ATHENS -- J.J. Green might lack for height or recruiting hype. He does not lack for running ability or confidence.
This is how the freshman answered on Saturday night when asked if his 129-yard performance at Tennessee gave him confidence.
“No, I always knew I could do that,” Green said. “I’ve been doing that in practice.”
And he’ll continue to have chances to do that in games, in one of the surprises of Georgia’s young season.
When Green signed with Georgia eight months ago, playing tailback wasn’t even that much of a consideration. He played the position at Camden County, but his future was seen at other spots.
“When we signed him, we weren’t sure if it was gonna be corner or wide receiver, really,” head coach Mark Richt said. “We didn’t really think tailback.”
Green enrolled early, so he was around this spring, when Georgia found itself in a numbers crunch at tailback. There were only two scholarship tailbacks available after the transfer of Ken Malcome, and Keith Marshall missed the first week of practice with a hamstring injury. So Green moved there as basically a stopgap.
But he ended up doing so well the decision was made to keep him there, even with the more highly touted A.J. Turman enrolling in the summer, along with Brendan Douglas.
“If he wasn’t a mid-year enrollee I don’t even know if he’d be playing tailback right now,” Richt said. “We just didn’t’ have a lot of backs for the spring, and we wanted to see what he could do there. And he was actually pretty darn good at it in the spring, so we feel like he’s found a good home.”
Green is only 5-foot-8, and he looks even smaller when he’s running alongside big offensive linemen. But according to one of those linemen, guard Chris Burnette, that’s part of his strength.
“People can’t see him,” Burnette said, laughing. “I feel like he kind of disappears back there, and the next thing you know he’s into the second level. I think he does a great job of reading blocks. He’s just a talented back.”
Green and Douglas emerged in the preseason as sort of co-No. 3 tailbacks, behind Todd Gurley and Marshall. Green was the speed option and Douglas the short-yardage, between-the-tackles specialist. Turman was set back by preseason injuries, and it’s not even certain yet whether he’ll redshirt this year.
Meanwhile, Green only had one carry in each of Georgia’s first two games, but he uncorked a 39-yard run in the third game, against North Texas. When Gurley sprained his ankle against LSU, Marshall took over the main role, but Green had an 18-yard rush (on his only carry) to basically put the game away.
Marshall then suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter against Tennessee, and with Gurley still out with the ankle sprain, it was basically Green’s show. He carried it 17 times, showing not only that he could be a workhorse, but that he could also do it between the tackles.
Green might sound brash talking about how he adjusted so quickly to tailback at the college level. He did rush for 919 yards as a senior at Camden County.
“I just practiced there and learned the plays from there, and the rest is history,” Green said.
But the former three-star recruit is honest about having to prepare to suddenly be the starter.
“Yeah, they’ll tell you about it. You don’t ever think about it,” he said, smiling. “(The coaches tell you) ‘You’re one play away.’ ‘Coach, c’mon man.’ And then it happens, and ‘Oh, it really is one play away,’ so you’ve gotta go in and do what you did in practice the whole time.”