D.J. Shockley was just like most people who follows the Georgia football program.
Shockley, Georgia’s starting quarterback on the 2005 SEC championship team, was sure running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — or at least one of them — would head to the NFL.
The shelf life of a running back is limited, and both figured to be drafted, even if it wasn’t going to be in the first two rounds. Still, it sure seemed Georgia would need to replace at least one of the talented ballcarriers.
But just like fans and experts who follow the Georgia football program, Shockley was stunned when both announced they were coming back for their senior seasons.
“It’s one of those things that I didn’t expect,” Shockley said. “I probably told tons of people, ‘Oh, they’re gone.’ Or I said at least, ‘Sony’s made for the NFL, Nick’s made for the NFL.’ ”
Shockley, who played for Georgia from 2001-05, isn’t the only former SEC standout to think highly of what Chubb and Michel’s return means for Georgia.
Former Auburn running back Ronnie Brown predicted Georgia to win the SEC East this season, partly due to the running back tandem the Bulldogs have back.
Especially for Chubb, Brown believes it should benefit his long-term game by returning for one more college football season.
“I thought it was a good decision by Chubb to come back, just my personal opinion, because I knew what he was doing before the injury,” Brown said. “Last year, I don’t think he felt as comfortable as he did the previous year. I think it’s a great situation. You’ve got two great running backs.”
Shockley said having both backs should make quarterback Jacob Eason’s transition into his sophomore season a lot easier. As a freshman, Eason completed 55.1 percent of his throws for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
But as a unit, the entire offense will seek added production after a couple of down years. From 2010-14, when Mike Bobo was Georgia’s offensive coordinator, the Bulldogs averaged no less than 32 points per game in a season. In 2014, Bobo’s offense averaged 41.3 points and 257.9 rushing yards per game, which helped him land the Colorado State head coaching job.
In 2016, Georgia averaged 24.5 points and 191.2 yards per game.
Shockley said that with Chubb and Michel highlighting the offense, Eason can continue to focus on developing as a college quarterback.
“Having them back as seniors, it’s going to help Eason, it’s going to help the O-line, it’s going to help this offense,” Shockley said. “Having those two guys around, with as much experience as they have in this league, it’s like a boost for the whole team that these guys wanted to come back and make something special happen again.”
Eason’s development will be something to watch throughout the 2017 season. Eason spent the summer leading 7-on-7 workouts and attended the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
Shockley said the talent level from Washington state high school football to the SEC appeared to be a tough adjustment for Eason at first. With a season under his belt, Shockley is expecting Eason to show great improvement.
“In the SEC, I think he realized these guys are good. They’re fast,” Shockley said. “They’re going to make a break on the ball sooner. You can’t trick them all the time. The talent level is different from one player to another.”