With nearly all of the major statistical contributors from last year coming back, and Georgia's biggest recruiting grab in years being added to the mix in the form of Isaiah Crowell, the offensive backfield might feature the most intriguing -- and hard-fought -- depth-chart battles Georgia fans will see this spring. Coming off a disappointing showing in 2010, though, seniority is no longer a guarantee of playing time.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Who's coming back. Led by last year's top three runners -- Washaun Ealey, Caleb King and Carlton Thomas -- the Dawgs return nearly 90 percent of last year's rushing production. Georgia fans will also recognize the name of Bruce Figgins, though not in the position in which they're accustomed to seeing him. Facing a loaded rotation at tight end but a shaky situation at fullback heading into 2011, the coaches are moving ex-TE Figgins over to FB, where his 6'4", 265-pound bulk could be a huge advantage for the tailbacks running behind him.
Who's not. The reason Figgins' move is so important is because the top two fullbacks over the past few years, Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier, have both graduated. Both Chapas and Munzenmaier were sure-handed pass-catchers in addition to being strong runners and adept blockers; that do-it-all ability leaves big shoes for Figgins to fill, though as a converted tight end he's certainly got the skill set to do it.
Who's new. Even Georgia fans without the slightest interest in recruiting have no doubt heard of Isaiah Crowell, the five-star Columbus, Ga., running back who represents one of the biggest recruiting coups of the Mark Richt era -- and perhaps his biggest coup at RB, period. Richt had to beat out the nigh-unstoppable Nick Saban recruiting machine at Alabama for Crowell's services, so he knows what a good player he's got, and he's already vowed not to repeat the mistake he made by waiting too long to play Knowshon Moreno. In fact, Richt has already made noises about giving Crowell the first carry in the pivotal 2011 season opener against Boise State.
Outlook. Richt hasn't often been the message-sending type, but a clear (if unofficial) message has been sent to Washaun Ealey and Caleb King: Time to step it up, guys. After a season in which both Ealey and King were inconsistent on the field and frequently in trouble off of it, neither could afford anything less than a sterling offseason, yet it's already begun poorly for both players -- King was academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl, while Ealey is presently under indefinite suspension for violating team rules.
It might seem overly harsh to declare that the two tailbacks have used up all their goodwill with Richt, but, well, they probably have. And it's not as if Richt needed much additional excuse to tilt the playing-time equation in Isaiah Crowell's favor anyway. Basically, Crowell will go as far this offseason as his determination and work ethic will carry him, and it's not an exaggeration to say that playing time is his to lose -- though the ideal situation from Richt's perspective would be for Ealey and King to have a fire lit under them by Crowell's arrival, work their tails off over spring and summer, and give the Dawgs a diabolical three-headed running attack by the time Boise State's team plane lands in Atlanta.
Things are somewhat less clear at fullback, where the Dawgs are filling a somewhat substantial void. Bruce Figgins' size and experience would tend to favor him as the starter, though coaches have been impressed with Alex Ogletree's athleticism; he'll provide a formidable challenge for the starting job if Figgins struggles with the transition into a new position. Expectations for this position are high, though, as the departures of both of last year's leading FBs, combined with some big question marks on the right side of the offensive line, won't allow much time for learning on the job.