Amid wave of injuries, UGA running backs focused on present day

ATHENS — With so many injured running backs, Georgia run-game coordinator/running backs coach Dell McGee isn’t looking ahead.

“We’re just really trying to win the moment right now and not worry about that outcome or looking forward,” McGee said. “We’re going to be where our feet are and just concentrate on our day to day.”

Key returner Kendall Milton, a senior who was expected to take a much larger role in the offense this season, is battling a hamstring injury. Sophomore Branson Robinson hurt his foot in the spring. Redshirt freshman Andrew Paul is recovering from ACL surgery a year ago.

Of the eight running backs on Georgia’s roster, there are only two healthy scholarship running backs. Senior Daijun Edwards returns after running for 797 yards last season. The other is Roderick Robinson, who has impressed — but he’s a freshman.

There’s a new play-caller in offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, but the offense will be comparable to previous seasons. Like the past few years, the Bulldogs would share carries among the backs and ride the hot hand. In 2022, Kenny McIntosh (now with the Seattle Seahawks) and Edwards had a near even split of carries. In 2021, Zamir White had the bulk, but James Cook had similar numbers.

However, McGee wouldn’t compare this group at this point in camp with the two championship teams that came before.

“We’re still a work in progress right now,” McGee said.

The program has a history of producing great running backs, from Herschel Walker to Nick Chubb to D’Andre Swift. This year’s group is weaker than Georgia is traditionally known for, and coach Kirby Smart knows it.

“I don’t know that we have a superstar in the group,” Smart said last week.

Edwards is the top returner, but his biggest strength is his durability. He had a mild hamstring injury during the spring, but generally has stayed healthy through three seasons. However, he’s not a threat as a receiving target the way McIntosh was.

Milton flashed potential in his first three seasons as a Bulldog, giving hope that he could be the lead back. However, each season was derailed by injuries. This season’s hamstring injury, coming two weeks into camp, is just the latest.

“He’s dealt with injuries, so keeping his spirit up is not very hard,” McGee said. “He understands it’s a physical game, just like we all do. Injuries are going to occur. And the biggest thing for Kendall is he remains a leader for us, and he’s a leader in that (running backs group).”

The injuries have created opportunities for two Bulldogs walk-ons. McGee praised sophomore Cash Jones and senior Sevaughn Clark, who both ran for 44 yards last season. Jones has stood out as a receiver out of the backfield.

Roderick Robinson also has impressed, despite being only months removed from high school football. He led the Bulldogs in carries at the annual G-Day spring scrimmage, and McGee said that the preseason camp practices are “probably the hardest thing he’s had to do.”

However, given the difficulty of Georgia’s offense for backs, McGee sees him as one for the future.

“It’s basically like you’ve got a flower that you’re planting, it still needs fertilizing,” McGee said. “He has a lot of room to grow. We’re still cultivating Rod.”

McGee praised the injured backs for what they’ve done in their time out. Milton has stood out as a leader, while Paul has worked hard to return from his ACL injury.

The injuries will mean there’s some bumps for Georgia’s running back group. Some players have larger roles than they typically would have if everyone was healthy, and that could extend into the season. McGee is confident he has the right players and is focused on making sure there’s no drop-off from one back to the next.

“It’s my job to prepare whoever’s available, whoever’s healthy, to win at a high level,” McGee said. “We’re just really, really concentrating on each day, each moment, winning those small moments without looking into the future, looking at future outcomes. It’s basically how do I get better, daily.”