Thanks to Mark Richt’s uncharacteristically blunt assessments of Washaun Ealey in recent months, Monday’s announcement that the tailback and UGA had decided to part company had a certain feeling of inevitability about it.A coach generally doesn’t hang a young man out to dry publicly like that unless their relationship has reached the breaking point.
Taking Richt at his word that this was a mutual decision, Ealey obviously tired of being in his head coach’s dog house and/or saw the writing writ large on the wall that incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell is going to get a chance to play a big role at Georgia from the get-go.
As inevitable as this story felt, though, I was keeping my fingers crossed it wouldn’t come to this. As I’ve said before, I’m as excited as any UGA fan about the impending arrival of Crowell. He has the potential to be a game-changing back early on. But while Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina showed the kind of impact a true freshman back can make right from the start, chances are Crowell’s progress at Georgia will be not quite that instant.
For one thing, he’ll be running behind a still-suspect patchwork offensive line that has a history of underperforming. Plus, there’s a lot more to playing tailback at Georgia than just toting the rock, as Richt reminded everyone recently when he pointed out that one of the reasons a key play in Georgia’s comeback attempt against Arkansas faltered was Ealey “decided he wasn’t going to block on that play.” (Never mind that it was a poor call by Mike Bobo that sent the receivers long on a short-yardage play and required Aaron Murray to stand back there in the pocket way too long.)
I firmly believe we’ll see Crowell playing against Boise State in the Georgia Dome, but I think it’s unlikely he will start and the odds are good that at least early in the season we’ll see him sharing carries with another back. It’s unrealistic to expect Crowell to master the playbook and get his pass protection skills up to snuff in just 29 August preseason practices.
Which brings us to Caleb King, a senior who’s had numerous opportunities to make the starting tailback job his own and has never managed to become a consistent performer, thanks to a combination of injuries, academic issues and off-field problems.
Aside from running for 166 yards (including a scintillating 75-yard touchdown run) against Georgia Tech in the 2009 “I Run This State” Derby with Ealey, King has been solid (5.4 yards per carry) but not spectacular. Last season he appeared in eight games, starting five, and carried 80 times for 430 yards and two TDs. He also caught two passes for eight yards.
Basically, it’s now or never for King. Tough-running Ken “Boo” Malcome might also make a strong bid for playing time if he can stay healthy, but he doesn’t have King’s game experience, which is going to be a valuable commodity in the Georgia backfield until Crowell gets some seasoning.
During spring drills, King was talking a good game about competing with Crowell, and I really hope that comes to pass. As Thomas Brown has pointed out, tailbacks tend to thrive on competition.
With the departure of Ealey, King has a chance to provide a nice complement to Crowell the way Brown did with Knowshon Moreno in 2007.
Are you up to it, Caleb?
GOOD NEWS FOR DOGS FANS
UGA has announced that all previous requests for Boise State tickets made by 2011 Hartman Fund donors will be fulfilled and everyone who contributed at least $100 is eligible to request additional upper level tickets for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Let’s make sure the Dome is packed to the rafters with red shirts!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg