LEXINGTON - Sophomore Jonathan George's rushing total in his two years at Kentucky is 25 yards, about the length of your average walk to the mailbox. But he has already covered a great deal more ground this spring.
George began the spring practice season as the No. 4 tailback on the depth chart, but there is every indication that he has been moving up the list with his work over the last 2 1/2 weeks.
“I’m just working hard, trying to get to the top,” George said. “I just want to be in position where I can get playing time. That’s all I can ask for.”
George isn’t just asking for more playing time; he’s doing everything he can to grab it with both hands.
“I’m trying to run hard every play and just get as many yards as I can and be a good running back,” he said. “Everybody’s out here just trying to run hard and do what they can do. I mean, it is a competition, so everybody’s just trying to come out and compete and do the best they can.”
Sophomore Raymond Sanders appears to be a solid No. 1 at running back, while George is competing with junior CoShik Williams and redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer.
George had another in a series of good practice days Saturday in the Wildcats’ first full scrimmage of the spring, where his previous progress earned him more reps than a No. 4 running back should expect.
“I’d say it was a productive day because I got a chance to take a lot of reps and learn more stuff,” he said. “But there were some bad things I need to work on as well. I fumbled once, and that’s never positive, so I need to work on my ball security and being more in control of the ball.”
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound George rushed for a touchdown with the second team during the scrimmage portion of the previous Saturday practice, and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said then that he was definitely moving up the ladder.
“I don’t think there’s any questions that he would be one of our top two running backs from what I saw today,” Randy Sanders said. “He doesn’t always make the right cut or the right read on a run, but if you get a guy that can run physical and run hard, hopefully you can teach him how to do the rest.”
George said he’s willing to learn.
“There’s some more technique stuff I need to work on. It’s just all about getting in the film room and correcting my mistakes,” he said.
He said has been soaking up all he can from the running backs who have been ahead of him.
“I listen to everything they tell me,” he said. “Every running back that’s been here and gone, they’ve all taught me stuff that’s been valuable to me playing this game and (playing) in the SEC as well,” he said.
“All of them had pretty successful careers at this school, so it’s just great information to take in and learn from.
“Sometimes I see them around now, and I ask them, ‘What do I need to do here?’ or ‘What can I do to get myself better in this area?’ and they always have good feedback for me to work off of.”
He said the two years in which he saw little or no game action were still productive years.
“I got a chance to learn a lot. I did get hurt, but those two years I did get a chance to sit back and watch and try to learn the game a whole lot more,” he said.
There were some difficult days soon after George came to Lexington from Lincoln, Ala., in 2009. He had to cope with the sudden death of his high school coach days after the start of his first training camp, and a preseason ankle injury wiped out any chance he had of playing in his first year at UK.
“I’ve had a few setbacks, but I’m well and I’m playing now, so I’m just trying to make the best out of it,” he said.
He rushed for 1,618 yards as a senior, averaging 13 yards per carry, then signed with Kentucky to become the first player from his school to sign with an SEC school since the 1950s.
Former UK coach Rich Brooks compared the hard-charging, physical George to Warrick Dunn at the time of his signing, and he was described as a “manimal” by the high school coach he lost just a few months later. He takes that as a compliment.
“It sounds like one,” he said. “I just try to be vicious in everything that I do, be a tough player and always win. That’s all I want.”
George played in 11 games last season, mostly on special teams. He had nine carries.
He said he worked extensively on technique and reading blitzes in the offseason, and he has turned heads with his work on the field this spring.
“I feel like I have come a long way. I’ve been watching a lot of film, doing the extra work trying to get some things I need to work on better,” he said. “I feel like I’m making strides toward being a better running back right now.”