Samuel "Missed" Playing Linebacker

ATHENS - Richard Samuel never could get comfortable lining up in the Georgia backfield.

He was touted as the Bulldogs fastest back on roster, and at 6-2, 223-pounds was the most physically imposing. But Samuel just never felt at home seven yards behind the quarterback.

After two seasons at tailback, he craved the chance to hit somebody, to inflict punishment instead of withstanding it.

Samuel wanted to move to linebacker, a position he wreaked havoc at during his playing days at Cass High School.

"I missed it a lot," he said. "Just the whole to be able to play more freely and not worry about certain fundamentals. And also enjoying the tackling and all that. I missed that a lot."

Georgia's coaching staff offered no protest regarding the change. After all, coach Mark Richt and his staff saw plenty of defensive highlights while recruiting Samuel. Many schools told Samuel he could play both positions in college, while others wanted him strictly at linebacker.

"My thoughts - I like the position change," Samuel said. "I feel like I'll be more comfortable. Be able to play more freely at linebacker. How it came about, I'm not real sure. It was thrown around, would I stay at running back or move to linebacker. I just decided I would go ahead and talk to the coaches and go ahead and make the switch to linebacker."

Samuel never felt 100 percent sure of all his assignments as a running back. Sure, carrying the football was fun, and his three rushing touchdowns were a monumental achievement. But picking up the blitz, and understanding how to protect the quarterback on every down didn't feel natural.

"I didn't feel that comfortable because going through high school most of the running backs, we didn't really have to block in high school," he said. "So that's something we had to come in and learn and the fundamental steps. For some reason I couldn't get it down right."

Samuel began last season as starter at tailback, and for three games found success. He ran for an average of 5.1 yards a carry, including an 88-yard touchdown at Arkansas. But as the season progressed, Samuel's average fell as he had trouble making defenders miss, and finding the correct hole to burst through. Fellow sophomore Caleb King and true freshman Washaun Ealey began getting most of the totes, as Samuel's convictions as a running back started to waver. Samuel barely saw action versus Auburn and Kentucky with no carries. He didn't get on the field during the final two games, against Georgia Tech and Texas A&M.

"I would have to say last season was more of--I was learning but in some ways a setback from starting to not even playing towards the end of the season," Samuel said. "So more of a setback. I needed to get better … I think of the inconsistency and just the struggles with having to block, be able to pick up the block and keep up a good pocket for the quarterback."

Samuel says the Georgia backfield is set without him, and he doesn't appear to be bitter. But the time felt right to move to the other side of the ball.

"I'll say the timing was pretty good," he said. "I played running back freshman and sophomore year, I didn't have tremendous time at it. I didn't have that many snaps. So, plus how the backs were doing last year, my future wasn't looking too good at running back. So it's good timing since I have two years left."

In Samuel's mind, it was now or never. Waiting another season would leave him with only one year of eligibility, and he says he doesn't plan on redshirting.

"It would have been tough," he said. "I wouldn't have that season to come back and improve on. I'd only have that one season to have to—all or nothing in that one season."

Samuel isn't the only Bulldog excited about the swap. Teammates have already bragged about Samuels past defensive prowess, and see the potential for impact in the future. Many current Georgia players played against or watched Samuel in high school, and his defensive intensity stood out.

"I think he'll do really good," redshirt freshman Chase Vasser said, "because I know he played on both sides of the ball in high school and he was a phenomenal linebacker. I went and watched one of his playoff because my team didn't make the playoffs. He was very good."

Last season, Samuel did get a chance to collect tackles on the kickoff team, something he says he enjoyed immensely. In fact, Samuel was among the team's leader in special teams tackles.

"That kid likes to come downhill," sophomore Cornelius Washington said. "That's what I'm going to say about that. He played linebacker in high school and he was good in high school. I feel like it's a good change, you know. I don't think it's going to hurt any, that's for sure."

The timing of the move was enhanced by the arrival of new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. With the new 3-4 scheme still in development at Georgia, all players are trying to prove themselves, making the transition slightly less stressful for Samuel.

"I'm not too sure how quick I'm going to pick it up," Samuel said. "You know, it's been two years since I've played the position so it might take some time to pick it up. I mean, knowing the fact that I'm going to study hard, and how much effort I'm going to put into learning the playbook I don't think it will be too difficult to pick up."

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