(Updated after Wednesday’s practice with comments from RB’s coach Bryan McClendon)
ATHENS – The most-asked question in Georgia’s preseason practice a year ago was about who’d open the season as the starting tailback. The answer turned out to be Richard Samuel, who’s now a backup linebacker.
There’s an open question this preseason, too, about who’ll be the starting tailback. But it is drawing a lot less attention than a year ago, mainly because the Caleb King-Washaun Ealey tandem had so much success late last season that there’s a sense it doesn’t matter which one of them starts. Both will play, and play a lot.
“I don’t think about it every day, but of course we both want to start,” said King, a junior. “I believe with the competition -– I’m pushing him and he’s pushing me –- we both work hard and get better. I think the competition is good for us and good for the team.”
Ealey, a sophomore, has expressed similar sentiments.
“I think it’s a very healthy competition,” running backs coach Bryan McClendon said after practice Wednesday. But, make no mistake, it is very much a competition.
“Those guys compete at everything,” McClendon said of King and Ealey. “They can come out here and try to throw something away, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, mine went in cleaner than yours.’
“I think it’s healthy. I think they enjoy it. . . . I don’t think it has split a wedge in anything. In actuality, I think it has grown our room [the running backs meeting room] closer together.”
There appears to be no separation between King and Ealey at this point. Both played the same number of snaps with the No. 1 offense in Tuesday’s closed scrimmage, McClendon said. Ealey gained 66 yards on five carries, King 63 on 14. McClendon said the difference in carries was incidental, the result of “how the plays were called.”
McClendon said Georgia needs to play “at the very least” two tailbacks “because it’s a very physical position in a very physical league.” He noted that neither King nor Ealey has played a full SEC season. Ealey didn’t shed his redshirt until the fifth game of last season, and King missed three games with injuries.
Perhaps the best news at tailback this preseason is that King, who was injured at the start of last season (hamstring) and again at the end of spring practice (knee), is healthy.
He was sidelined from one practice last week as a precaution after “banging my knee a little bit, but the next day I came back fine. So I’m 100 percent.”
A few other notes: