Sports

No Chubb, no Michel, no worries for Bulldogs

There seems to be some confusion about the University of Georgia’s greater mission.

“We are OLB University,” Bulldogs OLB (outside linebacker) D’Andre Walker said.

“Georgia is known as RBU (Running Back U),” said Elijah Holyfield, who is, oddly enough, a Bulldogs running back.

Some may point to the university’s reputation in the arts, letters and sciences as being important, too. While that brainy stuff does have its place in college, it’s not going to help you beat Auburn in November.  

Producing ballcarriers is, of course, one of Georgia’s greatest claims to fame. Once more – as in June 1997 in Las Vegas against Mike Tyson – a Holyfield wins this dispute. And nobody loses an ear.

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So, it is with some confidence that the Bulldogs approach another season knowing that somebody is going to step up and effectively carry the mail. They may have lost Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the first 35 picks of the latest NFL draft. But no matter. Like Frito-Lay with corn chips, Georgia will make more running backs.

The Bulldogs’ backfield has suffered the trauma of saying goodbye – Chubb and Michel combined for nearly 2,600 rushing yards a year ago, accounting for 66 percent of the team’s rushing yardage and 57 percent of the carries. It has felt the sting of injury – just last week highly touted Zamir White suffered a second knee injury. Other programs may have buckled beneath all that. And yet, there is remarkable little concern around this one that the running game, so important to a fundamentalist like Kirby Smart, might falter.

Why, former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, now an analyst for the CBS Sports Network, dared to go on air recently and say the Dogs may even be improved in that facet this season.

Having an experienced, mountainous offensive line helps inflate such expectations. “They open big holes, so I love them,” Holyfield said during a Tuesday evening post-practice interview session. “They’re super big. They cover people up. So, it’s a running back’s dream, you don’t see anything but your guys’ backs.”

Having a bunch of highly recruited runners in reserve is even more encouraging.

Awaiting a new season’s opening next week is the usual assortment of skill. There’s one back in particular, D’Andre Swift, whose very name seems to have been forged for the job.

In flashes last season, which is just the way of such speed, Swift advertised himself. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry. He broke a memorable 64-yard dash against Auburn in the SEC title game. He was a dependable target for Jake Fromm (17 receptions, 153 yards). His orders for 2018: More of that.

Swift is anxious to comply. “It’s great,” the sophomore said of the opportunity. “I’ve got to show a lot of people. There’s kind of a little bit of hype behind me, so I need to show a lot of people what I can really do. I believe I’ll do that.”

“We saw (Swift) last year. This kid, he’s something special,” Murray reported.

A junior, Holyfield, son of Evander, the former heavyweight champ, has been awaiting his breakout opportunity even longer. Not that he’s letting that dominate his thoughts.

“Our coach always says do less thinking and more working,” Holyfield said. “That’s something we try to do, just go to work. There is only one way to replace the type of great guys like (Chubb and Michel). And that’s to go to work.”

You take the shiftiness of Swift.

Add the prideful toughness of Holyfield – “I always like to live up to my name because Holyfield is a special last name,” he said.

And there just might be something there in combination that a resourceful coach might work with. 

“Different type of backs in a great system – I believe we’re going to complement each other real well,” Swift said.

“Kind of like Nick and Sony.”

And there’s more. There’s always more.

“We’re so deep at the position. When I come out, when Elijah comes out, we’re not going to lose it at all,” Swift said.

For instance, there is all the intrigue surrounding freshman James Cook, whose brother Dalvin now carries a ball for the Minnesota Vikings. It is bound to make at least one eyebrow raise when you hear him likened by a teammate, in this case the linebacker Walker, to “Sony Michel, a lot – but a little bit faster.”

Thus, it is with an air of near certainty that Swift proclaims, “I think we’ll have a great year at running back.”

Because isn’t that how it always goes at Georgia?

About the Author

Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.

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