ATHENS – Kirby Smart knew a lot about Sony Michel before he ever arrived at Georgia as the Bulldogs’ new head coach. As defensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Smart had to produce a scouting report on the tailback, then a backup to Nick Chubb.
“At the time he was used more as a specialty (player) out of the backfield, as a receiver out of the backfield. We didn’t get to actually see him. We played them early in the year. When I saw him he was more of a change-up pitcher to Nick. You had the thunder and you had Sony coming in there with quickness and lightning.”
Michel had only 10 touches last year against Alabama for a total of 53 yards as the eventual national champions rolled Georgia 38-10. But thanks to Chubb’s season-ending knee injury the very next week against Tennessee, Michel became both the thunder and the lightning for the Bulldogs.
And he made some noise. Michel was Georgia’s primary ball carrier and leading rusher in the eight games of the season. He finished with 1,161 yards rushing, the 11th best in single season in Bulldogs’ history.
“I know throughout the year he took on a much greater workload. He was able to handle that, which was a great blessing,” Smart said. “We’re hoping he’s up to the challenge again. Obviously, we want Nick back. We want every healthy back we can get. I do believe he grew as a runner because more was demanded of him.”
Michel, too, is proud of how he handled that transition last season. But he’s not resting on it. He’s too busy making more adjustments.
Michel might feel better if everything had remained status quo, but obviously it didn’t. Like everybody else on the offense, Michel is having to adjust to having all new coaches. And when you are the one central figure on that side of the ball who everybody is counting on to be productive out of the gate that comes with considerable responsibility.
So Michel is taking nothing for granted.
“Every day you’ve got to prove to the coaches what you’ve got,” Michel said. “You know, they’re new coaches. When you’re doing drills in the spring workouts, you see a coach, you try to show them what you’ve got and what you can do. You want to be able to meet the high standards of the team.”
Task number one is proving to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and running backs coach Dell McGee that he understands the new offense. Task two is helping bring along a group of young backs that hasn’t had nearly the experience he has. And, finally, Michel knows he has to stay in tip-top condition and keep himself healthy.
Including two kick returns, Michel had 247 touches for 1,465 yards and 11 TDs last season. Depending on the status of Chubb and his return from knee surgery, Michel hopes those numbers don’t go down significantly.
He’ll definitely get a lot of work this spring. Senior Brendan Douglas is being held out of contact as he recovers from wrist surgery and, with the recent news of A.J. Turman’s decision to leave the team and transfer, Michel and redshirt freshman Tae Crowder are the only scholarshipped tailbacks available for 11-on-11.
“(Spring is) very big for Tae,” Michel said. “It’s a chance for him to take somebody’s position. It’s big for me. It’s big for everybody, anybody who gets on the field. One guy can go down, God forbid, to injury. The next guy’s up. It could be an upperclassmen or an underclassman. So (spring) is big for everybody on this team. That’s why you’ve got to take every rep serious, every play serious.”
After what he experienced last season, Michel’s taking nothing for granted.