ATHENS — It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that Richard Samuel spent most of his first day of practice at his new position with a bit of a dazed look on his face. After all, he hadn’t played linebacker in three years, and adjusting to the defensive side of the football doesn’t happen overnight.
Of course, the beauty of this transition is that Samuel’s hardly alone. With everyone on Georgia’s defense adjusting to a new scheme, confusion is the norm, and Samuel doesn’t seem so out of place.
“I think he’s about like the rest of the guys — they’re all kind of lost because they’re all learning it brand new,” head coach Mark Richt said. “But that’s one thing that will help Richard. If all these guys had experience at it, he might be farther behind. But he’s about as lost as the rest of them.”
For now, Samuel is learning the ropes at outside linebacker — although the future remains full of possibilities. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he wants to get Samuel acclimated as quickly as possible, and anything’s possible for the rising junior. He could end up getting regular reps as a pass rusher, he might slide inside where he’ll be used more against the run and in coverage or he could end up redshirting if the growth process doesn’t happen quickly enough.
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“I’m not too sure how quick I’m going to pick it up,” Samuel said. “You know, it’s been two years since I’ve played the position so it might take some time to pick it up.”
The one certainty, according to fellow linebacker Marcus Dowtin, is that Samuel is finally on the right side of the line of scrimmage after spending two uneventful seasons at tailback.
“I spoke to Richard when we first got up here freshman year and told him, ‘You should make that switch and come over to linebacker with me,’ ” Dowtin said. “He’s an athlete. He’s strong, he’s fast, and I think he’ll be a great complement to me, and I can be a great complement to him out there. He’s made our linebacker corps a lot more athletic and a lot faster.”
That athleticism is what makes the move to linebacker so liberating. Samuel arrived in Athens as a five-star recruit, but his two seasons at tailback were a mixed bag at best. He averaged more than 5 yards per carry as a freshman but played sparingly and struggled to hold onto the football. He earned the starting tailback job out of fall practice last year and racked up 256 yards in Georgia’s first three games. His production declined sharply after that, however, and he mustered just 139 more yards on the ground the rest of the season.
The problem, according to most of Samuel’s critics, was that he played tailback too much like a linebacker — never shying from contact and always using his straight-ahead speed and strength rather than relying on any natural instincts as a runner.
So when the move was announced, it made sense in that it gives Samuel a chance to play to his strengths and, more importantly said teammate Orson Charles, it gives Samuel a chance to simply play.
“A person’s taken on a lot of load at the beginning of the season and at the end you get none, that’s hard for anybody,” Charles said. “But what he’s doing now it could contribute and help the team win, and I’m pretty sure that’s all Richard wants.”