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Freshmen earning key roles on offense for Georgia
Georgia Football Heal
Georgia running back Keith Marshall (4) runs the ball during NCAA college football practice, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Daniel Shirey) - photo by Associated Press

ATHENS, Ga. — At least three freshmen are on track to earning key roles in Georgia's offense.

John Theus is the current starting right tackle, while Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley could play lead roles in a tailback committee.

Coach Mark Richt said Friday he's not afraid to have a freshman take over at tailback.

"I just think whoever is the most productive, we've got to get them into the game," Richt said. "If it's one of those two guys, we'll get him in there. If they're in there a lot, it probably means they're doing good. That's a good sign. I'm not afraid to play them. We're definitely going to play them; it's just a matter of how much."

Georgia must replace Isaiah Crowell, who was the Bulldogs' leading rusher and the 2011 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year.

Richt dismissed Crowell from the team in June following Crowell's arrest on felony weapons charges. Crowell has transferred to Alabama State.

"It was sad that Isaiah left," Gurley said. "I wish he could be here but I just have to go and pick up the system."

Marshall, a speed back, is from Raleigh, N.C. Gurley, a more physical runner, hails from Tarboro, N.C.

"They're both from North Carolina, and they take pride in that, too," Theus said. "They're trying to represent from back home. They both run the heck out of the ball."

The freshmen backs are competing with sophomore Ken Malcome, senior Richard Samuel, who also is working at fullback, and junior Brandon Harton.

Theus said the young tailbacks are not one-dimensional.

"Keith, everybody knows he's a speedster, but he'll stick his nose in there and get it," Theus said. "Todd, normally most people know him as a bruiser, but he can also turn it up and he'll go, too."

Crowell also had a failed drug test last season that resulted in a one-game suspension. Another running back, Carlton Thomas, left the team following three one-game suspensions last year.

Marshall made no prediction about his on-field production as a freshman, but he vowed to stay out of trouble off the field.

"I know that I will not be in trouble with getting suspended or anything like that," Marshall said. "I think me and Todd will keep each other out of trouble and some of the other guys.

"I've just never been one to get in trouble. My parents didn't allow it. I found out at an early age that getting in trouble was not an option."

Marshall has a strong record for academic excellence. He enrolled early for spring practice and said his goal is to graduate as a junior.

He quickly clarified that statement when he realized it sounded like he was planning to leave early for the NFL.

"I didn't mean graduate and leave," Marshall said. "I meant graduate and focus on my masters or something like that."

Marshall said Crowell's exit "really didn't affect how I was preparing for everything.

"The coaches said now you have an opportunity to step up to a bigger role," Marshall said. "I was going to work my best and try to play anyway."

Gurley (6-1, 218) had better numbers than Marshall (5-11, 216) in Wednesday's first scrimmage of the preseason. Gurley had six carries for 58 yards and one touchdown. Marshall had seven carries for 11 yards.

"I really didn't think I would be picking up the system as good as I am, but I think I'm doing a pretty good job at it," Gurley said.

Theus (6-6, 309) was another key recruit for Richt. He was a USA Today and Parade magazine high school All-America pick and was rated among the nation's top five linemen by and

It hasn't taken long for Theus, from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., to move into Georgia's starting line.

"I don't know if he's solidified," said Richt of Theus. "I don't know if I'd name him the starter right now, but he's definitely lining up No. 1 right tackle and is getting better every day."

Theus has had a wound on the bridge of his nose since the first day of practice.

"My helmet was a little loose and it came down," Theus said. "It scabbed over but every day since then it has been bleeding."

Theus said he is not assuming he has won a starting job.

"No one has been named anything," he said.

"I'm just out there busting my butt. I come in the film room and I see there's a lot of stuff I need to work on every day."

Richt also says freshman fullback Quayvon Hicks will play. Greg Pyke, another freshman, has been working with the second-team line at guard.

"Those kids are getting a lot of opportunity to show what they can do, and I think a great majority of them will play this year and help us offensively," Richt said.

NOTES: Sophomore offensive guard Hunter Long will need surgery after fracturing his left foot in Friday's practice. Long, a backup who played in three games last season, is expected to miss six to eight weeks. ... Harton missed Friday's practice with a bruised right hip. ... DE Ray Drew is still out after suffering a concussion in the first week of practice. ... Richt has grown a new goatee. ... Marshall has been working on kickoff returns.