ESPN expert: Georgia RB Kendall Milton top SEC Offensive Breakout Player, DawgNation poll results agree

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Georgia running back Kendall Milton (2) during the Bulldogs’ practice session on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

ATHENS — Kirby Smart doesn’t play favorites when it comes to personnel decisions, but he also doesn’t look the other way in the face of strong performances.

That’s why it’s worth noting that Georgia sophomore tailback Kendall Milton has made a move this offseason, impressing in spring drills and again now in fall drills.

Milton, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from Fresno, Calif., said in his only UGA media interview since arriving on campus more than a year ago that he planned to “flip the script” after being slowed by injuries as a freshman.

Milton was at a huge disadvantage for playing time when spring drills were canceled. It set back his learning curve, and then he had a hamstring injury in fall camp. Later, in the season, Milton sprained his knee against Florida.

Despite impressive highlight runs against Auburn and Tennessee, Milton finished as the only scholarship running back not to score a touchdown last season, the Bulldogs relying almost exclusively on veteran Zamir White for runs inside the 10-yard line.

“One thing I’ve kept in mind, everybody has their time,” Milton said when asked about not scoring a TD last season. “God has the time for everything to happen. When it’s my time to cross that end zone, then it’s my time.”

Georgia fans have made it clear they are ready for that time to be sooner than later in two offseason polls — one in February, and one taken again recently.

“We’ve had just as many, what I call, ‘8-7-8’ nine-yard runs, but we haven’t had the explosiveness that we’ve had in the past,” Smart said. “Most people would point to shear speed at the backs, but that’s not the case with our guys. They’re just as fast now as they were when we had the other guys, we haven’t been as explosive.

“A lot of that is breaking tackles at the second level and being able to block down fields and get the second hit.”

James Cook, it’s worth noting, has proven even more dangerous as a receiver and the Bulldogs have often played to his strengths.

RELATED: James Cook on front burner for Clemson opener

Kenny McIntosh, meanwhile, was second in the nation in kick returns when he suffered a sprained knee and figures to continue in that role this season.

Most everyone knew the running back competition would be intense when White and Cook elected to return for another season rather than turn pro, and Milton, McIntosh and Daijun Edwards stayed firm in their commitment to seek greatness in the Georgia backfield.

Indeed, most of the underclassmen in the running backs room had expected White to turn pro after having a full season as the feature back.

Running backs coach Dell McGee indicated in spring drills the competition would be wide-open, putting his upperclassmen on notice that seniority would not play a factor in his decisions.

RELATED: Dell McGee says backfield has ‘constant battle’ in RB competition

The competition has remained intense on the field, even as the running backs have all maintained strong relationships, growing even closer as friends.

RELATED: Georgia RB competition off and running, McIntosh, Cook metrics strong

McIntosh rooms with White, but he does a weekly video podcast with Milton via their partnership with DawgNation.

Milton and McIntosh took time in their most recent episode of “KM Squared” to break down the running backs room and share how much they respect the attributes of one another.

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