March 14, 2009

Focus: Running backs

New running backs coach Bryan McClendon made one things abundantly clear during a recent interview with UGASports - the battle to succeed Knowshon Moreno as the top Dog in the Georgia backfield is wide open.

That means, although Richard Samuel and Dontavius Jackson won't be available for spring practice while they nurse their respective surgeries (wrist and knee), McClendon said he'll wait until all four of his scholarship backs are healthy before determining any sort of rotation for the fall.

"Everybody's going to get their chance," McClendon said. "Of course, Caleb (King) and Carlton (Thomas) will be getting most of the snaps, but once preseason rolls around all four will have an equal opportunity to prove themselves."

While true, Thomas said he's ready to take advantage of the early opportunity that he has.

"It really gives you something to look forward to," Thomas said. "Coming off a redshirt you're practicing just to get yourself better as a player. But now that you know your spot is dependant on how you play, it really gets you excited."

After all, Thomas added, an opportunity is really all competitors ever care to have.

"That's all you want, an even slate, an even opportunity to work for a job," he said. "If you work your best and don't get it, at least you know you tried your best. If you work your best and do get it it's the best feeling in the world."

King is already starting to put his best foot forward after what he admits was a disappointing ending to his 2008 campaign when his pass protection skills, or lack thereof, cost him valuable playing time.

Still, King finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 61 carries for 247 yards, followed by Samuel with 26 carries for 133 (5.1 yards per rush).

"I'm already doing whatever I can to show everyone I'm a much different player than what I showed last year," King said. "I can't wait to show everyone what I can really do."

Just more than a year ago, Thomas was the focus of recruiters from all over the country before deciding to sign with the Bulldogs, picking Georgia over a number of schools, including West Virginia.

Thomas thought he was a pretty big deal with so many schools vying for his attention, but he quickly learned when he arrived in Athens that the days of being the "Big man on campus" were gone.

"It sort of comes on you pretty quick and you figure out you've just got to work just like everybody else and basically just humble yourself," Thomas said. "You've got to be a man, take what's offered to you and just prepare for your opportunity because that's what is going to be presented to you. If you're going to redshirt, just make the best of it. That's what I did, so when it's your time you'll be ready to seize the opportunity."

Jackson, who was still feeling the effects of a wrist injury, suffered his first game as a senior in high school, agreed.

"Redshirting was the best thing for me because I know a lot more stuff than I do now," he said. "I was able to learn the system, get ahead of my academics and get a jump on playing this year."

Both Jackson and Thomas took advantage of bowl practices, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gave both players glowing reports for the effort each put in.

"Basically I just told myself f that if I'm going to be out here I'm going to try and make everyone else better and make myself better," Thomas said. "I just wanted to take advantage of the time I had. It just said its bowl time, next year it will be time to compete for a job, so why not start now?"

Fans will certainly notice a big physical difference in Thomas come fall.

When he arrived last June, Thomas said he only weighed 170 pounds. Now, at a muscular 180, Thomas said he's ready to make a contribution for the Bulldogs come fall.

"That year helped me a lot. At first coming out I really didn't see it. But after you sit down and talk with coaches, you talk about it and you listen to the stories about Knowshon and hear about his redshirt year, then you go out, you practice, you finally get it and just tell yourself 'Wow' I probably really needed that year," he said. "You start of looking at things from the bright side, how you needed that time in the classroom, you needed that time on the field."

Although it's still to be determined just how much action Thomas sees in the backfield for Georgia, he expects he will be able to make a quick impression on special teams.

"I feel I'll make an immediate impact on special teams returning kicks and punts," he said. "That's where I think I'll see my first action, after that, as far as getting in the backfield; it will be up to me just to work hard to earn more carries."

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