Quiet Caleb Coming Along

ATHENS – Georgia's running backs were in the meeting room Wednesday discussing their upcoming game against LSU when Caleb King raised his hand with a question.

Laughter quickly erupted from the other players and someone shouted, "Whoa, Caleb actually talked."

The sound of King's voice asking a question even came as a shock to him. The normally reserved tailback doesn't usually like drawing attention to himself unless he has a football in his hands.

There would have been a time not too long ago when the laughter might have prevented King from asking another question. After two years with the Bulldogs, however, King is finally starting to feel at home.

"I'm known for being shy, so me asking a question is a big step," he said.

King's emergence from his self-imposed silence is paying dividends on the field, too.

Two months ago, the redshirt freshman was locked in a battle with Richard Samuel for the No. 2 running back job. Most fans had assumed the role would be King's by default, but coaches weren't sure he was ready.

Coming out of high school, King was among the most highly recruited backs in the country. What running backs coach Tony Ball found, however, was a player who was still a little too uncomfortable with his surroundings to take control of the job.

King's reluctance to speak up had left him behind on the learning curve when it came to the subtleties of becoming a complete running back. He had all the skills to dart around, past or through defenders, but the little things like blocking and route running had eluded him.

"I thought was the biggest problem was an awareness, an alertness, an ability to protect, to pass protect," Ball said of King. "That was always one of my biggest concerns, as well as knowing what to do."

In order to learn, King knew he had to be more outgoing with his teammates. He needed to be more aware of his surroundings, more vocal on and off the field.

The transition was a two-step process, and it was a bit of a Catch-22.

First, King had to learn the playbook better. After that, he needed to translate that knowledge to on-field production, and thus, gain more confidence. The problem was he needed to build the confidence to ask questions about the playbook in the first place.

"It helps a whole lot if I perform on the field and do good, so I do feel more comfortable with the surroundings, and I won't be scared to ask so many questions," King said.

Where King lacked confidence, however, coaches provided it. As the season wore on, he garnered more playing time, and the more he played, the better he felt about his role on the team. Once he had contributed to the Bulldogs' success, he felt like he belonged.

"Every time I've seen him run the ball on film, he's looked great," fullback Shaun Chapas said of King's performance. "That's just a testament to his hard work."

The effort impressed coaches, too.

Ball said King's confidence and preparation have dramatically improved since the start of the season, and in turn, King has been rewarded with a bigger role.

"I believe I've become a more college back, from blocking to reading the defense so I can run the right route," King said. "I needed to become a better all-around back, so I'm stepping up."

Against Vanderbilt last week, King carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards, including rushes of 10 and 12 yards. It was during a crucial fourth-quarter drive against Tennessee two weeks ago, however, that King said he really turned a corner.

With the Bulldogs nursing a nine-point lead and working on a clock-killing drive, King found himself on the field for a majority of the snaps. On five runs, he picked up 23 yards and helped Georgia run nearly 11 minutes off the clock.

"That showed the trust and confidence they have in me, so that made me feel more confident about myself," King said.

There's still a lot more King hopes to accomplish this season. After sitting out the end of his senior year in high school and redshirting last season, he's a bit starved for touchdowns and wouldn't mind seeing a few goal-line carries.

That's exactly the attitude Ball wants to see. The key to King's success, Ball said, is for him to be comfortable with his role, but not content with it.

"I would hope he wants to be that starting guy, to be that guy who gets the bulk of the reps, the guy we trust and depend on as the starter," Ball said. "I hope that's the role he desires to have, and I think it is."

Moreno is still the Bulldogs' top weapon in the backfield, but Ball said coaches have total confidence King will perform like the starter every time he steps on the field.

What may be more important, however, is that King finally has that confidence, too.

"On the field, in the meetings, knowing what's going on and being able to verbalize and communicate," Ball said. "He's starting to come out of his shell. He understands the importance of it."

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