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Georgia RB Battle Wide Open

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Isaiah Crowell says he isn't concerned about
his strained groin or his jersey number.

Georgia's freshman tailback is just letting time take care of both issues. Crowell, a high profile recruit, woke up Friday with a sore groin and missed his first practice since the Bulldogs began summer
drills last week.

Coach Mark Richt said the injury isn't considered serious and added that Crowell should return to practice soon. Crowell believes fans shouldn't worry that he might not be on the field in his No. 1 jersey when the Bulldogs face Boise State in the Sept. 3 season opener at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

"There's no need for them to panic because it's not really all that serious," Crowell said. "I was just feeling it. It was just weak or whatever."

Crowell and Branden Smith both began summer practice with the No. 1 jersey, but Smith indicated he will change numbers soon. Even though he's a starting cornerback and punt returner, Smith
says he doesn't mind.

Beginning his junior year, Smith is more concerned with keeping up a high tempo in practice and strengthening his role as a vocal leader on and off the field.

"It's not my number at all," Smith said. "It's Georgia's number. A number doesn't make anybody. The person makes the number. I'm very happy that Isaiah got number 1. We talked about it. I play defense. He plays offense."

Smith does play offense occasionally, so he and Crowell wouldn't be able to be on the field at the same time in a game, but jersey numbers aren't high on Richt's current agenda while Smith continues
to impress. According to Richt last week, Smith "stole the show" with five interceptions.

"You could see a difference in the spring," Richt said, "but now he's locked in, focused, competing, leading, hustling and making sure everybody else is hustling."

It seems that Smith's leadership has spurred other upperclassmen
to amp up their willingness to be leaders.

"I heard more positive encouragement from teammates to teammates on hustling, finishing, competing, winning the drill," Richt said. "It was probably more today than I can remember all of last year put together, so I was very encouraged by that."

Regarding Smith's jersey switch, Richt stopped short of saying that he promised Crowell the No. 1 jersey while Georgia was recruiting the five-star signee from Columbus, Ga.

"These kids love their numbers," Richt said. "They wear them all through high school and they want to wear them in college if they can. I don't blame them. I think they get necklaces with their number on it and their mama loves it. It's just kind of part of the deal, so you try to do your best to accommodate those guys."

Crowell says he doesn't care. He wore No. 1 while rushing for over 3,600 yards and scoring 58 touchdowns in his last three years at Carver High School. At Carver practice, he wore No. 2.

"I wouldn't mind giving up the number," Crowell said. "It won't matter.

Crowell, who was speaking to reporters for the first time since summer practice began last week, is still adjusting to college life. He credits linebacker Jarvis Jones, a junior who went to Carver, fullback Bruce Figgins, a senior from Shaw High in Columbus, and Georgia tailback Richard Samuel with providing help.

Samuel and Carlton Thomas are both ahead of Crowell on the depth
chart, but the freshman will likely become the starter after his groin heals and he gets a better understanding of the playbook. Crowell is still trying to learn his different roles in pass protection, but he met during the summer Georgia legend Herschel Walker, who offered encouragement, and learned a hard lesson when Caleb King, a rising senior tailback, was kicked off the team.

"My coaches tell me I'm not the savior. Just come out here and work hard and help my team," Crowell said.


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