UGA fan talk: Running backs, recruiting and those elusive shiny pants

With Nick Chubb rehabbing a knee injury, Georgia's depth at tailback looks a little thin. (Ted Mayer / UGA)

Time to answer some Junkyard Mail and see what UGA fans have on their minds post-signing day, as we look ahead to spring football.

Topics range from recruiting (naturally) to those shiny silver britches fans have wanted to see for ages. But, first, let’s open with a couple of questions concerning the position around which the Dawgs’ offense generally is built — running back.

Jimmy from Seneca writes: Bill, I agree with you that Kirby Smart’s first recruiting class was a good one, and better than we probably had a right to hope for, considering the coaching change and Smart’s late start on the job. But in addition to being concerned, like Kirby is, over the lack of offensive line recruits, I’m also a bit worried about the Bulldawgs only signing one running back in this class. Granted, Elijah Holyfield is a 4-star, but he wasn’t an early enrollee, so he’ll be starting the learning curve from scratch in August. We don’t know yet when Nick Chubb will be cleared from rehabbing his injury to play again or how many, if any, games he’ll miss. Sony Michel played brilliantly as the starter in Chubb’s absence, but with Keith Marshall leaving early the only tailback we’ll have behind Michel with game experience is Brendan Douglas, who’s really more suited to being a short-yardage and pass-protection back than the main horse. What do you think, Bill, am I worrying needlessly?

And, in a related note, Ray Gleffe writes: Bill, I enjoy reading your articles in the AJC and on DawgNation. Now that the excitement of recruiting and Signing day is over, can you bring us up to date on how Nick Chubb is convalescing, and how the new staff will deal with his return? 

First, I have to say, Jimmy, that I was a bit surprised Georgia only signed one running back in this class. You summed up the depth issue pretty well for a position that is notoriously injury-prone. One of the big recruiting reversals for the Dawgs in the transition from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart was the loss of 4-star prospect Devwah Whaley, considered the No. 3 running back recruit in the nation, who originally had committed to UGA last Thanksgiving, then reopened his recruitment after Richt’s firing and wound up signing with Arkansas.

SEC schools really need to sign at least a couple of tailbacks every year. Right now, other than the incoming freshman Holyfield, all Georgia has behind Chubb, Michel and Douglas is a pair of backs who haven’t yet managed to play in a game: A.J. Turman, who ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries in last year’s G-Day Game, but spent the season on the scout team; and Tae Crowder, a true freshman last year who redshirted. That’s a situation that could turn scary if Chubb’s return is delayed or Michel gets hurt.

As for Ray’s question about Chubb, Smart told this past week that the star tailback, who is known as an extremely hard worker, is on schedule in rehabbing his injured knee and “right where he should be.” Smart also told Atlanta’s 92.9 FM that Chubb is “a relentless worker. He’s a kid that’s going to work really, really hard and he’s going to get back as fast as he possibly can.”

In relation to Georgia’s 2016 recruiting class, Robert Johnson writes: Bill, I always enjoy your column — thanks for many years of great reads. I have been wondering how many, if any, of this years January enrollment can count towards last year.  I have read from you and others that we have 5 from this year going forward but no one has mentioned this aspect.

A fan wants to know which class early enrollees like Julian Rochester will count against. (David Barnes / UGA)

Six of Georgia’s recruits enrolled early last month: quarterback Jacob Eason, offensive lineman Ben Cleveland, tight end Isaac Nauta, defensive lineman Julian Rochester, wide receiver Riley Ridley and cornerback Chad Clay. I put your question to DawgNation recruiting reporter Jeff Sentell, who said UGA withholds that number for obvious competitive reasons, but it looks as if this year’s early enrollees probably will count as 2016 signees. The key numbers to know are 25 and 85. That 25 refers to the maximum amount of players any NCAA Power 5 school can sign and count toward any one year, and the 85 is the amount of signees for any program over a five-year period. DawgNation projects that, if this year’s January enrollees all are counted as part of the 2016 class, that would allow Georgia to sign, say, 29 players in 2017 rather than 25, counting the extras back to the smaller 2016 class. This jibes with what Smart has said recently about saving some scholarships for 2017 by not signing the maximum number this year.

Jim Carroll writes: I always enjoy your perspective; but it appears that you are drinking the Smart Kool-Aid. I hope that Smart and his staff can coach better than they can recruit. Pittman and his $990K brought us NOTHING. We lost Whaley, the Texas running back, to Arkansas as well as [Derrick] Brown to Auburn that just picked up a DC that had 70 points put on him when he was at Auburn. The time that Smart put in in Alabama hurt us in recruiting and did not help. Smart spent his time on Alabama legacy recruits that we had NO chance in getting. Let me be clear. I loved Richt, but it was time for him to go after 8 years of underwhelming performance. Having said that, we should keep to the facts with Smart. So far, he has produced nothing.

