Hopes running high at Georgia, aka Running Back U (sorry ESPN)

Georgia Bulldogs back D'Andre Swift runs away from Auburn on his way to the endzone last season. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)
Georgia Bulldogs back D'Andre Swift runs away from Auburn on his way to the endzone last season. (BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Lists make up the high-fructose corn syrup of sports stories. So many empty calories live in these arbitrary collections of bests and worsts of whatever, meant to spark discussion among all those with little else better to talk about. We can’t get enough of such piffle.

A recent example of the hollowness of the list story is an ESPN work labeled “Position U,” where the all-powerful authority would rank which college football programs turned out the best players at each position. It was a modern reckoning, dating only to 1998, the beginning of the BCS/playoff era.

Georgia – where since the late 1990s such players as Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Knowshon Moreno have toted the rock – likes to think of itself as Running Back U. Yet, Georgia did not make the top 10 of best running back schools, according to ESPN, whose own ranking among trusted sports sources just dropped.

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You don’t omit the Oreo from a list of 10 best cookies or “The Godfather” from any compilation of 10 best movies. And you don’t shun the Bulldogs on the subject of running the football.

Oregon made the list. Arkansas made the list. Pittsburgh made the list. But Georgia didn’t.

Thus, another waste of time and another bit of unneeded eye strain. But, ESPN made me look, so it worked. I feel so cheap and used.

This is a long way of getting around to the point that as Georgia opened its “fall” camp Friday, one of the intriguing themes lives in the backfield. As it always should in Athens, where runners are as treasured as any dollar-beer night.

As the Bulldogs performed one of their rigid media sessions in advance of the first practice of camp, a certain incendiary word kept popping up.

“Any time I get the ball in space I want to make an explosive play.” – running back D’Andre Swift.

On the chances of sophomore running back James Cook turning potential into production, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said, “He’s explosive. He’s just got to learn the offense to the point he can line up at all positions.”

On the current class of running backs behind him, quarterback Jake Fromm continued the refrain: “They bring explosiveness. You have guys you can get the ball to three yards in the backfield, and they can take it to the house. Anytime we can have guys like that in our arsenal of offense, it’s incredible. Really fun to play with.”

UGA star running back discusses his health and more during media day in Athens Friday. (Video by Chip Towers)

Think of the possibilities back there.

If Swift, a Heisman Trophy possibility some would say, stays healthy, the Bulldogs are going to wear him out both as runner and receiver (last year he accounted for 1,346 combined yards and 13 touchdowns). There is much chatter about how new offensive coordinator James Coley is going to more greatly involve the backs in the passing game.

Dealing with groin and ankle issues a year ago, Swift is talking all hale and hardy now.

“I feel the best that I’ve felt. It’s been one of the best offseasons I’ve had in the weight room, running-wise and conditioning, I’m ready for the season,” Swift said.

“I’m ready to accept the challenge, whatever my role is going to be, whatever workload the coaches throw at me.”

Cook may have in him the ability to turn any handoff into a violent ballet – if he can master all the other finer points of the position. The eyes tell you he should be capable of running away from any defense.

A senior, Brian Herrien, the team’s third-leading rusher last season (295 yards on 50 carries), is too dependable. He gets taken for granted.

And don’t forget possibly the best story of them all to come out of the backfield, the hopeful return of Zamir White. Returning from a second ACL surgery, White has been cleared to give it another try. He has been a star of the rehab video. Now he’ll try to get himself onto some game film.

“Everybody should be real excited for him to go out there and see what he can do,” Swift said of White. “I was just talking to him, he was so happy to be playing football again. He’s a real self-motivated young man.”

It is never a bad idea to begin any Georgia camp focusing on the running backs. And it is always a mistake to under-rate them.

If it is any consolation, the same ESPN article ranked Georgia No. 1 as Linebacker U. But, then, how do you trust that now?

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