ATHENS — Georgia football has one of the deeper running back rooms in the nation and got a lift on Monday night when 5-star Kendall Milton committed to become part of the 2020 signing class.
But there are still plenty of questions to be answered about this season’s current stable of Bulldog backs.
Georgia led the SEC in rushing last season with 238.8 yards per game, but against slanting fronts LSU and Texas, UGA had its share of challenges.
New offensive coordinator James Coley is expected to put a new spin on things.
Coley, no doubt, has spent plenty of time in the film room reviewing what went wrong at LSU and against Texas.
But also, Georgia has been modifying its schemes to fit personnel and take advantage of what may be the best offensive line in recent college football history.
It has been well-documented the Bulldogs lost their top five pass catchers from a season ago, and that could mean more passes to the backs out of the backfield.
Coach Kirby Smart has made it clear Georgia will not abandon the run or the “balanced” nature of being able to tote the rock effectively when the situation calls for it.
But it’s still not clear how things will play out now that Elijah Holyfield has moved on and Zamir White appears on the verge of a healthy return from ACL injuries his senior year of high school and last August in fall drills.
Here are four things to ponder about the running backs:
1. D’Andre Swift workload
There’s no “right” answer here because much of it has to do with game situations and Swift’s ability to stay healthy.
But projecting the most likely game flows and a healthy Swift allows room to speculate that the Philadelphia product could be looking at a very productive season.
Forecasting a 15-game season, it’s not unrealistic to suggest 250 touches (16.6 per game) and 2,000 yards (133.3 per game) between his rushing and receiving along with 25 touchdowns.
Swift had 195 touches, 1,346 yards and 13 TDs last season despite never really being at 100 percent and nursing groin and foot injuries. Double hernia surgery in January of 2018 and limitations in spring ball had prevented an ideal offseason, and Swift admits he wasn’t where he needed to be physically.
Swift plans to take his talents to the NFL after this season. The one question he knows scouts want answered is about his durability, considering he’s never had more than 17 carries in a collegiate game.
Georgia won’t over-use Swift for the sake of it, especially in September, but it’s likely he will get the majority of the work in October in November during the Bulldogs’ championship drive.
2. James Cook breakout
The fact that James Coley played a role in Cook’s recruitment should not be underestimated any more than the premonition that Georgia will throw the ball more to its running backs this season.
At least, we think Cook is still going to be a running back.
This shifty, explosive South Florida product has lined up in the slot and proven he can catch the football as well as take handoffs and drop his shoulder.
Smart said this offseason he felt that Cook had matured — coach-speak for a player getting more work and figuring more prominently in the game plans.
Cook is considered a frontrunner to spark the return game now that the dynamic Mecole Hardman has moved on, and the fact that he’s added weight in the offseason makes him a threat for more carries out of single-back sets when Swift needs a breather.
Cook got mostly mop-up snaps last season when everyone in the stadium knew Georgia was going to run the football to run out the clock on defeated opponents. He still gained 284 yards on 41 carries. Cook would have had even more but he had a 78-yard TD run called back after officials ruled he stepped out of bounds against Vanderbilt.
A total yardage count of 1,000 between rushing, receiving and returns — provided he’s back deep on kick and/or punts — is well within reach for Cook.
3. Hungry Herrien
Senior Brian Herrien is ready to touch the football and make his presence known.
Herrien might ultimately be the most consistent and productive weapon in the playbook — that goes back to Swift’s usage and durability — and the role Herrien carves out for himself in Georgia football fall drills.
As much as Jake Fromm will look to throw the football, the third-year starting QB also knows when to check off to a run, especially near the goal line.
Herrien, the most North-South runner in the stable, was the most successful Georgia back in short-yardage situations last season and looks to be the hammer between the tackles this season.
In a 15-game season there’s plenty of work to go around, but Herrien’s hunger and ability should not be overlooked.
4. Battle for snaps
White’s recovery timeline and incoming freshman Kenny McIntosh figure to impact the running back rotation.
White has great upside, but the guess here is the coaches will bring him along slowly, the better to build his confidence and ensure a complete recovery.
White was once considered the most promising freshman runner in the nation. The rehabilitation videos he has produced this offseason indicate he’s confident he still is.
McIntosh has already dropped 10 pounds and shaved two-tenths off his high school combine 40 time since arriving in Athens.
McIntosh has the look of a back who will improve with time in the system and knowledge of the playbook. There aren’t too many things more dangerous than a running back with talent and a chip on his shoulder.
As exciting as it is when Swift and Cook have the ball in their hands — Cook projected to play a hybrid role — there will be little or no dropoff regardless of who’s taking snaps.