ATHENS — There’s a “constant battle” in the Georgia running backs room, assistant coach Dell McGee said, and there are no favorites.
“We don’t necessarily play seniority with any of our players, that’s why we have offseason workouts and spring ball,” McGee said during Georgia’s impromptu spring media day Zoom session on Tuesday.
“A lot of our evaluation and setting of the depth chart will come from how they perform day in and day out leading up to the spring game. It’s a constant battle with our guys at the running back position.”
That didn’t always appear to be the case last season, with Georgia often deferring to the more experienced tailback in Zamir White, even as metrics showed that, in hindsight, the Bulldogs had more effective runners.
What the numbers did not show or account for, however, is the reliability and trust factor that a coach has to have in his players.
There wasn’t a spring practice session last season, and the first and foremost responsibility of any coach is to ensure the players he trots onto the field are assignment sound.
White’s pass blocking and experience gave him a distinct upper hand, and the work and effort he put into every practice to establish himself as a team leader earned him his opportunities.
The competition has increased this spring, however, and everyone is working hard and learning the offense.
Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards have the benefit of their first spring football practice sessions to show McGee that they can be assignment sound and be trusted.
The SEC’s hardest rushers to tackle per Broken Tackle Rate entering Week 13 – min 35 att
1. K. McIntosh 54.8%
2. T. Bigsby 42%
3. J. Emery 37.3%
4. N. Harris 37.2%
5. J. Ealy 33.3%
6. D. Fenwick 30.9%
7. N. Wright 30.4%
8. A. Smith 30%
9. D. Edwards 29.7%
10. C. Rodriguez 29.4% pic.twitter.com/Zr5bj5JCOF
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) December 16, 2020
It’s the most fascinating position battle on the 2021 Georgia football team, and it is complex to be sure.
On the one hand, McGee compared White and James Cook returning to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who came back for the 2017 season and dominated the carries.
“It’s very similar to the situation when Sony Michel and Nick Chubb came back,” McGee said. “From a team standpoint, they want to do more and they feel like they are a part of that and part of the success that we can have.
“I think it’s a good situation for our younger running backs and our younger players because they offer a lot of leadership mentally and physically on how to perform, how to practice and how to take care of their bodies.”
But McGee also made it clear that these current running backs go into the spring with a clean slate and a chance to prove themselves, and that would include 2021 signee and early enrollee Lovasea Carroll.
“They have to treat this offseason and spring practice like it’s a brand new season,” McGee said.
“They have to be eager to learn, eager to get better, eager to improve their skills because all of our players have weaknesses that they need to work on and that needs to be a point of emphasis and that starts with me making sure they’re detailed in what they need to improve on.”
One Georgia offensive lineman last season pointed out there were times backs missed holes. Fans witnessed a handful of failed short-yardage runs where missed opportunities were glaring.
The SEC rushers with the best 3rd Down Success Rate entering Week 13 – min 7 att
1. C. Rodriguez 93.8%
2. T. Bigsby 91.7%
3. M. Jones 88.9%
4. J. Emery 85.7%
5. N. Harris 75%
5. B. Nix 75%
7. K. Trask 71.4%
8. Z. White 68.8%
9. KHB 68.4%
10. AJ Rose 60%
SEC AVR=57.6% pic.twitter.com/k1bwnq0UYY
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) December 16, 2020
It’s likely all of the running backs feel a sense of urgency with the amount of competition, particularly in a Georgia offense that looks to evolve into more of a passing team.
“The biggest thing for me as a coach and for those guys being older players,” McGee said, “is they can’t get complacent.”
That’s not likely to happen.
White’s bullish runs were a staple last season, and Cook’s explosive ability in the open field was showcased.
But everyone saw Milton display dominant power and running skills when healthy last season.
Most every Georgia fan will remember it was McIntosh coming through on the game-winning drive of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, handling the 2-minute drill expertly with 3 clutch catches.
And Edwards? As a true freshman he took over the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs win at South Carolina, showing a blend of power and vision that earned him a UGA scholarship.
McGee wants his running backs to maintain their harmony and pull for one another, pointing out that when injuries arise, different players have to step up.
“Or, we have certain players that can do certain things a little bit better than another player, then those players have to relish that role,” McGee said. “The player that is being taken out of that role has to understand that this guy is a little bit better at doing this than I can.”
There was a good case to be made for each of the running backs in 2020.
But last season is in the rearview mirror, and what’s ahead this spring is what McGee and offensive coordinator Todd Monken will be focused on.
McGee said it best, there’s a battle every day in the Georgia running backs room.