Natural progression in Georgia’s backfield would have Daijun Edwards, last year’s very capable and productive RB2, moving into the starter’s role and Kendall Milton scooting up right behind him. And that’s very likely the way the Bulldogs will line up to open camp.
But then Smart said not to count out Jones, a walk-on and third-year sophomore out of Brock, Texas.
“A guy who had a great offseason and put up really good numbers in the weight room is Cash,” Smart said. “Cash is maybe our fastest back. Pound for pound, he may be the strongest guy on the team. His unique ability is to catch the ball out of the backfield.”
That last sentence may be the most important one in Smart’s assessment of the running backs. The Bulldogs aren’t wont for good runners of the football. It’s backfield catchers of the football where there might be some concerns.
That was the area in which McIntosh really distinguished himself his last two seasons at Georgia, and especially last year. And it’s the trait that most separated McIntosh and Edwards.
When judged simply on run production, the Bulldogs’ top two backs were virtually indistinguishable. They both averaged 5.5 yards per carry, with McIntosh carrying the ball 150 times and Edwards 140. That’s a difference of just 0.7 rushing attempts per game over the course of 15 games.
But when it came to catching the ball out of the backfield, McIntosh had no peers on the team. He caught 43 passes for 504 yards and two touchdowns. That ranked third overall among the Bulldogs’ pass-catchers. Edwards had 14 receptions for 101 yards and Milton five for 64 with an 18-yard touchdown against Oregon.
If Georgia wants to continue to exploit defenses with passes out of the backfield, somebody needs to step it up.
Of course, if there is one area on the team the Bulldogs almost always are going to have plenty of options, it’s at running back. That’s the case this year, as well, thought injuries have impacted Georgia’s depth.
Sophomore Branson Robinson (foot) and redshirt freshman Andrew Paul (ACL) are both running and working on the side, but are not yet cleared for full participation. That leaves freshman Roderick Robinson as the only other scholarship back entering camp fully healthy.
But then there’s the walk-on group. That includes aforementioned Jones and the equally capable Sevaughn Clark. A 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior from Dawsonville, Clark briefly entered the transfer portal only to decide to remain at Georgia in May.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs added another walkon in June. Len’neth Whitehead, a 6-2, 220-pound product of Athens Academy, came to Georgia from Tennessee, where he was a 2020 signee.
But it’s Jones who has created a bit of the buzz, and that’s going to back to last season when he ripped off a 36-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt. He also caught two passes for 11 yards in the South Carolina game.
Smart credits running backs coach Dell McGee for getting Jones on campus. A 6-foot, 182-pound back, Jones was a 3-star prospect and had some small-college scholarship offers in Texas. But McGee convinced Jones he could earn a role on a perennial championship contender as a preferred walk-on. Jones now has two national championship rings to show for it.
“He’s been a demon on kickoff, too,” Smart said of Jones after the Vanderbilt game last fall. “He’s fast, he’s elusive, tough, smart. ... The team just loves the kid because he gives you everything he’s got every day.”
Smart is nothing if not shrewd. It’s unlikely that the Bulldogs will need to depend on Jones to carry the running back group this fall. Both Edwards and Milton certainly have heard and accepted Smart’s challenge to improve their pass-catching skills and step up their games in other areas as well.
In winning national championships each of the past two seasons, Georgia got a lot of mileage out of the backfield passing game through McIntosh and James Cook. That’s not expected to change despite the transition to a new quarterback and offensive coordinator.
But as the Bulldogs enter the first days of preseason camp, Smart is going to fuel as much as possible the competitive flames of all involved parties. He expects Edwards and Milton to come through and carry on Georgia’s RBU tradition, but he also wants them to know that, if they don’t, there are options.
“Daijun has got to be a guy that is consistent, stays healthy, durable,” Smart said. “He and Kendall both need to be the leader of that group in terms of the way they work, catch the ball out of the backfield. I’m just excited to see all those guys work. I don’t know that we have a superstar in the (group). We’ve got a group that by committee does a tremendous job.”