UGA's Crowell will get his chance to shine early

photo Isaiah Crowell in action at Georgia's practice.

ATHENS, Ga. - If things keep coming this easily for Georgia freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell, might a 1,000-yard season be a given?

Crowell signed with the Bulldogs in February as the nation's top-rated tailback according to ESPN, but he had work to do on Georgia's depth chart. That was before top returning rusher Washaun Ealey left in May and transferred to Jacksonville State and second-leading rusher Caleb King was ruled academically ineligible in July and signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings.

To combat those losses, Bulldogs coaches moved former tailback Richard Samuel back from inside linebacker. Samuel, however, has been hampered the past two weeks by a strained quadriceps and may not be 100 percent for Saturday's opener against Boise State in Atlanta.

Hello, Isaiah.

"The stage is getting set up for him to certainly get opportunities, and I'm not mad that he's going to get opportunities," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "You can see he's got a lot of ability, but he hasn't been hit super hard, either. We've had some scrimmages and he's been hit, but somebody along the line is going to get a good shot on him.

"We'll see if he'll be able to hold on to the ball. I think he'll be fine."

Not even Herschel Walker, widely regarded as the greatest tailback in Georgia and Southeastern Conference history, enjoyed such a fast track to playing time. Walker was third on the depth chart behind Donnie McMickens and Carnie Norris entering Georgia's 1980 opener at Tennessee, but he came in and scored two second-half touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a 16-15 comeback win.

Walker started the following week against Texas A&M, amassed 145 yards and three touchdowns, and never looked back.

Crowell, a 5-foot-11, 215-pounder from Columbus, averaged a staggering 11.7 yards per carry last season but was held to 94 yards on 20 carries in Carver's semifinal loss to Calhoun. He admits the hype has been overwhelming at times since his Athens arrival and hasn't delved into numerical goals for his inaugural go-around.

"What I'm really ready to do is just get out there and play," Crowell said. "That's what I came here for -- to be able to play and play early and just do whatever I can to help my team win. I think I'm ready for everything, whatever it takes."

His teammates are ready, too.

Several Georgia players this week brought up moments in which Crowell dazzled during preseason camp, and every player seemed to recall a different play. Tight end Orson Charles recalled a goal-line drill in which Crowell kept breaking tackles to score, while defensive end Abry Jones pointed out a run in which he hurdled a player and then tightroped the sideline.

"The kid has turned heads every day in practice with the things he can do," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "He will make some plays where jaws are going to hit the ground."

Said receiver Tavarres King: "He's a confident kid, extremely confident. He's ready."

There is even cautious gushing among the coaches. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Crowell's focus must be getting on the bus Friday and holding on to the football Saturday, but not before shelling out a slew of positive traits.

"He's got vision, and I would say that's his No. 1 thing," Bobo said. "I think he's got all the skill set. He's strong. He's powerful. He's got balance. He can break tackles. He's got speed, but his No. 1 thing is vision."

Odds and ends

The Bulldogs practiced for 90 minutes Wednesday in helmets and shorts. ... Samuel went through the practice without any setbacks, but Richt said there would be more tempo today. ... The starting tailback may not be known until Friday or Saturday.