Support for Crowell grows as he grows

ATHENS, Ga. -- Isaiah Crowell sprinted into the huddle.

(Months ago, that sprint would have been described as a slow jog -- at best.)

Once he reached the huddle, there was no prepping by Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Crowell knew his spot, knew what he was doing, and even knew what others were supposed to do.

Evolution of Crowell’s game and mindset was on display.

The next huddle, the same result.

The babying that Murray, other teammates and coaches had to do with Crowell last season had been eliminated. It was as if a new person had joined the Bulldogs.

The enigmatic rising sophomore running back that was criticized profusely for not being tough enough, having an attitude problem, and being immature, made an effort to change this spring. An up-and-down freshman year cast Crowell in a negative light, and he was out to refine his image.

“He definitely needed some growing up. He definitely needed to mature,” Murray said of Crowell. “He realized that, and I know he heard all the talk going around (about him). He took it personally.”

Added classmate Malcolm Mitchell: “When you look at him, you don’t just see, ‘OK, I just want to chill today.’ You see he’s going after something.”

Even after being named the SEC’s freshman of the year and ranking sixth in the league in rushing, Crowell had some pretty thick mud splattered on his season. Because of nagging injuries, he had stretches when he spent more time at the training table than on the field. He was suspended a game for violating team rules, and a source told ESPN.com that Crowell was suspended after failing a drug test.

He had an incident when he caused members of the media to wait hours for him after he missed a scheduled interview session, and he was booed by Georgia fans during the SEC title game.

According to teammates and coaches, that Crowell is gone. The new Crowell is focused. He said this spring that he wanted to win the Heisman Trophy, and his teammates can see that determination.

Murray said he saw it in how Crowell’s film sessions were longer and more detailed. He saw it in how Crowell took pre-practice stretching seriously. More importantly, he saw it in how Crowell understood his position this spring.

Murray said Crowell didn’t rely on his athleticism or his strength. He started using his brain. He started learning how to block, where to block, and whom to block. He focused on form and timing. He knew Georgia’s playbook this spring.

Crowell also learned how to deal with injuries. Nagging injuries crept up again this spring, but those around him all agreed Crowell toughened. He battled through the aches and pains.

“He’s absolutely making progress,” coach Mark Richt said.

One thing that should help Crowell this fall is the addition of more running backs. They not only pushed him in terms of competition, but they'll help take some pressure off him, Richt said. Crowell didn't exactly have that luxury last season, with Washaun Ealey and Caleb King not making it to fall practice.

Crowell was immediately supposed to be the guy, and instead of running with the second or third team, Crowell was promoted to starter.

Now, Richt has more confidence in the running backs around Crowell. True freshmen Keith Marshall, who enrolled early, and Todd Gurley are expected to play this fall, and veterans Ken Malcome and Richard Samuel had solid springs.

"It’s not going to be like a whole program is resting on Isaiah’s shoulders," Richt said.

Seeing those other running backs on the roster has made Crowell elevate his game, Murray said.

“He’s a special running back,” Murray said. “When he puts his mind to it, I really don’t see anyone better than him.

“When he has the ball in hands, it can turn into a big play at any minute.”

As for Crowell’s heart, well, Mitchell doesn't see any issue with it.

“He’s never been one to sit out of a game,” Mitchell said. “I highly doubt he did that. Just to sit out to sit out? Nah, I don’t think he would do that to the team, because he seems to care about us a lot.

“I know he’s not going to back down. If I took anyone to a fight, it’d definitely be him.”