Moreno waits to make impact

Knowshon Moreno

ATHENS – Often, the most popular player on a football team is the second string quarterback.

Every time the starting quarterback makes a mistake, fans call for the backup. At Georgia, given the love affair with sophomore starter Matthew Stafford, that's not the case.

Bulldog fans have shifted their affections to a reserve running back, the third-string back in fact. Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno created a buzz among his coaches and teammates last year during his redshirt season. That racket, which filtered quickly to the fan base, is bound to increase to a full-fledged commotion as the 2007 season draws nearer.

"I try not to get into that too much," said Moreno, now in his second week of spring practice with the Bulldogs. "People are going to say what they're going to say."

Some are saying he could start. But is that possible with two more-than-solid seniors in front of him? Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown each have more than 1,600 yards rushing in college and no intention of losing their job to a newcomer. (Brown is sitting out this spring due to a knee injury but is expected to return in the fall.)

Moreno is no typical upstart. He averaged 9.7 yards a carry as a senior at Middletown South High School in Belford, N.J., and was named at EA Sports prep All-American and the ninth-best running back in the country by Scout.com. More importantly, he has impressed head coach Mark Richt without stepping on the game field.

"I think Knowshon will compete, and he will try to win the starting job and will leave every ounce of energy on the field," Richt said. "He seems to have a very good focus on what he wants to accomplish. He doesn't seem to be very distracted, especially when the whistle blows.

"I think he's definitely going to make an impact on our football team."

As for moving up the depth chart: "It's too early to make that call," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "We know Knowshon has some potential, and we're definitely excited about him, but the key word is potential. He's got a long way to go. He's got to learn this offense."

Asked to list Moreno's strengths, Richt says change of direction and Bobo says tackle breaking, both of which have been in too short supply the last several seasons. Moreno is working with the second team offense this spring due to Brown's absence, and he knows he has the luxury of time.

"My time will come no matter what happens (this season)," he said. "I just want to get in there and see what I can do."

As with all young backs, he is most behind in his pass blocking.

"Got to protect that quarterback," he says, reciting the code every Georgia back must memorize before playing in Richt's offense.

Regardless of how the depth chart shakes out, Georgia seems destined for another season of rotating running backs. In the last two seasons, a Bulldog running back has gotten 20 or more carries in a game three times. (Georgia won all three of those games, Auburn, 2006; Tennessee, 2005; South Carolina, 2005.)

"If one guy is hot, we're going to hopefully this year give him the ball and keep giving him the ball," Bobo said. "They all would like it 20 times, but I think it is a good changeup to keep them fresh. We haven't done bad here the last few years rotating running backs."

It hasn't helped any of the individual running backs, though. Lumpkin, Brown and Danny Ware all have struggled at times adjusting to complementary roles after being featured backs in high school, and Ware skipped his senior year in part because he knew carries would be limited again this year.

Moreno understands the reality of his situation, he said.

"In high school, you knew you were going to get 20," he said. "Here every handoff you get, you have to do the best you can do with it."

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