ATHENS -- Aaron Murray was asked Tuesday if he knew how many different tailbacks he had handed off to in less than two years as Georgias starting quarterback.
Murray thought for a moment and exhaled.
Seven, eight. Its been up there, he said, hastening to add: But like I said, all those guys work hard, so I dont mind it at all, as long as theyre making plays, which I have been.
The making plays part has indeed improved. But after a backfield overhaul in the offseason, Georgia is still having stability problems at tailback.
It leads to the obvious questions: Whats wrong at that position? Is it just a series of bad apples that happen to play the same position? Or has the team just cracked down at that spot?
Everybody thinks the running backs (are) just being troublemakers. But its a lot more to it than people think, said redshirt freshman Ken Malcome, who has been suspended for one game this season and at one point briefly quit the game.
A lot of things go on that people just dont know what theyre making it out to be. Were not gonna let the people just say were troublemakers. Were gonna try to prove them wrong.
Leading rusher Isaiah Crowell has been suspended for one game, the first quarter of another game, and has been hobbled by injuries. The highly touted freshman has an ankle injury, but he is expected to play against Georgia Tech.
Second-leading rusher Carlton Thomas has been suspended for three different games. His status going forward has not been announced, although offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Tuesday that Thomas will play this weekend.
The backfields two best citizens so far have been Richard Samuel and Brandon Harton. But Samuel has been hurt and is out until at least the SEC championship game, and Harton is a 5-foot-6 former walk-on.
This years events are a disappointment for Georgia, considering it hoped it turned a corner. Last year, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King alternated starts as each was suspended after being arrested. Ealey, who would have been a junior this season, transferred to Jacksonville State, while King, who would have been a senior, was declared academically ineligible.
Running backs coach Bryan McClendon was asked if all the issues had kept him up some nights.
Definitely. But thats my job, said McClendon, who received a raise in the offseason from $90,000 to $200,000. Youve gotta make sure that you keep everything in perspective and know that youre doing everything else that other people are doing.
It does burn you up a little bit when guys dont make those right decisions. No matter how small, how big they are, youve gotta make sure theyre making the right decisions and hold them accountable when they dont. Thats kind of a tough thing when youre trying to compete at this level, but its the right thing to do nonetheless.
What McClendon, and no coach, can talk about because of NCAA rules is that the program is pursuing several more big-time tailbacks.
Keith Marshall, one of the nations top tailback recruits, is set to announce his decision Dec. 6. Recruiting experts say Georgia is the favorite for Marshall, who is an honor student.
The Bulldogs are also pursuing another high school senior tailback, Todd Gurley of Tarboro, N.C. And they already have a commitment from Derrick Henry, one of the top tailback recruits for the 2013 class.
These days, when most teams now use multiple backs, it might not be a reflection on Crowell that Georgia is continuing to pursue highly rated tailbacks. But given Crowells injuries and off-field troubles, it does seem notable.
Crowell is now on his fifth injury this year, although the ankle was the first one that shut him down for the rest of a game.
This is a very physical game, this is a very physical position in a very physical league. So I can guarantee that this is something that he hasnt dealt with before in high school, McClendon said. But its no different than a lot of other freshmen that come in and play in this league.
As for the off-field problems, Malcome expressed confidence that they were over.
Im sure none of us will be suspended in the next couple years, he said. So thats something people dont have to worry about. We learned our lesson, Carlton learned it, I learned it, and Isaiah.
Senior tight end Aron White put it another way.
As far as I know, I havent seen any running backs since Washaun and Caleb left be reprimanded to the point where they had to go, he said. So as long as theyre here Im going to assume whatever their transgressions were it was small, it was minor.