If you sampled preseason previews of the 2010 Georgia football team, most would contain a sentence like this: "Georgia hopes its talented tailbacks and experienced line can take the pressure off an inexperienced quarterback." This was, after all, the team of "we run this state" and Phil Steele’s top-rated offensive line.
It’s not really worth debating the severity of Caleb King’s suspension, but the midseason two-game suspension of Georgia’s starting tailback only underscores the reversal that’s taken place with Georgia’s identity on offense. The offensive line has had to go back to the drawing board, and the tailback position has suddenly become very thin. King is suspended, Thomas is injured, Dontavious Jackson was dismissed, and Ealey has ball security issues.
Meanwhile, the return of A.J. Green has served to highlight the rapid development of freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray accounted for four of Georgia’s five touchdowns against Tennessee last week, and the Bulldog offense showed signed of life spreading the field, getting Murray into space, and distributing the ball to a diverse set of receiving options.
You still have to be able to run the ball in the SEC, so King’s suspension and the depth issues at tailback are still significant. They’re just much less of a concern than they would have been two months ago. The role of the tailback in the offense has changed – out of necessity, of course. Georgia’s tailbacks combined for around 90 yards against Tennessee. There were some key carries and first downs from the position, and the Dawgs are going to at least need one guy like Ealey to make those runs. But he doesn’t have to carry the ball 30 times for Georgia to be successful.
The immediate question now is whether Ken Malcome’s redshirt should be burned. For the time being, he and Ealey are the only available tailbacks. The Bulldogs are also looking at occasionally using a fullback like Fred Munzenmaier. Malcome was a tough power back in high school, but the concern is this: so much of the offense now depends on Murray and the passing game, and Malcome has admitted for a while that pass blocking is a real weakness of his game. If he’s still a liability in protection, he’d have to be used sparingly in order to limit Murray’s exposure.
If I had to take a guess, I’d say that Malcome’s redshirt stays on. He has to be ready to go in, but I expect Georgia to see how far they can go against Vanderbilt with Ealey and Munzenmaier. The state of Thomas’s hamstring in a week will determine whether we revisit this question before the trip to Kentucky.
One more thing…this doesn’t have to be a permanent transformation. If Sturdivant continues to come along and Gates gains experience with the starting group, there’s still hope for the line to improve in its run blocking. More strong performances by Murray and the passing game should loosen things up around the line of scrimmage. We know that King and Ealey can be an effective tandem. Georgia doesn’t have to bail on the running game for the rest of the year, but for the time being they can at least start to lean on the passing game during these lean times at the tailback position.