What a difference a season can make.
When Georgia kicked off the 2009 campaign at Oklahoma State, Richard Samuel had established himself as the Bulldogs' unquestioned top option, following a solid preseason which enabled him to earn the starting role.
So much for first impressions:
Although Samuel showed signs of living up to early expectations when he rushed for 104 yards against Arkansas, including an 80-yard touchdown run, it quickly became apparent that changes would have to be made.
Fortunately for Georgia, Caleb King and Washaun Ealey were able to step up their game, and one reason there is some guarded optimism regarding the Bulldogs' 2010 offense despite the fact that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will be breaking in a new starting quarterback.
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Ealey rushed 112 times for 639 yards and three touchdowns, with King chipping in with 98 carries for 534 yards and five scores.
Not bad for a couple of players who coming into the season were technically third and fourth on the depth chart behind Samuel and Carlton Thomas in the starting lineup.
"The biggest thing that helped them turn the page was that no matter how they felt, when [they] came out there, no matter how they looked at every game, whatever chance they had to step on that field they knew they had to get better," running backs coach Bryan McClendon said recently. "They sort of took that upon each other. They both feed off each other, which is a great thing to see. But I think they're working hard, I don't want anybody to start crowing those guys the next so-and-so, but they are some talented guys. They're still young, there's still a whole lot of football for those two to play so we're going to see how that goes."
King marvels at the progress his young teammate has made.
Ealey arrived in Athens after a record-setting career at ECI, where he set the state of Georgia single-season touchdown mark of 58, wrapping up his career with a state record 133 career scores.
However, Ealey soon learned that life as a collegian was going to be significantly tougher.
"At the beginning, I wouldn't say he was running scared, but he was stiff, but I just told him to relax and open up," King said. "I just told him to settle down and run hard."
That's just what Ealey did.
After slowly establishing himself as the Bulldogs' go-to back, Ealey exploded in the season-finale against Georgia Tech, exploding for 183 yards, with King chipping in with a career-high 166 and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 30-24 win.
"That was a lot of fun, just going out there and show the world the Georgia way - to just go out there and pound the ball," Ealey said. "That's what football is all about. It's fun to go out there and beat up on people."
Each player has set his respective goals high.
According to head coach Mark Richt, both backs have worked extremely hard since the Independence Bowl victory over Texas A&M, each determined to win the starting role outright.
The battle begins with the Bulldogs begin spring practice March 4, although McClendon doesn't see why the pair can't continue to be effective sharing the carries.
"I think it speaks to the person that each of those guys are. Again, it's that special relationship that they have with each other," McClendon said. "They feed off each other, they ask each other questions. One can tell the other what they see out on the field and vice-versa. I think it's a special relationship, not just with those guys but all those running backs do that pretty well."
So what next?
Samuel has since moved to linebacker, meaning Georgia will enter spring practice with Ealey and King, with Thomas and Dontavius Jackson hoping to get their respective shots, along with walk-on Kalvin Daniels.
Come preseason, former Southwest DeKalb standout Ken Malcome will get thrown into the mix after signing with the Bulldogs a few weeks ago.
Looking ahead to 2011, one name tops the Bulldogs' list.
Georgia has always find a way to have a breakout running back each year, and it does a good job of preparing them for the NFL as well. The Bulldogs have offered five running backs so far, but their 2011 class begins and ends with Carver-Columbus standout Isaiah Crowell.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound probable five star target has a good chance to be the number one player in Georgia next year. The Bulldogs have gone all out so far for the lifetime Georgia fan, and will surely state their case to the coveted back as soon as they get him back on campus.
Chevelle Buie and Quan Bray are also holding offers. Each is an explosive athlete who brings a unique skill set to any offense. Bray could line up at quarterback and at wide receiver as well, while Buie is a guy who can make plays in space and is one of the fastest players in Florida. Two other backs who got offers are Malcolm Brown and Aaron Green. Both are national prospects who will likely stay closer to home.
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