In the minds of some, sophomore Carlton Thomas has been considered the third wheel in the Georgia backfield.
While Washaun Ealey and Caleb King have received most of the attention from coaches and the bulk of the carries since last year, Thomas has quietly gone about his business, waiting for whatever opportunity comes his way.
As a freshman, Thomas received some early looks, but issues with pass protection and the occasional fumble set him back, but the Florida native has kept plugging along and doing whatever he could to shore up those very important aspects of his game.
Now, heading into Saturday night's game at Colorado, he could be on the verge of getting the chance he's always dreamed of - the opportunity to start in the Bulldog backfield.
No, nothing has been decided quite yet.
The Bulldogs (1-3) still have two more days of practice before jetting west to Boulder, but between now and then, both offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and running backs coach Bryan McClendon said both Thomas and King will have the opportunity to earn the starting role.
"We're looking for someone to give us a spark," Bobo said. "All three had opportunities to make some runs in some open field and we've got to find that guy to give us a spark to give us some explosive plays in the running game."
Thus far, those have been few and far between.
In fact, it's quarterback Aaron Murray who has the Bulldogs' longest run from scrimmage (21 yards) and coupled with Ealey's two costly fumbles against South Carolina and Mississippi State, coaches feel it's perhaps time to see what Thomas can do with an expanded role.
"We've always had confidence in him. I think his ability to go in there and show that he knows what to do; that he knows how to do it, and that he's going to give the effort when he does it. That's what's given me confidence in him," McClendon said. "You got to reward people who earn it, so it's not like we're giving anybody, anything, not on this team. You're going to earn everything you get."
Thomas' numbers have been respectable.
In Georgia's four games, the 5-foot-7, 175-pounder has rushed for 114 yards on 28 attempts, an average of 4.1 yards per rush.
Naturally, Thomas said he's ready for whatever extra reps coaches feel ready to give.
"I'm pretty much just waiting for more. I'm just ready to get into that rhythm," Thomas said. "I feel like I've got a lot of reps already, but I want more, but that's just me being the player I am; everybody wants more reps, it's not just me. I just want to show what I can do."
Bobo said Thomas has earned the coaches' trust.
"He's practiced extremely hard, he gives extremely good effort. Carlton's issue has been holding onto the football and some protection issue. He's never going to protect great just because of his stature, but he gets after it and the opportunities he's had he's protected and done it very well, and he's held onto the football," Bobo said. "Carlton's going to get an opportunity, like he did last week. He had some space a couple of times. Again, we're just looking for that one consistent guy or two - we're looking for someone to be a spark."
McClendon said Thomas has also helped his cause by the simple fact he's been able to stay healthy.
In Thomas' two years at Georgia, he's yet to don the green jersey signifying an injury and has never missed a day of practice.
That hasn't been the case with Ealey and most notably King, who Bobo said last week was feeling the effects of a sprained ankle he suffered in the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"He's a guy who comes out and works hard all the time. You don't have to question how tough he is, you don't have to question how much he cares, and that means something," McClendon said. "That means something, especially at the position that he plays, a position that is so physically demanding and mentally demanding. It means a lot."
It's also a point that Thomas takes tremendous pride.
"I take great pride in that. That's something that goes back to my coach in high school - you can't win a spot in the training room," Thomas said. "You've got to stay healthy and that's something I really try to do. You take big licks when you're out there; you've just got to be prepared to take them. You can't take reps in the training room and you can't practice 100 percent if you're wearing a green jersey."
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