Kendall Milton reminds all that Georgia is still ‘Running Back U’

ATHENS – We interrupt all this Georgia football talk about “vertical passing games” to bring you this friendly reminder: The Bulldogs still have some pretty good running backs, and they aim to use them.

Case in point: Kendall Milton.

Technically, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound sophomore from Clovis, Calif., is Georgia’s third-string running back. But no single player has created more buzz than Milton throughout the Bulldogs’ spring camp, which is quickly moving toward completion. Georgia conducted its 13th of 15 practices Tuesday afternoon.

No. 15 will take place Saturday in the form of the annual G-Day game at Sanford Stadium. Being an intrasquad scrimmage featuring Bulldogs on offense and defense, it’s not likely you’ll see a lot of Milton or any of the other backs pounding into the opposing defense Saturday. But while Georgia’s overall offensive initiative may have shifted some, RBU is still going to feed its RBs this fall.

Milton, for one, is sure of that.

“This is Georgia; this is RBU. So, I feel like the run game is always going to play a part in the offense,” Milton said in a post-practice Zoom call Tuesday. “But we’re an offense that has a lot of weapons all over the field. With all those weapons, everybody wants to get the ball. So, you’ve got to make the scheme basically where it fits everybody.”

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That considerable task will fall on the shoulders of second-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken. And it’s certainly a challenge he’s more than happy to tackle. Coordinators like nothing more than options, especially when the two between pass and run both seem like good ones.

Coach Kirby Smart said Saturday, perhaps for the first time in his career, that a primary goal for Georgia’s offense this year was to be able to “attack vertically.” Of course, that’s been the goal in football since creation of the forward pass.

But with second-year quarterback JT Daniels and a strong receiving corps on hand, It is an obvious area of improvement to do it more often and with more consistency.

That said, Georgia has continued to recruit strongly in the backfield. Between Zamir White and James Cook choosing to return for another season and the rapid development of Milton, Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards behind them, they’re not likely to become afterthoughts in the Bulldogs’ weekly strategy sessions.

Nobody knows this better than junior linebacker Nakobe Dean, who often has been tasked with tackling those guys in Georgia’s practices.

“Our running back (meeting) room is crazy,” said Dean, who is a non-contact participant this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery. “To have that collection of guys with that much talent, you don’t ever know which one’s coming in. It’s just crazy how much talent and ability they have in that room.”

Heading into his junior season, White remains the alpha dog among the running backs. He had 144 carries last season, which was more than three times the rushing attempts of any other back. It was four times more than Milton, who had only 35 carries as a freshman while missing some time with a non-surgical knee injury.

With the exception of Cook’s 6.7 yards, all the others averaged between 5.3 and 5.9 yards a carry.

Milton averaged 5.5 and was the only back not to score last season.

This spring, Georgia has been understandably protective of White and Cook in practice. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs lost McIntosh to a dislocated elbow on the first day of contact this spring. That left Milton and Edwards to get most of the live totes for the first-team offense. But Georgia has been cautious with them as well.

As a result, the Bulldogs’ defenders have gotten a heavy dose of Kurt Knisely and Anthony Summey this spring. Georgia fans are likely to see a lot of the two walk-ons during G-Day as well.

“We’ve been a little dinged up there,” Smart said of the backs Saturday. “Kenny’s out, and we’ve had other guys out. We’re trying to get all those guys back healthy. So, it’s been tough.”

There won’t be such caution next season. The toughest part will be deciding which of the five backs deserves the most touches. Milton has been doing his best to convince Monken and run-game coordinator Dell McGee that’s him.

“I’m trying to work on my pass-pro (protection) and being able to work in the passing the game with routes and everything,” Milton said about areas of emphasis for him. “I feel like those were the two biggest things I need to improve on going into next season. With the help of coach McGee and everybody in that room, I feel like everything is slowing down for me.”

That’s the other thing about this group. According to McIntosh and others who have watched them, there are no professional jealousies or competitive rivalries. They all came to Georgia because they know the load will be distributed and eventually they’ll all get their chance to shine.

“We understand the talent that’s in the room; we understand the skill that we have at running back,” Milton said. “We really just all try to better ourselves and make the room compete more every day. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal, the same dream, as a team. So we just push each other every day and keep chopping until we get that goal.”

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