ATHENS – Because UGA’s sports information department is one of the best in the country, the football media guide is very good, doing little things that reveal a lot. Such as the most rushing yards by Georgia players by year:
- Freshman: Herschel Walker (1,616), Nick Chubb (1,547), Todd Gurley (1,385), Knowshon Moreno (1,334).
- Sophomores: Herschel Walker (1,891), Knowshon Moreno (1,400), Sony Michel (1,161), Todd Gurley (989).
- Juniors: Herschel Walker (1,752), Garrison Hearst (1,547), Musa Smith (1,324), Tim Worley (1,216).
- Seniors: Willie McClendon (1,312), Lars Tate (1,016), Robert Edwards (908), Frank Sinkwich (795).
So … which of these is not like the others?
The numbers for senior running backs are quite starkly different, for the simple reason that great running backs don’t tend to stick around for their senior seasons. Which was why this reporter’s first question to Chubb on the day of his announcement was not a question but a statement: “Well, I’m shocked.”
Chubb would then stand a chance to have a very special season, and still could. The only problem is Michel came back too, providing Georgia’s coaches one of those great problems to have, sharing carries about two great tailbacks – and three more good ones (sophomores Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield and freshman D’Andre Swift.)
Sometimes these issues solve themselves. You hate to mention injuries, but obviously they happen at tailback. And then sometimes there are other, ahem, issues. But Chubb and Michel have shown no indications of being anything other than stellar young men. (One of the younger tailbacks, unfortunately, did run into that problem this offseason.)
And now the penultimate, and talent-rich, area for our post-spring depth chart analysis:
- Returning starters: Nick Chubb, Sr.; Sony Michel, Sr.
- Notable reserves: Brian Herrien, Soph.; Elijah Holyfield, Soph.
- On the way: D’Andre Swift, Fr.
- Analysis: OK, Michel technically only started two games last year, but c’mon. If the two can both stay healthy they’re both going to get a lot of touches. Michel will be used more as a receiver – while he did catch 22 passes last year, he only averaged 6.8 yards per catch, a number that can be increased with more creative plays. In fact, Michel and Herrien were both being practiced out of the slot during spring practice, a sign that the staff also thinks they have something in Herrien. As for Holyfield, don’t count him out yet, though his marijuana arrest doesn’t help. Swift, meanwhile, would normally arrive as a prized recruit ready to play right away, but his impact may be minimal at first, or at least limited to special teams.
- Prediction: Assuming everybody stays healthy – a risky assumption but one we must make – then we predict Chubb sets the program record for rushing yards by a senior, and reaching nearly 1,600 rushing yards. Michel also breaks the 1,000-yard rushing mark, while reaching nearly 500 receiving yards. Herrien ends up around 500 yards. Does this speak to some great optimism about the offense? Perhaps, but Chubb still managed 1,130 rushing yards and Michel managed 840 in a very down year for the offense and the offensive line. Even a slight improvement can lead to big numbers for the talented duo.
- Returning starter: Christian Payne, Sr.
- Notable reserves: Nick Moore, Jr.; Turner Fortin, Soph.
- On the way: None (on scholarship at least.)
- Analysis: Payne and every fullback is a walk-on, though Payne’s status could be under review if scholarships become available. Payne started six games last year and played in every game, and has proved himself a dependable blocker and an occasional weapon in the passing game: He has 12 catches for 119 yards over the past two seasons. Payne is one of the more underappreciated members of the offense, and further evidence that you don’t need to give scholarships in order to find an effective fullback.
- Bottom line: Payne remains the first-team fullback, but keep an eye on Moore, the former Boston Red Sox prospect, who played in four games last year.
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