Here’s the story on tailbacks and Isaiah Crowell in particular that I filed for print Tuesday night. . . .
ATHENS — Isaiah Crowell’s Georgia teammates bragged on his effort and attitude during the offseason. Apparently his coaches like what they’ve seen and heard as well.
The Bulldogs opened spring practice Tuesday, and Crowell, an enigmatic tailback from Columbus, was the first to line up with the No. 1 offense. “That’s where he’s starting out,” Georgia coach Mark Richt confirmed without elaboration.
That’s a significant development as Crowell ended the 2011 season not only on the sideline, but also in the doghouse. So unsure was the Bulldogs’ situation at tailback that they recruited two prospects to the position, which for a time raised the number on scholarship to seven.
That number dropped to six Tuesday. Rising senior Carlton Thomas informed Richt Tuesday morning of his intention to transfer.
“Carlton has decided to move on,” Richt said. “He came to me and said he has had discussions with his family and had been thinking it through and praying it through, and he summed it up pretty nicely what his intentions are. He wants to move on and try to find a place where he’ll get more playing time. We wish him well.”
Meanwhile, Crowell is starting atop the tailback heap — and he intends to stay there.
“There’s a lot of pride [in that],” Crowell said of being No. 1 on the depth chart. “I want to be the one who starts, and I want to help out all the new guys. That’s the reason that I was glad I was the first one out.”
Even with Thomas out of the picture, the Bulldogs still have a glut of tailbacks. Senior Richard Samuel and sophomores Ken Malcome and Brandon Harton, each of whom had starts last season, return at the position. Georgia recruited Keith Marshall — like Crowell the No. 1-rated tailback prospect in America — and he has enrolled. They also signed running back Todd Gurley, who will join the team in June.
Meeting with reporters for the first time since last season, Crowell said Georgia needed more tailbacks after seeing the position was thinned by attrition last season. He said the additions have strengthened the backfield while intensifying his focus and dedication to becoming the best running back in college football.
“My first goal is just to be a good teammate and help my team get to the national championship,” he said. “My second goal is I’m trying to run for the Heisman.”
Asked how realistic he thought his chances were for winning college football’s player of the year award, Crowell grinned and laughed. “Real realistic.”
Crowell twice was suspended for rules violations last season and drew the wrath of fans when an ankle injury caused him to miss more than what they deemed an appropriate amount of time out of action.
Richt said he met with Crowell after the season, but that the star runner often had “father-son talks” with running backs coach Bryan McClendon. Meanwhile, Dell McGee, Crowell’s coach at Carver-Columbus, had several one-on-ones with him.
“He’s been working really hard,” McGee said Tuesday. “I’ve been getting great reports on a weekly basis from his teammates and coaches and even himself. He’s eager to put last year behind him. I think he learned a lot from last season.”
It wasn’t like he was a bust. Crowell finished with 850 yards rushing and five touchdowns in what amounted to six full games. He was named the SEC’s freshman of the year.
Crowell believes he has much more to offer.
“I’m trying to be a good teammate and be accountable and be a person my teammates can trust,” he said. “That’s been my focus. I know there was a lot of improvement I needed to make and I tried my best to make that. I think it went well and I’m going to keep giving it my all.”