"Ealey was a very productive back in high school, but there were concerns about level of competition by some because of him playing in the lowest classification in the state. What was obvious about Ealey when playing at Emanuel County Institute was his vision, balance, body lean, and body control," Scout.com's Chad Simmons said earlier this week.
What was also clear that night was that Ealey didn't have to pass protect very often in ECI's system. The Twin City squad's offense looked just like Georgia Tech's – and nothing like Georgia's. That coupled with an injury early in pre-season practices hampered the true freshman's ability to play at the start of the season for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Mark Richt and company, however, were not going to make the same mistake twice – they were going to play a talented true freshman even if he was struggling to meet every aspect of what is expected of a Georgia running back.
As it turns out, Ealey was something the Dawgs were missing. He dressed out for the Oklahoma State game, but didn't play in Stillwater. Instead, the Dawgs went with Richard Samuel for the bulk of the contest and worked Carlton Thomas in some spots. But Ealey is much more a natural runner than Samuel – the coaching staff just was not ready to have Ealey, who was struggling at pass protection, guarding Joe Cox (who was sick with the flu) in his first start of the season.
There were not a lot of options for the Dawgs, either, as Caleb King was out with a hamstring injury. Georgia took their lumps in the run game at the start of the season, but it was clear by the time he entered the LSU game that Ealey was a different sort of back compared to his teammates.
Simmons remembers seeing that same sort of ability, particularly vision and lean, when he was toting the rock for ECI.
"He showed the same ability to hit the hole quickly if it was there," Simmons said. "Ealey showed patience to let the hole develop and showed the ability to cut back to the hole if the one that was supposed to be there wasn't. He is what is called a natural running back in this business."
After the LSU game Georgia's run game picked up – and Ealey's production did, too. The Dawgs were averaging 112 yards on the ground before the LSU game, and have averaged 146 since. Before Ealey entered the equation Georgia had only two games with more than 100 yards rushing – they have three games over 100 now – two over 170.
"Ealey has shown a lot at Georgia already in recent games what made him the top back in Georgia in 2009," Simmons said.
That's clearly the case – and the statistics don't lie. Richard Samuel is still Georgia's leading rusher for the year, but he carried the bulk of the load for the first three games of the season. In the last three games for Georgia Ealey has had no less than 70 yards a contest and is rushing for 6.2 yards a carry. He scored his first two touchdowns of the year Saturday. Some think he's starting to come on like a player familiar to all Bulldog fans.
"Ealey wears number 24 and no, he is not Knowshon Moreno, but he has a lot of similarities. Moreno did not have great top end speed, but he knew how to find the end zone. Moreno has great lateral movement as Ealey does, the two backs both have excellent balance, and the vision is very comparable. The one area Ealey needs to continue to improve on at Georgia outside of his speed is strength. That is one thing Moreno had on Ealey early in his career in Athens."
With three games remaining in the regular season – two of which are against rivals – Ealey is providing Georgia something they were missing in the early part of the season… a running back.