ATHENS – This time last year, Nick Chubb was just a luxury item for Georgia’s item. He was also grouped with fellow tailback Sony Michel, as in, to paraphrase most commentary, Behind Todd Gurley and those other veterans, Georgia also has those two freshmen, Chubb and Michel.
When Georgia began preseason practice on Tuesday, it had long since been Chubb’s show.
There are basically three tiers to Georgia’s tailbacks: Chubb (the unquestioned starter), then Michel and Keith Marshall (the next men up), then Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman (good options in case of injury).
The question going forward is whether the gap between the first and second tier will close, at least in terms of carries. Will Marshall and Michel prove healthy enough to force their way into the lineup? And how much rest will Chubb need?
“If all goes well, I think we have more backs carrying the load, and a great passing game,” Chubb said before Tuesday’s practice. “So I don’t know how many carries I’ll get, but whatever I’ll get it’ll be the best for the team, and the coaches will be in charge of that. So it’s up to them.”
Three times last year Chubb carried it 30-plus times. Could he do that again, or do his legs need the rest?
“If I have to do it, I’ll do it,” Chubb said.
Perhaps this will change, but right now there’s a lack of emphasis on Chubb’s workload. Last year, entering Gurley’s junior year, the coaches talked openly about needing to space out Gurley’s carries and keep him fresh. That was accomplished early in the season, thanks to Chubb’s emergence, but soon Chubb was almost alone, thanks to Marshall and Michel’s injuries and Gurley’s suspension and then injury.
It didn’t seem to matter. Chubb finished 17th in the nation last year with 1,547 yards, but only two ahead of him had less rush attempts (Marshall’s Devon Johnson and Toledo’s Kareem Hunt), and of the rest everyone had at least 32 more rush attempts.
“I knew the kid was pretty good. I didn’t realize the kind of stamina he had,” coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “I thought he would be mentally and physically tough because of the program he came out of. But to carry the ball as many times as he did more by need than by design, he was able to handle it. He was able to stay pretty healthy throughout.”
Then Richt went on to mention the smaller things they’re focusing on with Chubb: Route running, pass protection, not fumbling. What Richt didn’t mention was a need to get him rest.
That doesn’t mean Chubb will be the workhorse. But this season, unlike last year, it seems the starter’s carries will depend more on the health of those behind him. Michel’s problem was his shoulder last year, so he should be back to where he was.
The linchpin is Marshall, and whether he’s really, truly back to his pre-ACL form.
“He looks great,” Chubb said. “I don’t know how he looked in practice his freshman year. But I know sophomore year he didn’t look like he was 100 percent. But now he’s looking very good.”