Athens — Welcome, Richard Samuel, to life as Georgia’s top tailback.
Named “a solid No. 1″ at the high-profile position by coach Mark Richt late last week, Samuel found himself surrounded by eight reporters after practice Monday evening.
Around campus, too, Samuel has noticed an increase in attention since word got out of his rise to the top of the depth chart at Knowshon Moreno’s old position.
“I’d say people are a little more excited,” Samuel said, “but I just go on with my day.”
The celebrity of the position holds no appeal for Samuel.
“It just doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “I can go without it.”
The sophomore from Cartersville did admit to some personal excitement about being named No. 1, especially, he said, considering that he missed spring practice after wrist surgery. But he seems to be taking a business-like approach to the whole deal.
“I’d say it probably makes my game go up to another level, to where I have to be able to execute better,” Samuel said. “Now that, I guess, I’m a ’solid No. 1,’ I have to step my game up to help the offense.”
“I’ll say that it is an achievement,” he said, “but I’ve still got work to do.”
Samuel entered the preseason in a five-way battle for playing time at tailback. One top competitor, Caleb King, has been sidelined with an injured hamstring for almost two weeks, and Samuel gradually pulled ahead of the field, although Carlton Thomas still expects to play substantially.
In retrospect, Samuel said he was able to use his inaction in the spring to his advantage.
“I was able to sit back and watch practice, watch why our offense does certain things, read the defense, learn more about the game,” he said. “Just because I wasn’t able to get out there and play and perform, I used that as basically learning time – [time to] learn all the fundamentals of the whole offense, not just being a running back.”
The 6-foot-2 Samuel said his weight is up to 224.
The focus of Georgia’s practices is starting to turn to Oklahoma State, and that’s the case in the post-practice briefings, too.
Monday evening, Richt was talking about the threat posed by Oklahoma State’s special teams, particularly punt returner Dez Bryant and kickoff returner Perrish Cox. Richt knew off the top of his head that Bryant had two punt returns for touchdowns last season and that Cox has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in his career and needs just 110 kickoff return yards to set the Big 12 career record.
“Great return men,” Richt said.
“Our kicking game has just got to be outstanding,” he added. “It starts with the kicker and punter, but our coverage teams [too] – when you talk about wanting to be in midseason form Game 1, we better be.”
Richt wouldn’t say who’ll kick off, Blair Walsh or Brandon Bogotay. In fact, he said he won’t say until Sept. 5. But he again expressed confidence in Drew Butler, who replaces the graduated Brian Mimbs at punter.
“I hope he punts in the games like he’s been punting in practice,” Richt said of Butler. “He’s been very good.”
Speaking of preparing for Oklahoma State: Two freshmen quarterbacks were wearing No. 11 on Georgia’s practice field Monday — Aaron Murray (because that’s his regular number) and Zach Mettenberger (because he’s working as a scout-team quarterback and that’s Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson’s number).
Definitely look for freshmen receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten on the field for Georgia in Stillwater on Sept. 5.
Richt said Monday both are progressing and will see action immediately.
“Marlon and Wooten, both, we still expect to play,” he said. “I think both of them started out pretty good. I think both of them hit a little bit of a wall. And I think both of them now are beginning to pick it up again and make progress.
“They’re getting a ton of opportunities in practice, and they’ll definitely get playing time.”
They’re clearly needed because the Bulldogs are thin at receiver, where the top three right now are A.J. Green (of course), Michael Moore and Tavarres King. The only other scholarship receiver, aside from the two freshmen, is Israel Troupe.
Several of you asked for an update on freshman tailback Washaun Ealey, so I asked about him yesterday.
“He’s doing OK,” Richt said. “He hyper-extended his elbow that one time, and that slowed him down, I thought, considerably. And now he’s finally feeling good again, and we’re getting some of that energy back from him.