Georgia's 3-4 offense: Ealey and King

ATHENS -– What he hasn't heard this month speaks volumes to Georgia tailback Caleb King.

"Going into last spring, the big question mark was about the running backs," King said. "This year, I haven't heard anything about ‘How will the running backs do?' So of course, that's a great compliment for me and Washaun [Ealey]."

Concerns about the tailback position hung over Georgia's football team for much of 2009, from Knowshon Moreno's January decision to leave for the NFL, through spring practice and preseason camp and well into the season.

By season's end, though, King and Ealey had answered. And so, while spring practice is consumed this year by questions about the quarterbacks and the remade defense, the Bulldogs are enjoying a quiet confidence about their tailback tandem.

"It's definitely comforting, especially since whoever's the quarterback, [he] is going to be the new guy," said Aaron Murray, who is competing for that job. "You're not really going to be thrown into the fire and  expected to complete every ball or throw 30-40 times a game [because] we have unbelievable running backs and an unbelievable offensive line."

The Dogs' assumption is that King and Ealey -– or Ealey and King -- will pick up where they left off last season as a 1-2 punch.

Or maybe they'll be known this year as the 3-4 punch.

Ealey has changed jersey numbers from 24, Moreno's old number, to 3, worn last season by senior safety Bryan Evans. Ealey wore No. 3 in high school and, as he put it, "did a lot of asking and a lot of aggravating of the coaches" to reclaim it this year.

King, meanwhile, continues to wear No. 4, giving the tailbacks consecutive numbers. So Georgia will have a 3-4 running game to go with its new 3-4 defense.

The impressive numbers, though, are the ones King and Ealey put up late last season.

Ealey averaged 95 rushing yards per game over the final seven games, while King averaged 88 over the final five. For the season, Ealey had 717 yards (5.74 per carry) despite missing the first four games while coaches considered redshirting him. King had 594 yards (5.21 per carry) despite missing three games with injuries. With "I Run This State" famously written under Ealey's eyes and on King's arms, the tailbacks punctuated their season with a combined 349 yards in a victory at Georgia Tech.

They proved to be so effective as a tandem that there has been little mention of who will emerge as the starter in 2010.

Does it even matter who starts?

Well, yes.

"Both of those guys are competing hard because, like at any position, there's going to be a guy who wants to start and wants to go first. And I think that's healthy," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

Said head coach Mark Richt: "I think Caleb and Washaun have a very good friendship, but I think they both want to be the starter and both want to prove they deserve the most carries."

King said, "Of course, both of us want to start," but added that the competition "will make both of us better backs in the end." He noted that last season proved there is ample role for both. Then he mentioned, not for the first time, the extreme notion that both of them could rush for 1,000 yards this year.

Georgia has never had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season and, in fact, has had only 12 seasons with one 1,000-yard rusher, five of those seasons accounted for by Herschel Walker (1980-81-82) and Moreno (2007-08).

But King is convinced that if both he and Ealey stay healthy and get heavy workloads, they have a "very realistic" shot at dual 1,000-yard seasons. "I will say," King said, "that if we play like we did in the Georgia Tech game, we'll accomplish that."

Actually, they'd accomplish it if each of them averages as many yards per game over a full season as they averaged in the final five games last season.

Ealey said he and King are "close, like brothers." Splitting snaps, Ealey said, "is pretty fine with me, as long as we're getting the job done. I just want to win games and hopefully win a national championship."

King, a former Gwinnett County high school star, will be a junior this fall, while Ealey, who set the state's touchdown record at Emanuel County Institute, will be a sophomore. By all accounts, both are building on last season's successes.

"Washaun is just a whole lot different than last year," Richt said. "He was a true freshman and wasn't in the greatest of shape in my opinion. Now he's in very good shape and knows a lot more what to do. He is ... practicing with a lot of tempo and confidence. And I think Caleb has responded very well to that also."