Todd Gurley has received countless accolades for gaining rushing yards in big chunks and deservedly so. But very few of those gains came without a fullback running interference for him, and that fullback was usually Merritt Hall.
“The only person who understands the relationship you have with the fullback is another running back,” Gurley said following Georgia’s morning practice on Wednesday. “That dude is right there in the room with you every day and making holes for you on the field.”
It won’t be Hall this season. Word slowly leaked out Wednesday that the junior from Alpharetta has been medically disqualified for his career after recently suffering yet another concussion. It was at least his third in his last two seasons with the Bulldogs and the latest one apparently was quite severe.
A 5-foot-11, 230-pound graduate of The Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners, Hall was working with the No. 1 offense going into Saturday’s scrimmage in Sanford Stadium. But that proved to be his last practice with the team. Hall has been sidelined the last three days with what until now had been an undisclosed injury.
Georgia coach Mark Richt has yet to confirm the news. He was supposed to brief reporters after Wednesday morning’s practice but got delayed on business away from the complex and postposed his media session until Thursday.
But several of UGA’s offensive players intimated after Wednesday’s practice that Hall would not be back this season. Finally, senior quarterback Hutson Mason just came right out and said it.
“Merritt told me he was medically DQ’d,” Mason said. “He said it wasn’t necessarily how many concussions he’s had; it was how he responded to the last concussion, the symptoms he was having. They kind of threw up a red flag about it.”
Asked how Hall was coping with it, Mason told reporters: “He was pretty upset about it. He said he wanted to stay involved as much as he could without having to coach,” Mason said, with a laugh. “You just feel bad for the kid. And you just realize how tough a position that is, you’re kind of just sacrificing your body and your head. Those concussions are so serious.”
Hall has not been available for comment, but he sent out the following tweet on his Twitter account:
A former walkon out of The Wesleyan School, Hall played in 25 games the last two seasons with seven starts. He finishes his career with nine yards rushing on three rushing attempts and 13 yards on two receptions. But his prvalue to the Bulldogs was as a devastating lead blocker.
“Merritt was the more consistent blocker,” said junior tight end Quayvon Hicks, who shared fullback duties with Hall last season. “Anything you asked him to do, that guy was going to make the play. Consistency beats talent or size any day. It’s about getting the job done and that’s what we’re really going to miss about Merritt not being out there. That’s my guy right there.”
Apparently there are no current plans to move Hicks back to fullback. He said he has continued to work full time at tight end and in a sort hybrid wingback role offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has developed in him.
“No I haven’t,” Hicks said of being asked to work again at fullbacks. “But I believe (running backs) Coach (Bryan) McClendon has a lot of trust in me at that position as far as knowing it. I’ve got the hang of it and if I’m needed at that position I’ll be ready.”
Georgia moved first-year freshman Detric Bing-Dukes from inside linebacker to fullback on Monday. But the No. 1 reps on Wednesday were falling to Taylor Maxey, a fifth-year senior walkon from Statham. He was followed by fellow walkons Christian Payne and Cameron Faulkner, then Bing-Dukes.
Maxey (5-10, 226 pounds) came to UGA from North Oconee High as a linebacker. To date his only game experience came on defense in the fourth quarter of the 2012 game against Georgia Southern. He moved to fullback last year.
“I’m getting more looks and I’m trying to take advantage of it,” Maxey said. “It’s a new feeling, nothing I’m used to. But OI’m really comfortable in the offense. I’ve been here and gotten reps the last couple of springs and last camp. So I know what I’m doing. I’m not looking around wide-eyed.”