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Every offseason is interesting in Athens. This one appears to be no different.
Georgia announced on Tuesday that rising junior running back Washaun Ealey, the Bulldogs' leading rusher the last two years, has been suspended indefinitely by the school. ESPN.com reported that Ealey, who rushed for 811 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, missed an early-morning punishment run last week.
"We have certain expectations and standards that apply to all our student-athletes," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said in a statement. "If Washaun does things the Georgia way, he'll be back in good standing."
But what if he doesn't get back in good standing? Without Ealey, Georgia's backfield is short on experience and long on unrealized expectation.
Senior Caleb King came to Athens with as much hype as recent signee Isaiah Crowell, but has not lived up to the billing. King finished last season with 430 yards, two touchdowns and two suspensions totaling three games. If Ealey is suspended for a significant amount of time, King will definitely get the first crack at solidifying the top spot on the depth chart. But judging from his performance the first three years of his Georgia career, the likelihood of him nailing down that spot seems farfetched.
The only other running back with experience that Georgia has on scholarship is Carlton Thomas. Thomas rushed for 272 yards last year, but is considered more of a changeup running back than a player that can shoulder the load.
Redshirt freshman Ken Malcome will also contend for carries. He impressed coaches during the fall, to a point where Richt considered taking his redshirt off in early October when King was suspended and Thomas was injured. But you can't coach experience, and Malcome lacks that.
The wild card in this equation is Crowell, who will come to Georgia with as much hype as any player in recent Bulldog history. Richt said during his signing day press conference that we shouldn't be surprised to see Crowell "toting the rock" in the Georgia Dome when the Bulldogs open their season against Boise State. Is he the "next Herschel Walker?" That remains to be seen. Guys like King, Danny Ware, Kregg Lumpkin and Jasper Sanks were given similar titles and expectations, but never lived up to the hype. Even if Crowell winds up winning four Heisman Trophies, it's asking a lot for a true freshman to step in and be a feature back right away.
Whoever ends up at the top of the depth chart at running back when Georgia opens against Boise State, he not only will have the weight of Bulldog Nation on his shoulders, he also will have Mark Richt's job status. Georgia opens with Boise State and South Carolina – two teams that will be ranked when the preseason polls come out in August. A couple of early losses could do serious damage to Richt's long-term employment prospects at Georgia, and having an inexperienced or unproductive running game to open the season certainly won't help matters.
Ealey certainly isn't Herschel Walker. He's not even Musa Smith. But as of right now he's the best option Georgia has at running back. If he's not part of this team, it could do serious damage to Georgia's 2011 season.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee
2010/2011 Off-Season Column Archive:
Ealey Suspension Leaves Georgia In A Bind – February 9, 2011
SEC Signing Day Review – February 3, 2011
CFN Analysis – Signing Day 2011 – February 2, 2011
Dream Team Won't Save Richt – January 31, 2011
Five Thoughts On Kragthorpe – January 24, 2011
Ridiculously Early SEC West Rankings – January 23, 2011
LSU Hires OC Four Years Too Late – January 20, 2011
Ridiculously Early SEC East Rankings – January 19, 2011
CFN Analysis: Cam Turns Pro – January 14, 2011
BCS National Championship Review – January 11, 2011
CFN Analysis: Cotton Bowl – January 8, 2011
Five Thoughts On Why Auburn Wins – January 7, 2011
Five Thoughts On Dan Quinn – January 5, 2011
Tuesday Question: Should Rich Rod Be Fired – January 4, 2011
Five Thoughts on Charlie Weis – January 4, 2011
CFN Analysis: Charlie Weis as the Florida OC – January 3, 2011
CFN Analysis: Outback Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Gator Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Capital One Bowl – January 1, 2011
CFN Analysis: Liberty Bowl – December 31, 2010
CFN Analysis: Music City Bowl – December 30, 2010
End Of The Season Accountability – December 27, 2010
Pryor Can't Be Compared To Newton – December 23, 2010
Ranking The SEC Bowl Games – December 19, 2010
Malzahn Makes The Right Move – December 14, 2010
Five Thoughts on Muschamp – December 12, 2010
CFN Analysis: Florida Hires Muschamp – December 12, 2010
CFN Analysis: Cam's Heisman Landslide – December 11, 2010
Five Thoughts On Urban Meyer – December 9, 2010
Meyer Leaves Legacy, Question Marks – December 8, 2010
Click here for the 2010 regular season archive
Click here for the 2010 Three & Out archive