Spring look: Running back

To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice on March 20, DawgNation will do a position breakdown each day. Today we will analyze the running backs. On Wednesday we will look at the receivers.

2011 starters (stats): Tailback Isaiah Crowell, So. (185 carries, 850 yards, five TD); Fullback Bruce Figgins, Sr. in 2011 (seven catches, 96 yards, one TD)

Key losses: Figgins.

Reserves (stats): Tailback: Richard Samuel, Sr. (82 carries, 240 yards, one TD); Carlton Thomas, Sr. (73-361, two TD); Ken Malcome, So. (42-174); Brandon Harton, Jr. (53-247, one TD); Keith Marshall (Freshman); Fullback: Alexander Ogletree (2-24)

New faces: Marshall -- the No. 5 overall prospect and No. 2 running back on the ESPNU 150 -- completed high school early and enrolled at Georgia in January in order to compete in spring practice. The speedy freshman could immediately contend for playing time despite the Bulldogs’ considerable backfield depth.

Spring goal: The greatest value of spring practice is that it helps coaches begin determining who might help in the fall and how they might do so. That certainly will be the case with Georgia’s backfield, as the Bulldogs must settle how to distribute carries between their stable of tailbacks.

Crowell showed potential as a freshman, but suffered from discipline and injury issues. In fact, Thomas, Malcome and Samuel all missed games because of injury- or discipline-related problems, as well. That helped convince Marshall and fellow North Carolinian Todd Gurley that they can contribute early at Georgia -- and perhaps they can. Gurley won’t arrive until summer, but Marshall is on campus now and can begin earning playing time immediately.

Worth watching: Crowell lived under a more intense microscope last season than any Georgia freshman in recent memory and didn’t handle the attention particularly well. He flashed superstar potential when he was healthy and available, but disappeared for much of the second half of the season.

Teammates and coaches complimented Crowell for his renewed focus and increased effort in offseason workouts. If his attitude is in the right place this spring and summer, it will be interesting to see how much more productive Crowell can become in the fall.

Area of concern: Will there be enough balls to go around? When everyone is healthy and available, Georgia will have a crowded backfield full of players who have earned the chance to contribute. It might be difficult for the coaches to find ways to get them enough carries to keep everyone happy. It also bears watching how the fullback competition progresses. Ogletree is the lone scholarship player in the hunt during spring ball, but Quayvon Hicks will join the competition when he arrives in the summer.

Position grade: B. On talent alone, the grade here would be higher. Crowell was last year’s top running back prospect in the ESPNU 150, and Marshall was No. 2 this year. That’s a heck of a foundation before even adding Samuel, Thomas and Malcome to the mix. The problem is that no Bulldogs tailback has shown he can carry the load without getting hurt or finding trouble. The potential is certainly there, but let’s see some results before we pronounce Georgia’s problems at the position solved.