This is the most intense and deepest position battle in the spring of 2005. Returning starters Danny Ware and Thomas Brown seem to have a leg up on the rest of the competition when it comes to the starting job. A lot will be made of Kregg Lumpkin's return to practice, but it will be hard to assess his impact on the position until August. Michael Cooper (8 games started, 185 attempts, 804 yards, 8 touchdowns), Tony Milton (4 games started, 120 attempts, 410 yards, 1 touchdown), and Tyson Browning (2 games started, 101 attempts, 397 yards, 3 touchdowns) fill out the position and provide tremendous depth for the Bulldogs at one of the most important positions in football. All three, however, have been forced to deal with injuries while at Georgia. Cooper and Milton combined to play in only seven of Georgia's 12 games in 2004. Those setbacks have handicapped their abilities to fully compete for the starting job.
There are three variables that could impact the outcome at running back. First, running backs Coach Kirby Smart replaced Ken Rucker in January. While there is no indication that Smart has any rabbits in his hat, change can sometimes be hard to deal with. Second, Richt has said in the past that the Bulldogs will run Shockley's offense, not Greene's. That probably means a lot more runs and likely requires different types of passes. The combination of the two means new and perhaps different responsibilities for the Georgia running backs. Finally, the problem with this group for some time, and not just under Richt at Georgia, is durability. Every season, it seems, at least one running back misses significant playing time at Georgia. It happened to Robert Edwards, Musa Smith, Kregg Lumpkin (0 games started, 112 attempts, 523 yards, 6 touchdowns; who will spend this spring in non-contact after his fall ACL), and even Danny Ware. This spring's practice is important for the running back position – having healthy running backs is, too.
Final Say: Lumpkin returns for full contact in the fall. Georgia is loaded at running back, but all of the backs have been hampered by injuries. This spring's practices will set the beginning fall depth chart for the running backs. In March and April, Ware and Brown will have the upper hand on the rest because of the way their past season went. Those two will fight it out to determine the top spot. Both have shown they are able to be a legitimate starting tailback in the SEC. It might be reason enough for Richt to use two-running back sets in 2005.