ATHENS -- Normally, rookie tailbacks are quizzed about football. They get queried on their ability to hit a hole, to avoid fumbling and maybe how well they can catch a screen pass.
But this is the Georgia football program, where any new tailback now must face this blunt question: Can you stay out of trouble? Or will you be the latest Bulldogs tailback to disappoint?
Keith Marshall took it head on.
Ive just never been one to get in trouble, he said. Our parents didnt allow it. So I learned at an early age getting in trouble wasnt an option.
Unfortunately, getting in trouble has been an option lately at Georgia.
The two leading rushers from last season (Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas) are gone, Crowell after a felony gun arrest and subsequent dismissal. Thomas, who was suspended three separate times last year, left the team before spring practice.
The two leading rushers from 2010 (Washaun Ealey and Caleb King) also left the program after a number of off-field and discipline problems.
Now here come Marshall and Todd Gurley, fellow North Carolina natives, just the latest high-profile recruits to arrive in Athens with plenty of hype.
Dont worry about them, Marshall implored.
I will not be in trouble with being suspended or anything like that, Marshall said. I think me and Todd will make sure we keep each other out of trouble.
Of course, you wouldnt expect a player to volunteer that hes a trouble risk. Crowell didnt arrive on campus with any red flags; in fact, he was supposed to be the antidote to the Ealey-King troubles. This time last year, Georgia coaches were saying they were pleased with how Crowell was handling his media interviews.
Georgia had character in mind when it recruited Marshall and Gurley. The coaches were encouraged that Marshall had a grade point average higher than his time in the 40-yard dash. They loved that Gurley wanted to go to Georgia even after Marshalls commitment.
Gurley was asked why the depth chart -- which at the time included Crowell -- didnt intimidate him.
Its really not about that. Its about making your own decision, he said. Just because someone else goes somewhere shouldnt determine that you go there. So I just kept Georgia on my (list of) schools. And nowadays you dont want to carry the load yourself. You want two or three running backs you could share with.
That has been evident so far in the preseason. There really is no depth chart anymore at the spot, with all four players getting snaps with the first-team offense. Head coach Mark Richt has called the competition wide open, and on Friday he made clear that both freshmen will play.
I just think whoevers the most productive weve gotta get them in the game, Richt said. So if its one of those two guys, well get them in there. If theyre in there a lot, it probably means theyre doing good. Its a good sign. Im not afraid to play them. Im definitely gonna play them. Its just a matter of how much.
Marshall enrolled last January, so he may have started the preseason with a slight edge over Gurley. But Gurley caught up quickly.
During Wednesdays scrimmage, Gurley uncorked a 40-yard run that had the veteran defensive players raving about his skills.
Marshalls scrimmage stats were more pedestrian -- and he had a humorous attitude about it. Told that Richt had praised his running during a 3-yard run, Marshall responded, I had a lot of 3-yard runs from scrimmage. Im not sure which ones hes talking about.
Still, Marshall stands a good chance of being the teams top rusher this season. So does Gurley. And so do senior Richard Samuel and sophomore Ken Malcome.
Prior to the events of this summer, Crowell, the reigning SEC freshman of the year, had that chance. For now, the specter of Crowell, and his promises of good behavior, may hang over the unit. Marshall and Gurley vow to overcome that.
Its a sad thing Isaiah left; I wish he could be here, Gurley said. But I kept doing what I was doing, and I picked up the system pretty good.
I wasnt happy to see him leave or anything, Marshall said. He was my teammate so it was not fun to see him go. But obviously weve got a chance to step up now.