Both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the two new kids on the block in the Georgia Bulldogs backfield, have made quite the splash in Athens. Marshall drew high praise in the spring as he showed a lot of skills and the readiness to play in the SEC. Gurley, in fall camp, has impressed his teammates with his size and ability to run the football tough.
However, when it came time to name a starter at the running back spot, Ken Malcome, a sophomore, will likely get the job for the Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo. Across the AP Wire, Sports Illustrated reports Malcome sort of saw the news coming:
"It's not that I don't care. That's what I've been thinking anyway," the third-year sophomore said. "I'm going to keep pushing. I'm not going to let that one statement go to my head. I'm still going to be the same Ken Malcome on the practice field. It's not going to change anything. It just gives me more confidence about what I can do. It's good to know he has the confidence to start me."
Good for Malcome, as both freshmen are going to continue to push for playing time. The most compelling element of the Gurley-Marshall development to watch has absolutely nothing to do with them carrying the ball, breaking tackles or scoring touchdowns.
It's their pass protection.
Coaches don't always talk about it. Fans don't always recognize it. But, the opposition most certainly makes a note of a player's ability, or lack thereof, when it comes to pass blocking from the running back spot.
Not being able to be solid in pass protection can truly hurt a running back who would be an otherwise complete player. Those players either get beat and give up sacks, or they don't get on the field during passing downs. Either way, the defense wins.
A player that can't block becomes a target for pressures and a liability for his team. Blocking schemes have to be changed and simplified. Blitzes that ordinarily would be easy pick-ups become hold-your-breath moments as the new running back tries to figure out if he should step to the interior or pick up the man on the edge. Quarterbacks look over their shoulders as the kid who can't block a fly has to face down a charging linebacker.
Or, your coach could go the other, more obvious route: Only playing the incapable back when it is a running play. Defenses in college football pick up on that too. They know when certain backs come into the game, with no ability to pass block, a run play is extremely likely. Sure, they might get caught with a play action pass, but for the most part tendencies run true and that means load up the box to stop the run.
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are both growing into quality collegiate running backs. Watch their development as pass blockers closely this season. If they can help protect Aaron Murray, learn the proper time to release as his safety valve and be active in the screen game; then they can be the every down backs that Mark Richt and Mike Bobo are looking for in 2012.