ATHENS, Ga. -- A.J. Turman’s opportunity to play this fall creates widely differing emotions between the freshman running back and his new position coach at Georgia, Bryan McClendon.
“Basically, Coach McClendon tells me it’s a good position for me, but it’s scary for him to play kids like me, such young kids, so early because it’s what they need right now,” Turman said.
By this point, McClendon certainly must be accustomed to that feeling. A true freshman has led the Bulldogs in rushing in three of his four seasons as the Bulldogs’ running backs coach -- including last fall, when Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall exploded onto the scene and combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns.
Gurley and Marshall are back to lead the backfield this season, so Turman (Orlando, Fla./Boone) -- an ESPN 300 selection and No. 22 tailback prospect in the 2013 recruiting class -- and fellow signee Brendan Douglas (Augusta, Ga./Aquinas) won’t have to carry the Bulldogs’ running game this fall. But they will almost certainly contribute, and that was a key factor when Turman picked the Bulldogs over offers from several other BCS programs.
“There were a lot of other good schools, too, but they all had a million running backs and it just didn’t fit me,” Turman said. “I didn’t want to wait that long and this was a perfect opportunity for me to play early. And I get to run the type of running style I love to run. Georgia fit me perfectly with the opportunity that they had for me.”
An opportunity exists in the backfield because 2012 backups Richard Samuel (a 2012 senior) and Ken Malcome (who transferred to Southern Illinois) are no longer on the roster. Georgia will have Brandon Harton and likely two more freshmen, receiver/running backs Tramel Terry and J.J. Green, available this fall, but those players are more situational options than every-down tailbacks.
So the Bulldogs will again turn to true freshmen to flesh out their backfield depth.
“They’re going to have to play,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said at a recent UGA Days meeting in Augusta. “You say that and you never know, but we’re going to go in there with the idea of getting them ready to play and it might not be Week 1. It might be, ‘Hey we’re getting them ready to play’ and they’re playing on special teams and by Week 4, Week 5, that confidence they’ve gained on special teams has enabled them to play scrimmage downs.”
Georgia nearly made it to signing day with only one tailback, Turman, on its commitment list. The Bulldogs heavily pursued eventual Alabama signee Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), but struck out, creating room the opening Douglas desired at a position of major need for Georgia.
“I think he dreamed of playing for the Bulldogs, playing in Sanford Stadium and that was one thing that he really wanted to do,” Aquinas coach Matt LeZotte said. “When the opportunity came up, he jumped on it.”
The bulky back had turned heads with tough running at Georgia prospect camps, but he committed to Georgia Tech because he wasn’t sure whether a spot would be available.
“We kind of said, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,’ but said, ‘Hey, if something happens, would you be willing to listen?’ And he said yes,” Bobo said. “He was a guy we always liked, so we knew we had to move on another guy and he was the first guy that we went on because he’s a big back; he’s strong. I can see him doing a multitude of things.”
One of those things might eventually be to play fullback. ESPN projected Douglas as a fullback prospect and Bobo said that might be a possibility down the road, depending on how much bigger he gets once he enters Georgia’s strength and conditioning program.
Georgia has already earned a commitment from ESPN’s No. 2 tailback in the 2014 class, Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), and should add one more tailback in this class, so depth should not be as big of an issue that year as it could be this fall.
Bobo called the No. 3 tailback slot “a big concern for me” because of the Bulldogs’ lack of proven options behind Gurley and Marshall. He expects Turman and Douglas to prepare to be ready for the start of preseason practice in August so that at least one of them can alleviate his concerns.
“Of course any normal person would feel a little pressure, but you have to have pressure to succeed,” Turman said. “I’m more excited than anything, but I do feel pressure. It’s going to be hard and I’ll feel pressure to be out there, but you have to expect that because that’s college football, no matter who you are and how much experience you have.”