SEC MEDIA DAYS: Senior RBs return with something to prove in East
HOOVER, Ala. — Sony Michel speaks in verses. Nick Chubb, his roommate, prefers not speaking much at all.
“How much do you pay attention to other running backs in the league?” Chubb was asked on Day 2 of SEC Media Days.
“Not at all,” the running back answered.
A follow-up question: “Are you OK with all this, being here?”
“Yeah. It’s senior year, so I’m trying to be open to a lot of new things.”
“You’re not much of a spotlight guy.”
“That’s why I’ve got Sony here. He enjoys it,” Chubb answered. “If y’all want to go over there, y’all can.”
Georgia’s duo of senior running backs have personalities that are as polar opposite as their favorite rappers, Young Thug and J. Cole, respectively. While Michel, also known as @Flyguy2stackz on the track, is writing his latest hype “anthem” ahead of the Bulldogs’ 2017 season, Chubb has plans to start his own hop farm one day and supply breweries with the crucial ingredient. Michel enjoys wordplay; Georgia coach Kirby Smart described Chubb as “a man of few words” — an ideal pick to accompany him to the 2017 SEC Media Days here just south of Birmingham.
“Sony impacts our team vocally more,” Smart said. “Nick impacts our team with an example, and I think it’s really cool that you’ve got both of them doing that.”
Smart couldn’t be happier that both Michel and Chubb decided to return to Athens, Georgia, for their senior seasons and spearhead the Bulldogs’ rushing attack.
“Total elation,” Smart said of his reaction when he heard the duo would be passing on the NFL Draft for one more season in the SEC. “I think Nick will tell you that he wasn’t 100 percent last year, and he certainly has improved. So, with his ability to move up in the draft and create value for himself, he wanted to come back. I think that made it easier for Sony.”
Chubb bounced back from a season-ending knee injury suffered on the first play from scrimmage against Tennessee in 2015 to score eight touchdowns and break the 1,000-yard plateau during his junior season. But he didn’t show the same nose for the end zone that he had during his 14-touchdown, 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year campaign, and that was ultimately one of the reasons why he returned for one final season: He felt like he still had something to prove.
Michel, on the other hand, posted 840 yards and four touchdowns on 72 fewer attempts than Chubb during Georgia’s 8-5 (4-4) run to a third-place finish in the SEC East and a 31-23 win over TCU in the Liberty Bowl. He said he was surprised to hear that his roommate would be putting off the NFL but that Chubb’s decision to return only made his decision easier.
“I didn’t come back because I want to worry about Sony. I came back to give it all for this program,” Michel said. “The standard is held high. Nick and I are seniors, so we have been down this road before. This is our chance to try to lead our team and lead them to something great.”
With 18 returning starters (eight on offense, 10 on defense) Georgia will look to challenge two-time-defending East champ Florida for the division’s spot in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. If Michel and Chubb can exceed their production from 2016, it should take a lot of pressure off of sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason, who threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns last season — and who Smart said Tuesday would again be Georgia’s starter — and the Bulldogs’ veteran defense.
“We have to create space for those guys and run the ball better, be more productive so we can open up the passing game,” Smart said. ”(Eason) needs that help, and Jacob has been a guy that has openly admitted he’s super-happy to have Nick Chubb and Sony Michel coming back.”
Webb’s confidence reflects Vanderbilt’s hunger for more in 2017
Michel and Chubb are joined in the East by Vanderbilt senior running back Ralph Webb, who followed the Bulldogs’ duo on Tuesday in Hoover with his own definitive statement on the debate between which division has the most talent in the backfield.
“The East,” Webb said. “I’m in the East, so we have the best running backs.”
Webb’s statement was predicated on an earlier statement in which he said he was the best running back in the country.
“I think I’ve been very consistent,” said Webb, Vandy’s all-time leading rusher who has started in 37 straight games and ranks 20th in SEC history in rushing yards. “I’ve gotten better at catching the ball out of the backfield, I can line up at slot receiver, I can run routes, I can pass protect. Whatever you want me to do, I can do it.”
Like Michel and Chubb, Webb also considered skipping his senior season for the NFL but decided to come back to hopefully improve his pro stock and add to his Commodores legacy.
“Be legendary,” Webb said of his 2017 goals. “Go out there and be that back where, if you mention the SEC and running backs, you have to mention Ralph Webb. If you mention Vanderbilt football, you have to mention Ralph Webb.”
Despite the decision to go with a clip-on bow tie for Media Days, Webb echoed the confidence that fourth-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason brought to the lectern for his news conference on Tuesday. Mason relished the fact that he has a combination of 38 juniors and seniors on his team and said that the Commodores, who finished 6-7 (3-5) last season but return Webb and junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, won’t fear their SEC competition.
“We’re starting to close the talent gap,” Mason said. “For the first time in my tenure, I look at depth on this football team, and I truly believe we have a chance to do something special.
“Right now, we feel we’re in the midst of a renaissance. Let’s have some fun.”
Supervising editor is Pete Bland.