I’d like to think that the departure of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey comes as a surprise, but it doesn’t.
Monday night, the school announced that the junior, who has two years of eligibility left, had been granted his conditional release to transfer to another school for next season.
"Washaun and I have had several conversations in recent weeks," coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "We both have come to the conclusion that a transfer to another institution would be in his best interest."
Letting go of Ealey the athlete wasn’t easy, but letting go of the person might have been another story.
Off-the-field issues have clouded the 1,528 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his two seasons at Georgia and have made his school-record five rushing touchdowns he had against Kentucky last season a mere afterthought.
Ealey was suspended for the 2010 season opener after he was arrested for driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident. In February, he was banned from offseason activities after failing to show up for disciplinary running.
Richt lifted the suspension less than three weeks later, but Ealey was almost a nonfactor during spring practice. A nagging hamstring kept him limited and he missed the spring game. Then, in late April, Richt called out Ealey at the Augusta Bulldog Club meeting.
“Washaun has a ways to go still to show me that he deserves to start or even play right now,” Richt said during the question-and-answer portion of the gathering. “He has a ways to go in my book. We’ll see. I love him, though.”
It looks like Ealey never escaped from Richt’s doghouse, and now he’s without a home at the University of Georgia.
Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for both sides is yet to be seen, but Ealey’s departure now leaves the Bulldogs in a bind at running back.
Even with Ealey (hardly) around this spring, Georgia didn’t exactly have the most intimidating stable of running backs. Senior Caleb King, who has dealt with his own discipline issues in the past, was solid during practices, but has yet to show that he’s ready to take over as the feature back in Georgia’s offense. In three seasons, King has 1,271 yards and 10 touchdowns, but has yet to break 600 yards in a season.
Redshirt sophomore Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome dealt with injuries this spring. Malcome returned for the spring game, scoring the game-winning, 12-yard touchdown and finishing with 39 yards rushing.
Still, none of the aforementioned players broke away from the pack. Each has the talent to be a factor in Georgia’s offense, but none have the skill set or game-changing ability that Ealey had.
But all is not lost. The Bulldogs have one more pup entering the stable this summer. Incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell, who was the nation’s No. 1 running back coming out of high school last fall, could immediately be handed the keys to Georgia’s offense.
He’s that good.
Richt made it clear after Crowell signed that he wouldn’t hesitate to put the ball in Crowell’s hands in the season opener against Boise State in September.
While that’s a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, especially at a position like running back, Crowell has the ability to be an impact player in Georgia’s offense once he steps on campus. He’s explosive out of the backfield, has deadly moves in space and has great vision.
As a senior, he rushed for 1,721 yards and 18 touchdowns on 147 carries.
With Ealey out of the mix, Georgia’s coaching staff will instantly accelerate Crowell’s development to get him ready to compete for the No. 1 spot. That’s a lot to put on a freshman, but if the Bulldogs want to compete for the East title, they have to find a running game.
At this point, Crowell could be their best option.