Samuel, Thomas make perfect match in Bulldogs’ backfield

ATHENS — Don’t get him wrong, Mike Bobo would love to have Knowshon Moreno back for another season. Replacing a star tailback of Moreno’s caliber is no easy task.

Rather than lament his loss, however, Bobo sees real potential in Georgia’s new backfield, which features two impressive but completely different styles of runners — the bruiser, Richard Samuel, and the burner, Carlton Thomas.

“You see a lot of good teams across the country in college and pro that a lot of them have two backs,” Bobo said. “One’s a change-of-pace guy and one’s more of a powerful, move-the-chains guy. I think it’s a great asset to have those two guys that are a little bit different styles.”

In Moreno, Georgia had one of the country’s best all-around running backs — a strong blocker, a skilled runner and an experienced receiver.

In Thomas, Samuel and Caleb King, who has missed much of the preseason with a hamstring injury, the Bulldogs still have virtually all of those skills in their backfield, but now they tend to be spread out among the group.

“I think we’re kind of going to pull from everybody to get certain aspects of what Knowshon did,” Cox said. “Richard’s a hard runner, kind of a bruiser, and he gets open, but it’s not like he has incredible ball skills. A guy like Caleb or Carlton, they have really smooth hands. I’m not saying we’re not going to throw the ball to Richard, but I definitely think we’ll be using them rather than expecting Richard to run every down and catch every ball we throw to the backs.”

That’s the key, running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. As divergent as Samuel and Thomas are in terms of appearance and style, it’s not exactly fair — or wise — to typecast them.

To watch them play, however, they do seem to fit their respective parts.

At 6-foot-2, 224 pounds, Samuel looks as intimidating as he plays. He’s more than happy to match strength with a linebacker, and avoiding a tackler isn’t nearly as fun as running over him.

“He’s a very physical back,” fullback Shaun Chapas said. “He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder at all, and that’s probably one of his best attributes. He’s a powerful runner, and when he lowers the shoulder and wants to hit, he’s hard to bring down.”

While Samuel’s size is enough to strike fear into an oncoming safety, Thomas’ physique has made his career an uphill battle.

The 5-foot-7 tailback from Florida has never made excuses for his size, but he has heard plenty of criticism because of it. Instead of letting it bother him, however, he has made a career out of proving people wrong.

In high school, Thomas was a three-year letterwinner on the basketball court and was a state qualifier in track. That was in addition to the nearly 7,000 yards he compiled on the football field in four seasons.

Thomas’ size may cause some critics to overlook his talent, but at Georgia, he’s the envy of even his teammate in the backfield.

“During practice, he’ll do things that I’m like, that’s pretty nice,” Samuel said. “It would be good to have some moves like that.”

What’s nice for Georgia, however, won’t be so pleasant for the opposition, Thomas said.

Samuel is expected to get the bulk of the carries against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a role that suits his style. He gets stronger as the game goes along, head coach Mark Richt said, and his punishing approach to running has a tendency to wear down defenders.

Thomas still figures to be a big part of the offense, too, and his elusive style and lightning-quick speed make him the perfect compliment to Samuel’s size and strength.

“It’s a one-two punch with him running it down their throat or me running their tongues out,” Thomas said. “Either way, both backs will be running it at them and getting them tired and loosening things up for the passing game.”

There’s no doubt the Bulldogs will miss Moreno when they take the field Saturday for the first time in two years without him.

But sometimes, Thomas said, two is better than one — especially when the skill sets of each tailback fit together as well as his and Samuel’s.

“It’s just like the old saying,” Thomas said. “Pick your poison. Who do you want with the ball? If you want to take Richard away, you give it to me, and I’ll make a play. You want to take the ball away from me, you give it to Richard and he’ll be able to make plays. It’s going to be a lose-lose for the defense.”