Richard or Caleb in 2009?

ATHENS – Caleb King and Richard Samuel don't expect to see the field much when Georgia takes on Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1.

Watching from the sideline has become customary on game day for the two running backs.

In Georgia's past four games, the two combined for just 10 carries, while starter Knowshon Moreno has handled the bulk of the load. Yet, King and Samuel are both approaching the Bulldogs' bowl practices as some of the most crucial of their season.

"Coach (Mike) Bobo was just talking about this," Caleb King said. "He said to just approach practice like it's game day every day. We need to get better and be ready for next year."

For both players, along with their redshirt teammates Dontavius Jackson and Carlton Thomas, next year starts now.

Moreno has stolen the show this season, racking up more than 1,300 yards on the ground and earning a nod as a finalist for the Doak Walker trophy. Next season, however, could be a different story. If Moreno decides to leave Georgia and head to the NFL where he is projected as a first-round draft pick, suddenly the spotlight will be up for grabs.

"It's a great opportunity for me for next year if he does go," said King, who has 247 yards on 61 carries this season. "I'll rack up some carries, so I need to work really hard through the offseason."

Of course, it isn't just King who wants a taste of the role Moreno could be vacating.

Samuel hopes to stake his claim on the job, while Thomas and Jackson have toiled in obscurity this season while being redshirted, but have high hopes for what the offseason might bring.

All year, the job of Moreno's backup has been tossed around like a hot potato.

In fall camp, all four freshmen backs made their pitch for the job.

Samuel, a true freshman, began the season as the nominal No. 2 back, but lost his job after three weeks. He carried the ball just once from Sept. 20 until Nov. 1.

Against Florida, King missed a key block that resulted in a sack of quarterback Matthew Stafford. That put an end to the bulk of his playing time, and the redshirt freshman saw just two carries the rest of the year.

Now, with just a week of practice time left to impress the coaching staff, each is approaching Georgia's bowl preparation as a tryout for a job they aren't even sure will be available in August.

"(Coach Tony Ball) told us he's going to make these bowl practices like he's preparing for the bowl, but also getting ready for next year right now," said the 5-foot-7 Thomas, who head coach Mark Richt has compared to Warrick Dunn. "He's evaluating you for the bowl and for next year, so you've got to work hard."

Not that any of the backs haven't worked hard this season. When playing time is minimal – or non-existent for Thomas and Jackson – it isn't always easy to concentrate on task at hand. The big pictures becomes more blurred with each Saturday spent watching from the sideline.

"You get out there one or two plays and then come out, so it's hard to get into the groove of a game, get some momentum and get used to the defense," Samuel said.

The man keeping the would-be runners on the sideline can empathize.

Moreno spent his first season in Athens watching from afar, too. After a redshirt season, he began 2007 third on the depth chart. It wasn't until midseason injuries sidelined his competition that Moreno took full control of the job and blossomed as a runner.

While Moreno recognizes the challenges his understudies have faced, he said the experience will only help them in the long run.

"They've been doing a great job," Moreno said. "It's good to get that year under your belt and have that experience, and I think next year, we'll have a great backfield."

The question, however, is whether Moreno will be a part of that backfield.

With less than a month remaining before underclassmen must declare their eligibility for the draft, Moreno hasn't given many hints as to which way he's leaning. In fact, he swears he hasn't given it much thought.

As anxious as Georgia fans are to learn his decision, it might be the group of Bulldogs hoping to land his job that are the most curious. Still, they know better than to press the issue.

"Nobody talks about it, not him or Stafford," Samuel said. "I'm a little bit curious, but I'm just letting it play out. Sooner or later, we'll find out."

Thomas said he hasn't made any inquiries, and King said his only hope is to land an invitation to Moreno's draft party should he decide to head to the pros.

If that invitation does come this year, it will also mean King and company have reason to celebrate, too. In the meantime, they're spending their time learning their lines and perfecting their craft so they'll be ready when it's their chance to take center stage.

"We basically just keep each other going in case Knowshon does leave," Thomas said. "Those are some very big shoes to fill, so all of us are really trying to get better so if we do get that chance, we'll be prepared."

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