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Crow Goes Pro: A Meditation On Tailback Depth In The SEC.

Kevin C. Cox

You could be forgiven for missing the news, what with the dawning of the Hutson Mason era and the whole state of Alabama devolving before your very eyes, but former Bulldog and current Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell announced last week that he'll enter the 2014 NFL draft. His head coach pointed out that in coming to ASU that was really the plan all along.

And it's worth noting as well that Crowell has earned a solid draft grade from scouts. He has questions about his durability and those off-field issues that required Mark Richt to "love him up" during his time in Athens. But my surmise is that Isaiah Crowell will in fact be drafted by a National Football League team in April.

And good on him for it. I don't know a single Bulldog fan who ever hoped for Isaiah Crowell not to get it together or to sink into obscurity or fail at anything at all, whether on the football field or off. Or maybe I'm engaging in revisionist history here. Maybe there were Bulldog fans who hoped that Isaiah Crowell would transfer, flame out, and serve as another cautionary tale about the pitfalls of college football recruiting and the sense of entitlement that comes with being a "can't miss" prospect. Maybe time heals all wounds and I simply can't recall the reaction to Crowell's dismissal. Or maybe time wounds all heals, and the people who felt that way have fallen victim to karmic justice. Not sure, ultimately don't really care.

And I'm definitely not going to get started on Crowell's former teammates Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, both of whom also left Athens under less than ideal circumstances. Suffice it to say that no trio of Red and Black tailbacks have ever been more obviously talented and yet equally unreliable as those. At one time, that was our tailback rotation, a fast-twitch ball of potential and bad decision-making. Some Bulldog fans, myself included, wondered whether the fault for it lay in the players being recruited or in the coaching and mentoring they received upon their arrival in the Classic City. I admit it. I wondered whether young running backs coach Bryan McClendon had it in him to control the players for whom he was the primary coach.

Isn't it amazing what a difference a couple of years can make? I think it's safe to say that if you asked most Bulldog fans today whether they are happy with the tailback depth chart headed into 2014 the answer would be a resounding yes. Sure, there's a very real chance that it is the last year in which we will see Todd Gurley on the Sanford Stadium sideline. And it remains to be seen how Keith Marshall will fare in his return from knee surgery. However behind them the Bulldogs will field the thunder and lightning combo of Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green, both of whom showed significant flashes as freshmen. There's also the matter of incoming freshmen Nick Chubb of Cedartown and Floridian Sony Michel. Those two are among the top five or so high school tailbacks in the country, and both are likely to report ready for action. Chubb in particular looks like an SEC tailback right now, all of 220 pounds with great vision and strength.

All of which is to say than Coach McClendon may be able to play 6 tailbacks should he choose, and should the injury gods allow him the luxury. But they won't. It's the SEC and bad things happen, particularly to running backs, who spend their Saturdays being targeted by large, fast men who take good angles to the ball and arrive with bad intentions. The answer to the question "how many tailbacks do you need in the SEC?" will always be, in my mind, "one more than however many you have." But Georgia is going to have more good backs in 2014 than anybody else in the country save possibly Alabama, which signed more blue chip tailbacks in 2013 than most programs will see in a decade. We gotta figure out how they keep doing that . . .

If Crowell had stayed in Athens would Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall have ever showed up? It's hard to say. I mean, they weren't scared to compete against each other so I'm not sure they would have been scared to compete against Crowell. Heck, it might have been a healthy thing for all involved had it come to pass.

But it didn't. And I'm cool with that. Had Crowell stuck around I tend to believe that he would have been legitimately injured in 2013 just like every other skill position player in Athens (contrasted with some of his other injuries, which appeared less than legitimate). I've come to peace with the fact that the biggest tailback prospect Georgia's signed since Jasper Sanks has done okay since leaving the Classic City. But that's a whole lot easier since a phalanx of other guys have made it possible for us to say "Isaiah who?"

You go, Crow. Until later . . .

Go 'Dawgs!!!