I’m going to go out on a limb and say don’t expect to see much out of Washaun Ealey this season. And that has nothing to do with the hyperextended elbow he suffered in practice recently.
This is no knock on Ealey, a Parade Magazine All-American and AJC Super 11 selection out of Emmanuel County Institute. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound tailback is an impressive athlete and looks spectacular when he runs down Georgia’s Woodruff Practice Fields with a football tucked under his thick arms. He’d be a shoo-in to play if that was all there is to it.
But there is so much more to being a running back for the Bulldogs. They run a pro-style offense and it’s pro-style in every sense of the word. Think about it for a minute: On any given play the tailback in Georgia’s system is either being handed the football, pitched the football, faked the football, thrown the football or is providing pass protection.
And that last responsibility is a critical one. Oftentimes the tailback is not just winging a defensive end. Quite frequently he’s being alerted via an audible to pick up a blitzing linebacker, which usually is the most crucial block on the play. Don’t think so? See Caleb King versus Florida’s Brandon Spikes on Nov. 1, 2008.
Georgia’s offense also is predicated on its flexibility to take what the defense gives it. Certainly, the Bulldogs could simply call a simple run play when Ealey’s in the game. But it wouldn’t take long for defenses to pick up the tendency that No. 24’s going on run the football when he’s on the field. Linebackers and safeties would be teeing off.
These are all realities that Ealey is learning about every day as he competes with King, Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas, Dontavius Jackson and Kalvin Daniels for playing time this fall. He talked about it when I spoke with him recently after a practice (before he injured his elbow).
“It’s really hard to explain,” he said of the offense’s complexities. “Right now I’m just trying to pay attention to the coaches and running the plays and just picking up everything as I go. It’s been all right. Sometimes it’s kind of hard, sometimes it’s kind of easy. I’m just paying attention and working hard.”
Ealey is going the extra mile to master it all. He said he often comes to running backs meetings early and stays late with position coach Bryan McClendon to go over the playbook and review video. And he said the other running backs are helping him as much as they can.
But there’s a lot of difference getting it right in practice and getting it right on a Saturday afternoon before 90,000 fans and a frothing SEC defense. Which is why Ealey says he’s indifferent about whether he plays right away or not.
“I’m just coming in giving 100 percent,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll play. If not I’ll just do whatever the coaches ask me to do. . . . They just told be to work hard, give 100 percent and compete with the other players.”