A position that was supposed to be a strength for the Bulldogs in 2011 has quickly turned into a major liability.
First, Washaun Ealey left the team by “mutual agreement” after the conclusion of spring practice. His departure followed several disciplinary issues, including two suspensions in the last seven months. Mark Richt had constantly stated that Ealey needed to improve his behavior, so Ealey’s departure wasn’t entirely surprising. He ended up at Jacksonville State, an FCS school, where he is eligible to play immediately.
Then, in early July, Caleb King was declared academically ineligible because he could not meet the NCAA’s satisfactory progress requirements. Like Ealey, King had a long history of discipline problems. He was suspended twice last season; once for missing academic appointments, and once after an arrest for failing to pay a traffic citation. King’s ineligibility effectively ended his career at Georgia, so he decided to enter the supplemental NFL Draft.
After the departures of Ealey and King, the situation at running back looked bad enough. The team had lost its two leading rushers from the previous season, as the two combined for 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, the outlook was still somewhat positive after these developments; Ealey and King were never exactly dominant, except during the Georgia Tech game in 2009, and they had long histories of off-the-field problems.
But that was before this morning’s announcement: junior Carlton Thomas has been suspended from the Boise State game for an unspecified violation of team rules. The suspension isn’t a knockout blow: Thomas has never been an every-down running back, and he hasn’t produced much during his time on the field. However, he did have something that none of Georgia’s current backs have: experience.
With the suspension of Thomas, Georgia only has two running backs on scholarship for the Boise State game: true freshman Isaiah Crowell, and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome. Neither has ever played in a college football game, so nobody knows what to expect from them. Crowell has a Marcus Lattimore-level ceiling, but it’s hard to predict what you’ll get from a player who hasn’t even taken the field at the college level. Malcome also has some potential, but it’s not entirely great. Georgia does have a walk-on, Brandon Harton, who will be available at running back if needed.
Georgia will be getting another running back on the depth chart soon, as Richard Samuel is returning to the position after moving to linebacker last year. However, Samuel isn’t much of an improvement over Malcome or Crowell, even if Crowell fails to produce. Samuel played at running back in 2009, and he never impressed me. I still see him as a mediocre running back, and I believe he would be much better off at linebacker.
The situation can be summed up like this: Isaiah Crowell needs to be good right now. He’s a highly-ranked recruit with a very high ceiling, but it’s difficult to rely on a true freshman to get the job done. That is especially true at the beginning of the season, when he is just starting to play at the college level.
If Crowell cannot produce early, Georgia will be forced to rely on the passing game to move the ball. The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best quarterback, Aaron Murray, who was terrific as a freshman and is only going to improve. However, his receiving corps is very inexperienced, and there are no proven studs at the position. He will have Orson Charles and Aron White as consistent threats, but a passing attack can’t survive with only tight ends.
Even with the debacle at the running back position, the outlook for the football team is still very high for 2011. The defense appears to be solid, especially the front seven after the addition of John Jenkins and the rise of Kwame Geathers. Aaron Murray is an All-SEC quarterback, Orson Charles is an All-SEC tight end, and the receiving corps has tons of talent, even without experience. The special teams are still among the best in the country. And the SEC East is the weakest it’s been in years.
In short, don’t expect the situation at running back to completely destroy this team. The Bulldogs have a shot to win the SEC East, and they just might do it.
About the Author
Written by Brenden Hull
I have been following and analyzing sports my entire life. My favorite teams include all Georgia Bulldogs teams, along with the Atlanta Braves and Indianapolis Colts. I am the Georgia Bulldogs football writer here at Pro Sports Blogging, having joined the team in April 2011. You can contact me at bulldog724 AT gmail DOT com.