ATHENS - There's a new leader in Georgia's search to replace Knowshon Moreno.
Coach Mark Richt said that Richard Samuel is 'a solid number one' on the Bulldogs' depth chart at tailback, after Caleb King entered preseason drills as the leader to replace Moreno. He became the Denver Broncos' first-round draft choice after becoming only the second back in Georgia history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
King has missed time with a hamstring injury, leaving Samuel, a sophomore, and surprising redshirt freshman Carlton Thomas to work with the first-team offense.
The tailback race is one of the key position battles for the No. 13 Bulldogs, who will play at No. 9 Oklahoma State in their Sept. 5 opener.
Richt said Samuel, who missed spring practice with a wrist injury, is making an impact with impressive strength and stamina in the hot preseason drills.
'Richard is playing with a lot of energy, good stamina, and he goes hard,' Richt said Friday. 'We hope as the game goes on, he gets stronger and can blaze a trail. When other guys start to fatigue, he looks even faster. He wants to play, he wants to block, he wants to get the job done. He has a comfortable air about him and that gives people confidence.'
While the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Samuel looks like a powerful back capable of handling a heavy workload, the 5-foot-7 Thomas is proving he can be more than a change-of-pace back.
Thomas said he weighed only 163 pounds when he signed with Georgia from Frostproof, Fla., but added he is up to 180 pounds. King and Thomas were the only healthy scholarship backs in spring practice, and Thomas has continued to show up for every practice in August.
'I try not to take as many big blows to my body,' Thomas said, adding he described his running style as 'running hard and running smart.'
'I'm ready,' Thomas said this week. 'I've been ready since last year.'
Thomas said he has also been impressed by Samuel, who had 26 carries for 133 yards while joining King as the backups to Moreno last year.
'Richard is a big guy,' Thomas said. 'He's a load. He's an awesome running back, too.'
Richt took advantage of Moreno as the primary back last year, but the coach has said he's prepared to use a committee approach at the position this year. He added Saturday that it's too early to know if Samuel or any back will earn the majority of the carries.
'I'd say a majority of them are absolutely in the race and some are in the thick of it while some are on the fringe,' Richt said, adding he may not make a decision on the rotation before the season.
'Usually, it's about game four when you have to decide if someone is going to redshirt,' he said. 'We'll see when the dust settles, and they get in a routine. Once the freshmen learn what do, they are not as confused and can start playing faster plus you look at injuries and some may be forced to play.'
A longshot in the competition is freshman Washaun Ealey, who wears Moreno's No. 24.
Notes: Georgia practiced for 90 minutes in full pads Saturday morning before preparing to mingle with fans in the annual Picture Day at Sanford Stadium. Richt said he is planning a practice game Wednesday to simulate substitutions and game situations. 'We'll probably do that in the heat of the day to get ready for what we'll face in the first game,' he said.