ATHENS — Mark Richt isn’t ready to predict the winner of Georgia’s tailback competition. He won’t even predict that one winner will emerge in the effort to replace first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno.
Georgia fans, brace for a tailback-by-committee approach.
"We are going to find out who is the best back, if there is such a thing," the Georgia coach said this week. "We might have a situation where two or three are the best backs. I doubt one man will get every carry. More than likely it will be by committee."
Moreno, who signed with the Denver Broncos on Friday, will not be easy to replace. Along with Herschel Walker, Moreno became the only other Georgia player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons when he went for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.
Caleb King, who entered preseason practice as the No. 1 tailback, was a distant second with only 247 yards rushing and one touchdown.
King does not have a lock on the starting job, but he said just being No. 1 on the depth chart motivated him to work harder in the summer.
"Of course it’s a good feeling," King said Thursday. "Anybody dreams of being a starting player at a top program like Georgia. I’m not going to let it get to my head. I’m still trying to work just like I don’t have that (job) so I can be better at the end."
King, a sophomore, said he looked for extra ways to prepare.
"I helped my conditioning and my strength this summer," he said. "It’s not that I wasn’t happy with my conditioning, but you can always make it better. I did that by doing extra sprints at the end of conditioning or just going into the weight room when no one is in there just to lift some extra weights."
King and freshman Carlton Thomas were the only healthy tailbacks in spring practice, but now the competition is more interesting with the return of Richard Samuel, Dontavius Jackson and Kalvin Daniels from injuries.
A newcomer to watch is freshman Washaun Ealey of Emanuel County Institute, who set Georgia high school records for touchdowns in a season (58 in 2007) and career (133).
Ealey may be part of the tailback committee. He has been assigned Moreno’s No. 24.
"I like how Washaun looks," Richt said. "He’s a good-looking player, he runs with a great center of gravity and he looks like he isn’t going to get knocked off his feet very easily."
Ealey (5-11, 205) also has impressed King.
"He is picking up the offense faster than I thought he would," King said. "He’s looking real good. He’s not really making any freshman mistakes."
Richt was not reluctant to allow Moreno to emerge as the dominant back the last two seasons, but he said he’s also not worried about have three or more backs share the carries.
Three tailbacks — Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin — shared playing time on Georgia’s 2005 Southeastern Conference championship team. None of the three rushed for 1,000 yards, but Georgia’s total of 2,108 yards rushing was better than last year’s total of 1,928, even with Moreno’s seven 100-yard games.
One back? Two or more backs? Richt says he’s just interested in team success.
"If a guy is so good that no one can tackle him, yeah I like those kind of guys," Richt said with a smile. "But I do like having more than one guy to carry the load. It does keep them fresher, keep them healthier. The morale is usually better.
"I think for us it’s more of a philosophy. We’re going to run the football and we’re going to run it a certain way. Whoever is in there needs to perform well. If three guys getting 10 reps is better than one guy getting 25 and another guy getting five, then that’s how we’ll do it."
Richt said after spring practice the tailback position was "wide open." He said recently some may have wrongly assumed that comment meant he was not happy with King.
"That’s not true at all," Richt said. "I’m very pleased with Caleb’s progress. Caleb has become an outstanding pass protector. I think he understands the system better. I think he’s an outstanding runner. I think he’s done extremely well. He’s still a relatively young guy in his career. He’s certainly the No. 1 guy rolling into camp."