ATHENS, Ga. — The spotlight was on Georgia’s tailbacks during the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage of the preseason Wednesday, and sophomore Richard Samuel didn’t disappoint.
Samuel stole the show with a series of impressive runs, totaling 108 yards on five carries, two of which went for touchdowns, and adding another 70-yard reception for a score.
“He ran the ball well,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He definitely had more space to work with than any other back, but he broke some tackles also. He finished strong.”
Samuel saw minimal playing time in a backup role last season, flashing potential, but had trouble picking up extra yards downfield at times.
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Richt said Samuel benefited from big holes Wednesday, but a great deal of his production came on moves the sophomore made in the open field, including a few impressive maneuvers on a 63-yard touchdown dash.
Samuel had the majority of the carries with Georgia’s No. 1 offense, Richt said, while his primary competition for the starting tailback job, Caleb King, split time between the first- and second-team offense. King finished the day with just 18 yards on five carries.
Georgia’s other running backs produced mixed results, as well. Carlton Thomas tallied 60 yards on five carries, including a long run of 28 yards, while Dontavius Jackson ran four times and lost 6 yards. Freshman Washaun Ealey added just 13 yards on five carries, but Richt cautioned fans not to read too much into the final statistics.
“You can get a pretty good gauge of who ran with the No. 1 offensive line and who ran with the No. 2s,” he said.
Not all good news
As impressive as Samuel’s stats were, he still has fumble problems.
One of Samuel’s most impressive runs of the scrimmage came on third-down. He darted through the line of scrimmage for a first down. The play ended with Samuel coughing up the football, however, and that’s something Richt won’t tolerate in a starting tailback.
Richt said the fumble may have been the first of the preseason for Samuel, but, after the tailback struggled with the same problem as a freshman a year ago, it is an issue he needs to resolve quickly.
After Georgia’s coaches have a chance to break down the film from Wednesday’s scrimmage, Richt said he expects the depth chart at tailback to be reshuffled a bit, with two or three of the top performers to be moved to the front of the pack. Although Richt cautions that his evaluations won’t be all about the numbers.
“When we evaluate, we will put more on a scrimmage than we do on any other grading system,” Richt said. “This is as live as we can get, as real as we can get. So the scrimmages mean a lot, but we do understand when one guy’s got a lot of space and other guys don’t.”
While the new-look depth chart likely will be a hot topic among fans, Richt said he isn’t overly concerned with who has earned starting jobs yet. The bigger issue for him is finding enough depth so Georgia won’t have to worry about employing a back-up from time to time.
“I don’t particularly care who’s No. 1 (Wednesday) or (today),” Richt said. “I’m looking for guys that are ready to play. I’m not even looking for starters. I’m looking for guys that, if we put them in the game, they could function at winning football. That’s really and truly all I’m concerned about right now.”
Beyond tailback, the biggest position battle on the roster may be for the No. 2 quarterback job, which sophomore Logan Gray claims.
Gray was the top performer among Georgia’s backup quarterbacks Wednesday, completing 6-of-12 passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, going mostly against Georgia’s No. 2 defense. Gray has continued to impress, but Richt said the second spot on the depth chart is still an open competition.
“He’s done a nice job, and I would say he’s still a solid No. 2, but Aaron (Murray) has done some nice things,” Richt said.
Murray finished the scrimmage 5-of-16 for 52 yards and a touchdown, while fellow freshman Zach Mettenberger completed just 1-of-10 passing. Starting quarterback Joe Cox completed was 9-of-13 for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Injuries sidelined several starters, but Richt said none was serious. Aron White, Rennie Curran, Darius Dewberry, Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble sat out with sore hamstrings. Receiver Marlon Brown skipped the scrimmage with an injured finger, and Tavarres King watched from the sidelines with a minor back injury. King participated despite hamstring soreness, Richt said, while Ealey scrimmaged wearing a protective brace on his elbow.