ATHENS - A.J. Turman knows this spring could prove critical to his Georgia future. It could end up the biggest chance he gets.
Turman plays tailback, which is proving to be the deepest position on the Georgia football team. Having enrolled as a freshman last year, he's sandwiched between two pairs of elite talents: Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall came a year before him, and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel arrive this fall.
And when there was a chance to showcase his talents last year, Turman couldn't. A preseason injury put him behind fellow freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas, who ended up with the carries when Gurley and Marshall were hurt.
This spring, Green has moved over to defense. Marshall is still limited as he returns from knee surgery. That means Turman is getting plenty of snaps in practice and will get a lot in Saturday's spring game.
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"I think I'm doing what I need to do," Turman said after Tuesday's practice. "I know it's an important spring for me. It's an important spring for anybody, actually. You've always gotta show people what you can do. And really for me, because I haven't been in the games yet, making the big plays. So I need to show what I can do. I believe the coaches know what I can do, but I've gotta do it consistently and show them."
Head coach Mark Richt said Turman has "improved a lot," crediting his work ethic, whether it be in practice, the weight room or the classroom.
"He's definitely grabbing everybody's attention with the effort he's made, and the improvement that he's making," Richt said. "So he's definitely making a good positive statement for himself."
Turman was credited with 22 yards on four rushes in last Saturday's scrimmage. By comparison Douglas (40 yards on 13 rushes) got a longer look, and Turman's stats were almost identical to walk-on Kyle Karempelis.
But the G-Day game is another opportunity for a player who has seemed to be battling uphill since his arrival.
Turman was the highest-rated off Georgia's tailback recruits last year. But during preseason practice he pulled his MCL muscle, and by the time he was healthy Douglas and Green had proven to be able backups.
"It was horrible timing," Turman said.
It was after the Tennessee game that it was clear he was going to redshirt. Turman traveled with the team to the game, but even with Gurley out and Marshall tearing his ACL, he didn't see the field.
Asked if that was the low point, Turman answered: "It was, but it also kind of wasn't. Because I get an extra year. I get another year of education, another year of football, really, just to get me better, and stronger. It was at first, it was hard, because everybody wants to go out and play, of course. Being recruited by everybody you just want to play immediately. But there's a lot of steps before you actually get to play."
Last year made Turman well aware of that. This year he's trying to carve a niche in the crowded backfield by using his combination of size (6 feet and 210 pounds) and athleticism.
"I like a lot of contact," Turman said. "I'm a contact back. I try to get yards after contact."
That sounds a lot like Douglas. What Turman hopes is that he can separate himself enough, get a chance in the fall, and then who knows. His window is still open for another week.