Georgia’s stable of running backs has the look of breaking out, but it’s yet to find the drive.
The Bulldogs' congested backfield is full of high school stars, but none have been consistent enough to take hold of the position.
There’s redshirt senior Caleb King, who has yet to break the 600-yard mark in a season. Junior Washaun Ealey has the moves and speed to be an elite back, but his off-the-field troubles have impeded his growth as a player.
As the hours dwindle before Saturday’s spring game, the Bulldogs are still waiting for someone to emerge.
What hasn’t helped is that Ealey, who was suspended from the team earlier this year after failing to report to a punishment run, has been slowed during the latter part of the spring by an ankle injury.
What does help is that it sounds like King is finally starting to buy into the program. King was suspended twice in 2010 for off-field issues and was academically ineligible to play in Georgia's 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
King was sickened by the fact that he not only couldn’t play in Georgia’s bowl game, but that he let his teammates down. He even envisioned 2010 being his last memory as a Georgia football player, thinking his chances with the Bulldogs were up.
But King was given another shot and insists his mind is clear and he’s motivated by his mistakes.
“It adds a ton [of motivation] because I’m trying to go out with a bang,” King said. “I have to work hard every day.”
His first trot out for spring practice was the first moment he realized this was his last chance to do something for the Bulldogs. He squandered away his first three seasons on the field and he’s not looking to repeat that or any of his other mistakes.
Before Ealey went down, King said the two had a healthy rivalry in practice. Both knew the criticism was pouring in about them and both made conscious efforts to erase those doubts this spring. When one fooled the defense, the other looked to embarrass it. When one broke a 20-yard touchdown, the other went for 30.
“We pretty much feed off each other,“ King said. “Every time he has a big play I’ll try to outdo him and I know he feels the same way.”
Running backs coach Bryan McClendon said he hasn’t seen a complete transformation from his backs, but mentally his guys looked more focused.
“You definitely see guys that have matured,” McClendon said. “You see guys that know they can’t take much of this stuff for granted.”
King and Ealey are looking to reinvent themselves on and off the field, but they are also looking to keep their spots. With the nation’s top running back prospect in Isaiah Crowell enrolling this summer, nothing is guaranteed for the two. Coach Mark Richt even said Crowell could compete for the No. 1 spot immediately.
That motivates King, but it doesn’t intimidate him. He’s excited for the young pup to get on campus so he can mentor him and help steer him away from the lifestyle King chose.
“I can teach him wrong from right and pretty much everything I did I can tell him not to do,” King said.
But King isn’t concerned about Crowell’s arrival just yet. He’s worked too hard to look over his shoulder at this point. King wants his game to improve and he wants his teammates to follow suit. So far, he thinks the cluster is on the right path.
“We don’t have a choice but to work hard,” King said. “We have to come out [and perform well] this season because all the hard work won’t be for no reason.”