In case you missed the first installment, we here at Dawgsports are trying to cover University of Georgia football recruiting on a position-by-position basis leading up to Signing Day 2008. Having looked at the offensive line, we now turn our attention to the running backs.
They don't call it Tailback U. for nothing.
The Status Quo
It's looking more and more like Thomas Brown will be available for the opener against Oklahoma State. This means we'll have Kregg Lumpkin, Knowshown Moreno and Brown sharing carries this season, with the possibility of Caleb King also seeing some action, and Jason Johnson moving over from fullback if the proverbial Spurrier really hits the fan. In 2008 however we will lose Brown,Lumpkin and Johnson, leaving Moreno as the presumptive starter as a sophomore sharing carries with Caleb King, who will also be a sophomore or (less likely) a redshirt freshman. After that, we're tapped out. And two tailbacks ain't nearly enough in the SEC. So we need to pick up at least one and probably two guys, one of whom quite honestly needs to be ready to play as a freshman if called upon to do so. With junior Brannen Southerland and redshirt freshmen Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmeier (not to mention the versatile Jason Johnson), I doubt we're in the market for a fullback.
The Likely Suspects
Richard Samuel: One of the first commitments for the class of 2008, and the subject of one of our first TMI 2008 segments. The #2 player in the state according to Rivals.com, Samuel creates a sort of cognitive dissonance when you watch him on film. You know that at 6'2 and 215 pounds he is probably going to be too big to be effective as an every down tailback. But he's so fluid on film that you can't help but get excited about his potential in the backfield. Ultimately, Samuel's position in college will be determined by a) how he develops physically over the next 10-12 months before reporting to Athens and b) how the young linebackers already in Athens develop. I still think there's about a 33% chance he plays tailback.
Martin Ward: Committed to Georgia back in November then backed off that commitment to explore his options, possibly at the urging of his new coach Jarret Laws, or maybe not. Irrespective of the reason for his decommitment, it throws the Dawgs squarely onto the horns of a dilemma. Ward was the tailback who would have allowed Richard Samuel to shift to linebacker. The Dawgs now really need a tailback. Ward is not the fastest guy, or the biggest guy. But he has great feet, great hands and runs hard. It was really only a matter of time before other schools picked up the chase for him.
Marcus Dowtin: Committed to the Dawgs last week. Another combination linebacker/tailback. The difference between Samuel and Dowtin is that Samuel looks like a tailback who is physical enough to play linebacker, while Dowtin is a linebacker who is quick enough to play tailback. His home in Athens will be with Coach Jancek in the linebacking corps, as he just doesn't seem to have the shifty moves to play tailback. But then I thought the same thing about Danny Ware, who Dowtin reminds me of in terms of build/speed/style.
Jamie Harper: A bit of a darkhorse in this discussion. Harper is a big tailback with quick feet, excellent balance and the top-end speed to break loose on every snap. He follows his blockers well and is not afraid to lower the shoulder on defenders. It will be difficult to get him out of the state of Florida,as both the Gators and Seminoles are after him.
Reggie Hunt: Hunt is the type of "all purpose" tailback that has come into vogue post-Reggie Bush. At 5'10 and 180 pounds, he's not a big, every down back. His running style is a bit too upright. But he's got great hands and is an absolute killer when he gets into the open field.
Carlton Thomas: Another so-called "all purpose" back. Thomas is extremely elusive, and reminds me a little bit of Thomas Brown coming out of high school, though probably less physical.
Dontavious Jackson: The tailback from Heard County is a favorite among Georgia fans, and recruiting sites as well. Jackson made waves when he showed up at the Kennedy/CES Combine in February and ran a 4.44 40 yard dash. In tennis shoes. He also posted an incredibly impressive 40 inch vertical jump. Jackson is a speedy tailback, who is built low to the ground, runs with great pad level and has breakaway speed. I have to be honest, he's probably my pick if we can only sign one tailback not named Richard Samuel, followed closely by Jamie Harper.
Kevin Whaley: The undersized back from Virginia made an impression at the Athens Nike Camp, where he showed great hands and solid breakaway speed.
Who we want
As the top available in-state tailback, and one of the more versatile and athletic guys around, I have to think Dontavious Jackson is the top target. I don't think Ward is coming back, as he has done an awful lot of travelling to other schools (most recently UNC-Chapel Hill). Signing Jackson would allow Samuel to make the switch to linebacker, where he has a world of upside.
I would imagine that Harper and Hunt would be the other big targets left on the baord. Given my choice, I'd leave a spot open for Harper. He just looks like a featured tailback to me, who can run inside or outside and brings a homerun threat. I like Hunt's potential, but I think he'll have to develop more physically to be a solid contributor. Thomas reminds me a little of West Virginia signee Noel Devine, though I don't think he's quite as fast. I liked Tyson Browning, and he's a DGD, but I think we've learned that a guy that size rarely has what it takes to be an every down back in the SEC, no matter what he can do in the open field. Thomas looks like another Browning to me.
Who we get
I just get the feeling that Jackson may well be headed to Athens. The only real worry he has would be depth already at the position. But that's a concern at every school in major college football. If he doesn't, I believe we will have to look long and hard at leaving Samuel in the backfield. As far as backup plans go that's about as good as it gets though. There's also always the possibility that a sleeper in-state back emerges this year the way Bleckley County's Zeke Rozier emerged last year. While we didn't have a scholarship left for Rozier, this year might be different for a similarly situated player. There might also be a scholarship for a national level recruit who decides late in the process to consider Georgia (much like current USC tailback Stafon Johnson two years ago). Stay tuned, because this one could go down to the wire.