Spring preview: An embarrassment of riches at running back for Georgia

Georgia running back Zamir White (3) runs with the ball during the first half against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)
Georgia running back Zamir White (3) runs with the ball during the first half against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Georgia Bulldogs will open spring football practice March 16. Each day between now and then, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will break down the various position groups, analyze the personnel and examine their relative spring-practice objectives. G-Day, the annual spring intrasquad scrimmage, is scheduled for April 17 at Sanford Stadium.

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW – TODAY: RUNNING BACKS

ATHENS — Georgia’s Dell McGee didn’t hesitate even a millisecond when asked what it felt like to hear in January that James Cook and Zamir White planned to return for another season in the Bulldogs’ backfield.

“It’s very similar to the situation when Sony Michel and Nick Chubb came back,” Georgia’s run-game coordinator said Tuesday. “From a team standpoint, they wanted to do more and they feel like they’re part of the success that we can have.”

UGA fans will recall that the year when Chubb and Michel bypassed the NFL draft to return to Georgia for their senior seasons (2017), the Bulldogs were a busted coverage in overtime away from winning the national championship.

McGee’s making no such guarantees here. But with the two most experienced backs leading a backfield that goes six deep, it’s safe to say having enough capable ball-carriers available won’t be something that holds back the Bulldogs in 2021. Figuring out how to distribute carries will be a challenge, though.

Georgia running back James Cook (4) scores on an 82-yard pass from Stetson Bennett against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Cook added five runs for 16 yards in the 41-24 loss. (Skylar Lien/Alabama Athletics)
Georgia running back James Cook (4) scores on an 82-yard pass from Stetson Bennett against Alabama Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Cook added five runs for 16 yards in the 41-24 loss. (Skylar Lien/Alabama Athletics)

RETURNING STARTERS (1): Junior Zamir “Zeus” White

ALL EYES ON: Sophomore Kendall Milton

OUTLOOK: The competition and ability level at running back is off the charts. All five returnees -- White, Cook, Kenny McIntosh, Daijun Edwards, Milton -- averaged 5.3 yards per carry or better in 2020, led by Cook’s 6.7, and all had multiple rushes more than 20 yards. White scored a rushing touchdown in every game last season, 11 in all. And the best among them may be the one back Georgia saw the least of last year. A midseason knee injury limited the 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore Milton’s time on the field, but he may be the most complete back of them all. ... McGee said all of them have varying degrees of proficiency at the different aspects required of the position and that will determine how they’re deployed. But the back that performs best in practice and strength-and-conditioning drills will play the most, he said. … If one wants to look for flaws, it could be said that Georgia doesn’t have a true “game-breaker” at the position. The truth is, neither White, Cook nor any of their understudies regularly busted loose with the “home-run” type of run. That may say as much about the Bulldogs’ offensive line as it does the backs. But there were more such runs last season than the one before, highlighted by White’s 75-yard TD around left end on the first play from scrimmage against Florida. … Meanwhile, they’ll see what the latest addition to their group of blue-chip running backs can do this spring in freshman signee Lovasea Carroll, a 4-star signee out of IMG Academy by way of Warrenton. An embarrassment of riches here.

UP NEXT: Tight ends.

PREVIOUSLY: Offensive line, quarterback.

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