Georgia Football: Will Dawgs Backfield Be Too Crowded in 2014?

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Georgia Football: Will Dawgs Backfield Be Too Crowded in 2014?
Eric Gay/Associated Press
Running back Sony Michel will join an already crowded Georgia backfield in 2014.

Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, two of the nation's five best running back prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite, are both committed to play for the Georgia Bulldogs.  Generally, when two such talented players at the same position agree to play for the same school, questions abound.

Who will win the starting position?  Will both players share the spotlight?  Will one of the athletes redshirt?

For Georgia, however, one question emerges as the most pressing: Will the Dawgs backfield be too crowded in 2014?

With a plethora of talent returning and two new stars arriving in Athens that quandary is well merited, but in the Southeastern Conference there's no such thing as too much depth at the running back position.

The Nation's Most Talented Backfield 

Obviously, the most notable name in Georgia's backfield is rising junior Todd Gurley.  If healthy, Gurley is expected to contend for a Heisman Trophy in 2014, and his first two years in Athens were as chock full of production as they were highlights.

Combine Gurley's prowess with the highly anticipated return of junior Keith Marshall, whose 2013 campaign was cut short by a knee injury, and the Dawgs could have one of the nation's most dynamic running back duos.

Limiting the unit to that twosome is shortsighted, though.  J.J. Green started two games as a freshman in 2013.  With Gurley out, Green ran for 129 yards against Tennessee following Marshall's first-quarter knee injury.  Brendan Douglas, also a freshman last season, accounted for over 100 yards of offense the following week against Missouri. 

Returning Georgia Running Backs Career Stats
Player Career Games Rushing Yards Receiving Yards Total Touchdowns
Todd Gurley 24 2,374 558 34
Keith Marshall 19 1,005 202 11
J.J. Green 12 384 104 3
Brendan Douglas 12 345 172 4

If three's company and four is a crowd, what does one call Georgia's backfield?  After all, assuming incoming freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb live up to expectations, Georgia could have six players capable of starting at running back in the nation's best conference.

Is There a Need for the New Guys?

After an injury-riddled 2013 season, depth remains a concern for the Georgia Bulldogs.  Although the Dawgs managed to run for over 2,200 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns last year, they did so with their two best backs (Gurley and Marshall) missing a combined 11 games.

Injuries are bound to occur, and while the time missed by Gurley and Marshall may have frustrated fans in 2013, it was not out of the ordinary.

Combined Games Missed by Georgia's Two Leading Rushers
Year Combined Games Missed
2013 11
2012 0
2011 6
2010 6
2009 7

Furthermore, with Marshall's return date still in question there could be additional playing time available early in the year.

Admittedly, Chubb and Michel will be behind the curve in playbook and schematic knowledge.  They'll need to learn to pass block at the collegiate level before they garner significant playing time.  But if recruiting rankings can be trusted, the freshmen have the potential to compete with—or even pass—Douglas and Green on the depth chart.

Georgia's Running Backs as Recruits
Player Class Stars Position Rank Overall National Rank
Keith Marshall 2012 5 1 12
Todd Gurley 2012 4 7 74
J.J. Green 2013 3 44 (Cornerback) 587
Brendan Douglas 2013 3 5 (Fullback) NA
Sony Michel 2014 5 3 19
Nick Chubb 2014 5 5 33

The Value Added by Michel and Chubb

Earlier in January, JC Shurburtt of 247Sports spoke favorably about the tandem of Georgia running back commits, saying:

If Chubb is the next Todd Gurley at UGA, then the 5-foot-11, 207 pound Michel is the next Keith Marshall as the Dawgs figure to continue a "thunder and lightning" combination in the offensive backfield for many seasons to come.

Such praise is lofty and arguably premature, but at the very least there is truth to Shurburtt's assessment of the playing style of Chubb and Michel.  

Mike Bobo, Georgia's offensive coordinator, likes to balance out his offense.  Typically, that balance is presented as a mix of runs and passes, but he also likes to vary the style of runs utilized in play-calling based on available personnel.

Photo via 247Sports.
Running back Nick Chubb

Last year, Brendan Douglas was counted on for grueling, hard-nosed yardage when Todd Gurley was out of the game.  In 2014, the onus of such situations will start to fall on Nick Chubb, who possesses more breakaway speed than Douglas.  The result should be a smaller gap between Gurley and his replacement.

Similarly, Michel will soon be leaned on to imitate Keith Marshall.  While J.J. Green performed adequately in such spots last year, Michel's upside is much higher thanks in no small part to his size and strength advantage.

Georgia does have a problem in its backfield, but it's a very fortunate problem to have.

Solving that problem could take the Bulldogs back to the SEC Championship Game.

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