“I’m fast. I feel as a good as I ever felt at Georgia.” – Keith Marshall
A great quote, and timely. Except Marshall, whose sprinting ability was practically a national revelation on Friday, didn’t say that at the NFL combine.
He said it last August, before a season in which he turned out to be basically a non-factor on an offense that could have used him.
The news of Marshall’s super-fast 40 time – 4.29, fastest of the day – at the NFL combine lit up Twitter on Friday afternoon.
Even Adam Schefter tweeted it out. That came after Marshall on Thursday out-lifted Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, bench-pressing 225 pounds 25 times.
Which leads to the natural question: Uh, why didn’t Marshall play more last year?
It’s easy to second-guess the now-former staff, and it’s also fair. But it’s also a bit more complex than that.
The answer was easy prior over the first five games: Nick Chubb. The fact Marshall was only co-third string – behind Sony Michel, tied with Brendan Douglas – could be chalked up to Marshall trying to get comfortable after nearly two full seasons being hurt.
“These guys are killing it,” Marshall said before the Tennessee game. “So obviously we’re trying to win. I’m not gonna go talk to the coaches and say I want to get the ball more. Obviously I would like to play. But that’s everybody. So you’ve gotta focus on the team.”
But when Chubb went down, should Marshall have received more action? It’s not just that Douglas was getting in some games ahead of him – though Marshall finished the season with nearly twice as many carries, 68 to Douglas’ 36. It was that Michel, after Chubb’s injury, was close to a one-man show in a run-dominated, pass-deficient offense.
Imagine how much the offense might have opened up, and how much rested and better Michel would have been, had Marshall become a solid No. 2 back, the way he was behind Todd Gurley as a freshman. Imagine Marshall as a bigger part of the passing game, getting the ball in space. At least that’s how the thinking goes.
Last August, in Georgia’s first preseason practice, this is what I wrote after observing Marshall: “Keith Marshall also looked fine, running and cutting during drills, and is also absent a knee brace. He resembled the back he was before the knee injury – at least that’s the way he looks without pads.” Then Marshall looked pretty healthy in the season opener, rushing 10 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns.
Over the next seven games, Marshall averaged just 3.7 carries a game.
At that point – after the debacle of a loss to Florida – Mark Richt apparently realized it was a problem. Asked about Marshall’s lack of carries on his radio show, Richt told a caller: “I think you’re right, we need to get him the ball a little bit more than we have been.”
But then Marshall tweaked his ankle and knee in the next game, then sat out against Auburn. Eventually he did get more carries: In the bowl win, Marshall’s final game at Georgia, he had a season-high 14 carries for 62 yards. That was with John Lilly calling plays, so do we have yet another thing to blame on Brian Schottenheimer?
(Maybe the Indianapolis Colts can draft Marshall, so he can ask Schottenheimer in person every day.)
Schottenheimer, who faced criticism in St. Louis for not getting the ball to Tre Mason in space enough, had the same problem figuring that out last year with Marshall, as well as Isaiah McKenzie and other dynamic athletes.
But let’s not roll more dirt on Schottenheimer, Richt or the former staff just yet, at least not about this. Running very fast and lifting a lot of weight are one thing. A tailback’s vision to the hole and ability to keep his feet also matter.
It could just be that Marshall, after tearing his ACL in 2013, then re-injurying his ankle a year later, took this long to be back to his best.
Maybe we’ll get a better answer if Marshall gets a chance at the NFL. There’s an increasing chance that will happen.
— NFL (@NFL) February 26, 2016