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Three's A Crowd
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BeliefBlazer Offline
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Posts: 13,790
Joined: Jun 2004
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I Root For: UAB
Location: Portal, GA

Post: #1
(AP) - Georgia hopes to learn a thing or two - maybe even three - about sharing from a bitter Southeastern Conference rival.

Last season, Auburn showed it's possible to give two talented running backs enough carries to keep them both happy. Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams led the Tigers to an undefeated season and wound up being tandem top-five picks in the NFL draft.
So, if two's not a crowd, what about three?

The Bulldogs have sophomores Thomas Brown and Danny Ware, who combined for 1,567 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. They also have redshirt sophomore Kregg Lumpkin, who was set to start a year ago until he went down with a knee injury.

Because he's not allowed to use an extra ball, coach Mark Richt is pondering other ways to give all three players an integral role.

"I certainly watched what Auburn did last year," Richt said. "I looked at some of their tape over the summer. I'm not planning to use the same plays, but I wanted to look at the philosophy of how they used those guys."

The Tigers managed to get 1,165 yards rushing out of Williams and 913 from Brown, letting them share the carries and occasionally line up together in the backfield.

While Brown was the bigger back and more accomplished blocker, he wasn't used merely to clear holes for Williams. Either player could take a handoff out of the two-back set. Either player could drift out of the backfield to make a catch (Brown was second on the team with 34 receptions, Williams had 21.)

Richt has always used his fullback almost exclusively as a blocker, but he sounds willing to bend on that philosophy. Still, he can't guarantee plenty of carries for everyone. He can't rule out someone becoming the clear-cut starter - and the other two backs becoming frustrated with a limited role.

"No matter what, you can only give the ball to one guy per play," Richt said. "Even if you have three tailbacks in the backfield, only one of them gets to touch it."

Brown took over as the starter late last season and he went into preseason practice still holding the No. 1 position. But it looks like a tenuous position with Ware and Lumpkin holding down the next two spots on the depth chart.

"It's somewhat of an edge to know I'm the number one tailback," Brown said. "But I can't be complacent. I know there are two guys right behind me who are really hungry for my job."

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, there are disparate styles at tailback.

Ware (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and Lumpkin (6-1, 211) are power backs who wouldn't look out of place at fullback. Certainly, they are big enough to block every now and then.

"It doesn't matter," Ware said. "My mind-set is that I would be more like an Auburn fullback than the traditional fullback. It's doesn't bother me when people say, 'He's a fullback more than a running back."'

Brown (5-8, 183) is surprisingly strong for his size but is clearly the more elusive runner - which helps him stand apart from Ware and Lumpkin.

"I may bring a different aspect to the game than they do with my speed and quickness," Brown said.

Ware started eight of the first nine games as a freshman, rushing for more than 100 yards in four of those contests. But he also was plagued by injuries (lung, knee, ankle, hand) and lost points with Richt with a pair of two-fumble games.

When Ware was hurt covering a loose ball against Kentucky, Brown took over at tailback and rushed for a season-high 130 yards. He started the final three games, capped by a 111-yard performance against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. He finished with four 100-yard games and led the team with 875 yards and eight touchdowns.

"He's No. 1 right now," Richt said. "But he's not the starter until he starts in a game."

Lumpkin played extensively as a freshman in 2003, rushing for 523 yards and earning his first career start against Purdue in the Capital One Bowl. He bounced back from a critical fumble to score the winning touchdown in overtime and solidified his starting position the following spring.

Then, in the very first practice of the fall, Lumpkin tore up his left knee. A year later, he's still trying to reclaim the form he showed before the injury, but he's no longer thinking of what might have been.

"I told myself that I wasn't going to think about it anymore," Lumpkin said. "I had to let it go."

Ware has changed the way he holds the ball, keeping it closer to his chest in an attempt to cut down on his fumbles. Anything to get a little more playing time.

Meanwhile, the coaching staff keeps reminding all three backs that Brown and Williams are now highly paid players in the NFL. Sharing the load at Auburn was no hindrance to them. If anything, it seemed to enhance their standing with the pros.

"Ronnie Brown didn't even start most of the time, but he went No. 2 in the draft," Ware said. "I want that to stick in my head. Even if you don't start, do what you've got to do."
08-14-2005 05:00 PM
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