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Zamir White and James Cook figure to form a strong tandem at running back this year.

After becoming leaders, Georgia needs Zamir White and James Cook to become stars

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Georgia football needs Zamir White, James Cook to become stars

Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee doesn’t use statistical numbers to set expectations for his position group. He’s not penciling in one or two running backs to top a certain yardage threshold or expecting a specific number of touchdowns.

For McGee, it’s far more important to do all the little things correctly than ponder about how many rushing yards Zamir White will finish with or how many catches James Cook has this season.

For White and Cook, the now clear cut leaders in the Georgia running back room, stats won’t so much help determine whether or not they meet the McGee’s expectations. It will be with how much they contribute to Georgia winning games.

And even if McGee did put statistical benchmarks out there, they’d still likely come up short of the expectation others have had for Cook and White from the moment they stepped on campus.

After a number of personal hurdles for both of the highly touted 2018 signees, the two have positioned themselves not just to become the new faces of ‘RBU’ but as overall leaders of the Georgia football team.

Related: Zamir White vows to uphold ‘RBU’ legacy for UGA this season

“They’re kind of mimicking what they got when they were freshmen when (D’Andre) Swift and Elijah (Holyfield) were the older guys in the room,” McGee said. “So they’re kind of taking the young guys under their wing showing them how to take care of their bodies, how to prepare and be the best you can be the next day as far as film study is concerned.

“Just all the little tidbits and how to be successful on an everyday basis.”

For White, he’ll never be able to outrun that No. 1 running back ranking he came into the program with. That’s why seemingly every season, there’s been a fair amount of hype regarding White. Even after tearing both his ACLs before ever registering a carry in a Georgia uniform.

With Cook, he’s always going to be seen as Dalvin Cook’s brother. The latter was one of the great college running backs of the past decade and an NFL star. The former has seen his college career mostly go one step forward, then two steps back.

Related: WATCH: Georgia tailback James Cook positioned for breakout if focus matches talent

Now as the two oldest running backs in the room, they’ve got the chance to rewrite what transpired their first two years on campus. Factor in the setbacks the Georgia offense has had prior to the start of the 2020 season, Georgia very much needs them to be the top playmakers on an offense that seems to be lacking that big-play ability.

For White, it’ll be through his physical running style. If you want to compare to past Georgia running back tandems, think the likes of Nick Chubb, Elijah Holyfield and even possibly Todd Gurley.

White has become known for his work ethic and positive demeanor, in spite of everything he’s gone through to get to this point.

Related: Dell McGee on running back Zamir White: ‘Expect a lot of big things out of him this year’

“He’s been an overcomer and that’s the expectation. He’s never down, he’s always very upbeat,” McGee said. “He’s a spiritual person and has all the faith in the world in our training staff and he has faith in himself as well so expect a lot of big things out of him this year.”

The redshirt sophomore from Laurinburg, N.C., got his first chance to show what he could do in last season’s Sugar Bowl, where he finished with 92 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. Not a masterclass performance, but a solid start against a stout Baylor team.

While he’s thought of as a power back, one of the things he’s really tried to work on is being more like Cook and improving as a pass-catcher.

“Coach Dell (McGee) pushes me about being a mobile back and being a catching back,” White said. “Just being the first, second, third-down back. I just got to work on my catching and stuff like that but I’m going to get it down.

“I’m definitely going to get it down.”

All indications so far are that White continues to get better and better as he gets farther and farther away from his second ACL injury, which occurred in August of 2018. Georgia coach Kirby Smart noted that he had a couple of breakaway runs in Georgia’s preseason scrimmages.

As for Cook, he’s maybe been the one offensive player to draw better reviews than White this offseason. He’s looked bigger in practice photos and videos while also still maintaining that breakaway speed that made him the No. 41 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class.

Cook may never be the bruiser that White currently is, but he doesn’t have to be in order to have a positive impact on the Georgia offense. He much more fits into the Swift, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall mold of recent Georgia running backs.

With LSU last season, Clyde Edwards-Helarie topped 1,000 rushing yards while also hauling in 55 passes. Cook may not get to those numbers in a shortened season, but that’s the type of impact he can potentially have on the Georgia offense.

Last season’s Sugar Bowl also figured to be a big opportunity for him as well, but an early injury prevented that from being the case. But he’s still worked hard this offseason — including training with his older brother — and earned high praise from both Smart and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, .

“It’s a great opportunity and I will never take that for granted,” Cook said.

With Georgia losing Dominick Blaylock to a season-ending knee injury, Jamie Newman to an opt-out and now with the news that tight end Tre’ McKitty will potentially miss the opener, it puts even more on the plate of Cook and White. With the lack of proven talent at the skill positions, Georgia could look to have both on the field at the same time, something McGee did not rule out.

Georgia is going to need both of these players to play well this season and live up to the outsized expectations they have on them.

“They are definitely two guys that complement one another,” McGee said. “From a standpoint of understanding the offense and learning offense the fastest, they’ve kind of propelled themselves in that regard.”

When White and Cook arrived at Georgia as members of the 2018 class, they had massive paws but were still puppies. The potential was obvious, and it seemed like fait accompli they’d be the next great Georgia duo.

That hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. In 2020, Georgia needs Cook and White to help carry the offense, and all indications are that they’ve grown into the big dogs capable of doing just that.

And the Georgia offense is going to need to let them off the leash this fall if it’s to get back to the heights Chubb and Michel brought them to in 2017.

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