess as to what the depth chart looks like right now:

1.) Samuel, 2.) King, 3.) Thomas, 4.) Ealey, 5.) Jackson.

How about you? Are you ready to give up on King or do you think this is a minor setback? Would you like to see Thomas given a chance to show what he can do as more of an every-down back? Are you sold on Samuel, or are his numbers a function of going against second- and third-team defenses?


jferg said...

I'll trust CT with blocking when he's a beast in the weight room like Thomas Brown was. Until then, he's just going to get destroyed if any of our first team DL come at him.
I'll take Samuel and King as every down backs and use the guy who "has it" that day.

Bernie said...

My main concern is that they all stay hungry for carries. From the quotes you have it sounds as if Samuel and Thomas are. I assume King has a low profile right now. But this "committee" will need King to return from the sideline starving so that everyone continues with that feeling of being pushed.

If Samuel separates himself, I'm fine with that long as he holds onto the ball that has been given to him.

Anonymous said...

Caleb King just doesn't have it. My opinion is not reactionarily based on his current injury situation, either. The kid doesn't run hard of finish runs. He is very adept at making sharp and well-timed cuts, but that type of finesse game only gets you so far in the SEC. You have to have a back that can pound out the tough yards. King just isn't that back. I hate to say this too, but I just don't see the desire in him. He has had every chance in the world to take the tail back job by the throat. If he truly was the next great UGA tail back we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

Dawg Stephen said...

IM not ready to write off Caleb. He was the outstanding back in the spring, and has the ability and knowledge of the offense to still be a producer.

My question is how will he respond when he comes back? Samuel has taken it and "ran" with it since Caleb went down, now lets see Caleb King do the same when he comes back.

If he comes back and shows that he is a stud, its because he rose to meet the challenge. And if he comes back with a vengeance, then we have 3 great backs and take even more pressure of the passing game, which i dont believe is gonna suffer in the first place.

Just as i wrote on my blog...I am not ready to throw caleb under the bus yet. He can do it. Go dawgs

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Caleb was the outstanding back of the spring when there were only 2 scholarship backs practicing and the other back was only 5-7 175 and had never seen the field before. That's not really saying so much. I just don't know what Caleb King has really done or shown us to make some of us really believe he is going to amount to a great running back.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that Caleb can't seem to stay healthy. He has shown some flashes when he's in there, and like any RB, the more carries you get the more opportunity to get in a groove and break a few long ones. I hope he recovers from this and he and Samuel make a dynamic duo with Thomas coming in for the "it" factor to keep defenses on their heels.

I'm glad we are continuing to pursue other RBs like Ken Malcome and hopefully another one in this next recruiting class. In my opinion, you can't have too many horses in the stable.

WHM said...

My thoughts and a question, FWIW...

It sounds like we have a "good" problem, in that we have several talented backs. Hopefully it is a competition breeds success type thing, and as Bernie said, they do not grow complacent or disappointed and all stay hungry.

Having said that, my main issue is taking care of the ball. Samuel definitely has the physical tools and is starting to understand "how to run" (i.e. hitting holes, making cuts, etc.), BUT can he hang on to the ball?? As evidenced last season and in the first scrimmage this fall, it seems he has a small case of fumbleitis. David - how is he doing in this area? If he cannot hang on to that ball, I don't care what his numbers are, he shouldn't play! We hope to be a ball control type offense, as we lost some "big play" capability to the draft. Not to mention we'll want to keep the offenses of OK St. and UF off the field as much as possible.

W/ CT: I love the excitement surrounding him, specifically the comments his teammates have made about his ability. The blocking issue is one that has caused problems for us in the past. Still, it sounds like he's a dynamic player, and I hope the coaches figure out a way to get him on the field.

Finally, Caleb: I honestly don't think any of us have seen enough of him to make a decision. We have no clue what he'll look like against SEC competition. I really hate that he got hurt. Had he lost his spot on the depth chart because Samuel and CT outplayed him, that's fine.. it just bites to know he won't have a full fall camp to showcase his stuff. All in all though, I trust the coaches to make the right call w/ him.

Anonymous said...

Why would we have to be a ball control type of offense this year? Don't we have the best receiver in the conference returning at WR? We have PLENTY of talent at the skill positions. Granted, a lot of it is talent that has not seen a lot of action at the college level, but neither have our running backs. With the versatile talent we have this year (Rantavious Wooten, Orson Charles, AJ Green, Carlton Thomas, Logan Gray, etc.) I would honestly expect to see a more open offense this season as compared to seasons past.

WHM said...

Anon 12:48-
I said we HOPE to be a ball control type offense. And I said that based on quotes from CMR, CMB, and Cox indicating his style of play is a game management approach that will take care of the ball. Meaning, he's going to try not to make the ill-advised pass that could lead to a big gain and instead settle for what he's good at - the short to intermediate pass. That's not to say we won't take some shots downfield, I just get the impression that we'll try to manage the game more this year w/ Joe at the helm. Now, this is MY opinion and I haven't been to a practice or anything like that. Maybe David could shed some more light on this subject?

As a side note, of the players you mentioned ONLY 1 is a starter currently. I don't think we should expect them to come in and offer the "home run" threat we had w/ Knowshon and Matthew, that's just not fair. I certainly hope the players you mentioned grow into that role, but that is yet TBD (w/ the exception of AJ).

Bernie said...

If this line stays healthy...there's no reason we shouldn't be a ball control offense. Best way to open up lanes for those targets Anon 12:48 mentions is to knock some wannabe Dawgs on their arses.

I mean, Jabari Davis could be an outstanding back behind this line.

Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Samuel scares me. I dont care about his big stats. The guy just doesnt look / run like a running back.

Add in the fumble issues, etc. and i'm hoping Carlton Thomas is decent and Washaun turns into Herschel (freshman) on game day (not meaning that he runs like herschel, but that he just HAS to be on the field).

Hobnail_Boot said...

King ran behind a D-1 OL at Parkview. He peaked at 17.