ATHENS -- It was the first day of Georgia’s spring football practice, and Isaiah Crowell was smiling. The most scrutinized player on the team knew he was being looked at, and on Tuesday it was for the right reason.
The tailbacks were sent out for a drill, in order of their status, and out first went Crowell.
It was only a temporary award, but one that Crowell wanted. In less than a year in the program, Crowell has been feted and criticized, celebrated and disciplined.
Now his stock is back on the upswing.
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“My first goal is to be a good teammate, help my team get to the national championship,” Crowell said to the media later, before bringing the jugular: “My second goal, I’m trying to run for the Heisman.”
Crowell smiled and laughed, but he seemed serious. He was asked how realistic a Heisman run could be.
“Real realistic,” he said, laughing again.
First, Crowell needs to hold on to that top spot, which will be difficult in a crowded backfield. But it’s a bit less crowded now.
As the Bulldogs took the field, team spokesmen were handing out a release stating that Carlton Thomas was leaving the program. Thomas said in a statement that he wanted a better chance to play during his final season of college football.
“I want to make more of an impact on the field,” Thomas said. “I didn’t want to disrupt Georgia’s team and preparation for next season, so I made the final decision to leave earlier rather than later in the year.”
Of course, it didn’t help Thomas that he was suspended for three separate games last year and was going to have a hard time competing for playing time as a senior.
Thomas’ departure leaves the Bulldogs with five scholarship tailbacks: Crowell, Ken Malcome, Richard Samuel, Brandon Harton and freshman Keith Marshall. Another highly touted recruit, Todd Gurley, is on the way.
It all had head coach Mark Richt, who was frustrated by the end of last season with his tailbacks, sounding much different.
“We do have a good bunch of backs right now, no doubt about that,” Richt said. “They’re a talented bunch. We’ll see how well we block up front and how well they do the little things, like secure the ball and pass protect and those things. But we certainly have some guys to work with.”
Richt said he had seen improvement from Crowell, who was suspended twice last season. For his part, Crowell also agreed that there was room to improve his work habits.
“I really got used to it now, because I know everybody’s going to be (watching me),” Crowell said. “I just know what to expect.”
Crowell also said he’s fully healthy now, after the ankle injury that slowed his fast-starting freshman season to a crawl. He said he tore ligaments in his ankle last season but never needed surgery. It required him to not run for six weeks, although he did other workouts.
He looked fine running the ball Tuesday. He also said the right things to the media afterwards, saying the competition at tailback was “a good thing” and that he was trying to help Marshall, a five-star recruit.
“I know exactly where he’s coming from,” Crowell said. “That’s why I try to help him out a lot, as much as I can.”
But his goals remain high.
“I want to be the one to start off, to help Keith and all the new guys out,” he said. “So that’s the reason I was glad that I was the first one out.”
Some other notes from the first workout:
As expected, Ray Drew was working with the defensive ends after spending his freshman year at outside linebacker. But Cornelius Washington, one of last year’s outside linebacker starters, was also working with the ends.
Richt indicated that Drew’s move is permanent, as he’s putting on too much weight for the outside linebacker position. Washington might be preparing to play both spots.
“They’re getting reps there for a reason,” Richt said.
Receiver Chris Conley has made a rapid recovery from wrist surgery and is participating in spring practice. That’s a boon to a receiving corps that is without Malcolm Mitchell, who is working at cornerback this spring.
Kenarious Gates, who has started off and on at guard the past two seasons, is working at left tackle this spring. Watts Dantzler, who played sparingly as a freshman, is working at right tackle.