Keith Marshall, just three months removed from high school in Raleigh, N.C., went through his first drills as a Bulldog on a day the competition at the position was reduced by one.
That’s because Carlton Thomas is transferring for his senior season. He informed coach Mark Richt of his decision on Tuesday morning.
Isaiah Crowell, the SEC’s No. 2 returning rusher with 850 yards, was the first-team tailback on Tuesday. He set a goal to be a good teammate this year and then offered this: “I’m trying to run for the Heisman.”
Crowell laughed and flashed a big smile with the revelation. Asked how realistic that is, he said: “Real realistic.”
Crowell said an MRI revealed he played with torn ligaments in his left ankle last season that did not require surgery. He said he did not run for six weeks of winter workouts due to the injury but is now pain-free.
The 5-foot-11 Crowell, who says he’s up five pounds to 220, was followed by senior Richard Samuel, sophomore Ken Malcome and Marshall in the first day pecking order. Georgia also has Brandon Harton and will add freshman Todd Gurley this summer.
“We do have a good bunch of backs right now,” Richt said. “There’s a really fine talent base. … We’ll see how well we block up front and how well they do the little things like secure the ball and pass protect. We certainly have some guys to work with.”
Malcome, who briefly quit the team last season, said his day went well, saying, “They told me I looked pretty good.” Practice may have seemed easy compared to the winter conditioning mat drills, which he called “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in sports.” Malcome said he sustained a separated left shoulder and concussion in the Bulldogs’ Outback Bowl loss.
Georgia had four different players lead the team in rushing during a six-game stretch last year.
Suspensions and injuries brought a soap opera element to it, but the hope is that Marshall, rated by some as the top tailback recruit in the nation and the recipient of a scholar-athlete award this winter, will bring more stability to the position.
Marshall shows form
The 5-foot-11, 194-pounder looked very quick, Richt said. “He seems to have good running instincts.”
Malcome said he had to tell Marshall a couple of times to run with his pads lower, but “for now, what I see, he’s the fastest running back, the most elusive and quickest.”
Crowell is welcoming Marshall to the fold.
“We need more than two running backs,” Crowell said. “I think we need like three or four because you never know what’s going to happen during the season. … Keith’s going to come in and help us a lot. I think it’s going to be a good backfield.”
Thomas was suspended three separate times last season but still finished second on the team in rushing with 361 yards and two touchdowns.
The 5-foot-7, 163-pound Thomas would have faced a fight for playing time in the fall.
Richt said Thomas made his decision during spring break last week.
“This decision was based solely on the fact that this is my last year to play, and my parents and I felt like it was the right move to make,” Thomas said in a statement. “I want to make more of an impact on the field. I didn’t want to disrupt Georgia’s team and preparation for next season so I made the final decision to leave earlier rather than later in the year.”
Thomas played in 27 career games. He rushed for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
“He came to me and said he had discussions with his family,” Richt said. “I think he summed it up pretty nicely of what his intentions are to move on to try to find a place where he thinks he’ll get more playing time. We do wish him well.”
Playing time shouldn’t be an issue for Crowell if he stays healthy and continues his off-field progress after two suspensions last season. He said he’s heard from teammates he’s done well meeting his responsibilities this offseason, and he wants to his teammates to be able to trust him.
Richt said he’s seen improvement, but that Crowell still has a ways to go.
“I’m going to keep giving it my all,” Crowell said.