No college football team will lose more production at running back heading into the 2018 season than Georgia which still will hardly lack for talent at the position.
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are making the transition to their pro careers.
D’Andre Swift looks like the next star at running back with highly regarded freshmen Zamir White and James Cook representing the next wave.
“I feel like I’m a talented back, too, just like those other guys,” junior Elijah Holyfield said. “I feel like I’ll be able to fit in just fine.”
The Bulldogs also can turn to junior Brian Herrien, who rushed for 265 yards and a touchdown last season, giving the Bulldogs a position room that again can go five deep at tailback.
“Our expectation is still to be very successful, be able to run the football and be very productive in pass protection and doing all the things to be successful as a winning program,” running backs coach Dell McGee said. “All of those guys will come in and compete and understand that the best players will play. Everything will be performance-based. There’s no favorites. As a coach, you have to sell that everyone has to help one another. There’s no big egos in our room. Buying into the sharing carries and understanding certain parts of the offense and how this person fits better kind of helps as well.”
Chubb had the fourth most rushing yards (4,769) among all active FBS players by the end of this past season and Michel (3,638) was 16th. They finished second and third on Georgia’s career rushing list.
Georgia has the luxury of turning to Swift, a sophomore who rushed for 618 yards and three touchdowns last season—including a rather memorable 64-yard fourth-quarter score in the SEC championship game—while averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
The Philadelphia native is listed as a 35/1 favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, the seventh best odds of a running back, according to Bovada.
“He’s everything you want,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said before the Rose Bowl. “You see the speed. You see the elusiveness. His ability to catch the football really jumps out at me. …They are going to try to get him on some matchups…They have a different style of offense they like when he’s in the game.”
Holyfield averaged nearly four carries a game, rushing for 293 yards and two touchdowns and could have a bigger role in 2018 with Chubb and Michel departed.
“I think I’m very prepared,” Holyfield said. “I feel like every back in our room is prepared to be a starting back at any time. They kind of molded us this way. If you follow those two guys lead, you’ll be OK.”
In the early signing period, Georgia landed the nation’s No. 1 rated running back by the 247Sports Composite in the 6-foot, 220-pound White, from Laurinburg, N.C., and the 5-11, 183-pound Cook, the nation’s No. 3 all-purpose back from Miami.
White underwent surgery for a torn ACL in late November. McGee said about a month later that White’s rehab was going well but wasn’t sure his availability for the start of the season.
“All he wants to do is compete and win and run the rock,” coach Kirby Smart said.
White is rehabbing under the supervision of Georgia’s doctors now since he enrolled in January.
“He’s going to be very eager,” McGee said. “He’s a very hard worker and he’s going to do everything he can to be on the field this upcoming season.”
Holyfield got the bulk of his playing time in the fourth quarter to help pound the ball in games the Bulldogs were finishing off. Now, he said, he sees himself “just becoming an all-around better everything. You’re never too good at one thing. We always work on different things all the time. D’Andre’s good at this thing and I’m good at this thing and Brian’s good at that thing.”
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said before coaching his final game at Alabama as defensive coordinator in the national title game: “If you watch, everybody talks about Nick and Sony and Swift. Brian Herrien’s a good back and Holyfield is a good back, too. You watch them at the end of the games and these guys are coming in and they’re extremely talented. But you don’t find many places in the country if any that have five good runners like they have. And they have done an excellent job of keeping them all happy, keeping them healthy and finding a way to get them all in the game at the same time.”
Holyfield’s sophomore season started a week late after serving a suspension in the opener for a misdemeanor marijuana arrest. He vows that won’t happen again.
“I learned that you never want to sit out another game that you could play,” he said. “I guarantee I won’t miss another one.”