I’m willing to cut Smart a bit more slack than you, Jim, and I give him a lot of credit for signing three 5-star players in his first class. But, you’re right, losing running back Whaley plus defensive lineman Brown and, especially, offensive lineman E.J. Price, hurts. But I have a feeling the results would have been much the same even if Smart had left Bama immediately. It’s a fact of life that when you fire a head coach and his staff you’re going to lose some of the recruits they had lined up. Next year’s class will provide a better basis for judging Smart as a recruiter.

Ed Keibler writes: Bill, I just read your piece about Kirby’s first class and you echoed a lot of articles I’ve seen lamenting the lack of a kicker for this class. What happened to the kicker/punter who was a preferred walk on this past fall and wasn’t he supposed to get a scholarship with this class? My memory gets worse every year but I thought he was a punter/ruby style punter who also kicked field goals. And, he came with the promise of a scholarship since one wasn’t available for 2015. Also, talking about kickers, I hope the new staff doesn’t continue the Richt era kick off strategy of trying to kick the ball to the goal line every time and then tackle the return man before he crosses the 20 yard line. Give me a boring kick off out of the end zone every time. As opposed to a runback for great field position or a TD. I do know you can’t kick it out of the end zone every time but the risk reward of the goal line kick seems stupid.

Also on the subject of placekickers, Matt Mashburn writes: Great article about recruiting as always.  I was  puzzled by your comment about placekicker. Didn’t Rodrigo Blankenship, one of the best placekickers in the country in high school, redshirt in 2015?  Did I miss something?

Rodrigo Blankenship is expected to compete for the starting placekicking job. (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

The kicker Ed was thinking of was Rodrigo Blankenship from Sprayberry High School, who played in the previous year’s U.S. Army All-America Bowl and redshirted last year as a preferred walk-on. At the time he signed, his high school coach said he likely would be given a scholarship after Marshall Morgan had departed. Beat reporter Chip Towers tells me Blankenship is expected to compete for the placekicking job, along with another walk-on, William Ham, but there’s nothing official yet about Blankenship being promised a scholarship.

And, to answer Matt, I’m certainly not discounting Blankenship’s chances by any means, but I was still surprised Georgia didn’t sign a scholarship placekicker in this year’s class.

In his signing day press conference, Smart admitted he was “scared to death” about Georgia’s kicking situation, but said he decided to offer a scholarship to a punter (Marshall Long) but not to a placekicker because “in my history, I found that you can find more quality kickers through the walk-on route than you can quality punters. … At field goal kicker … we really don’t know as a staff exactly what we’ve got. We’ll find that out in the spring. We’re going to try to get some kids in here whether it’s by way of transfer or by way of walk-on. We’re going to try to get the best kickers we can to try to make that a competitive environment and improve the kicking game and essentially find a guy that can be the field goal kicker for us. It’s a little scary coming in, especially for [special teams coach] Shane [Beamer], he’s going ‘wait a second, we don’t have a punter, we don’t have a returning snapper that started and we don’t have a field goal kicker.’ That’s a little overwhelming but we didn’t want to commit a scholarship to a kicker as of now. We’ll see how that goes.”

I’ve also received several letters recently from fans wanting to know whether 2016 will be the season when the Dawgs finally get “shiny” silver britches instead of the flat gray ones that have passed for silver in recent years. One of the fans wondering about that and other uniform questions is Ryan Scates, who writes: Bill, I wanted to shoot you this question after seeing photos of recruits posing with Coach Smart wearing black UGA uniforms with block numbers. UGA football has been going on a 3-year uniform rotation. Last year was the third year with the current uniforms. Do you know 1) If there will be new jerseys next year; 2) If those jerseys will go back to the block numbers; 3) If the team will wear a black version of the jerseys; and 4) If we will finally be getting silver britches?

Short answer: No word yet on any of that.

The long-running saga of the shiny silver britches goes back a ways. Back in April 2013, Athletic Director Greg McGarity said, “As new technology comes up, as new fabric becomes available, you’ll see that morph into maybe more (like) our silver britches. You know, kind of like the [Dallas] Cowboys wear? That’s the kind of silver you’d like to get, which is kind of like what we used to have, which had kind of a shine to them. It just depends on how fast they can get that material. That’d be the goal, to get it back to the silver britches. … And Nike’s one of the few that can do that, because they’ve got some of it in the NFL now.” Then, last March, McGarity said in an online chat that Georgia was “working with our partners at Nike to create a more ‘silver’ silver for the Dawgs’ silver britches.” But last May, when I checked with Senior Associate Athletic Director Claude Felton, he said: “Uniform design and production is quite a lengthy process these days but the new ‘silver’ should be good to go for the 2015 season.” Of course, that didn’t happen. Last July, Felton said, “Nike is continuing to work on the ‘silver.’ We don’t have them in yet so we’ll see.”

This week, I asked for an update and didn’t get one, so I’m assuming nothing has changed.

And, yes, the idea that Georgia is at Nike’s mercy when it comes to getting the sort of uniform pants it wants does seem rather strange.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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