Teammates come to Crowell's defense


The criticism Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell received last year was deafening.

The freshman went from being proclaimed a hero to being called "soft" to actually being booed by his home fans in the SEC championship game.

In defense of his critics, Crowell's tendency to get injured had him standing on the sideline or sitting on the training table more than carrying the ball during the second half of the season. People were aware of his ankle injury, but it was hard to tell where Crowell was mentally. Plus, his off-the-field issues didn't exactly help his image.

But as much as his work ethic and character were challenged from the outside, they were praised from within, according to teammates.

Thursday, junior tight end Arthur Lynch took offense to all the criticism during Crowell's rookie season -- a season in which he rushed for 850 yards, five touchdowns and was named SEC Freshman of the Year by The Associated Press. Lynch said Crowell was "wrongly scrutinized all year."

"It's such a different game than high school," Lynch said. "Let’s face it; he had instant success and people were so demanding of him to be the savior, this idea of, 'Oh, the next Herschel [Walker].' That’s just unfairly suited to him.”

The pressure was on Crowell from the start, but things didn't exactly start well. Word spread that his preseason practice habits weren't great and he battled shape issues before and during the season. Things caught up with him in the second half, as he dealt with a one-game suspension and seemed to be more injury prone. He carried the ball just 67 times for 277 yards, had only one score in the final eight games, and missed the Georgia Tech game.

Lynch, who is Crowell's "Big Brother" in coach Mark Richt’s “Brother’s Keeper” program, said he Crowell really fought through injuries.

"Had Isaiah been a junior or senior, maybe he should grind through it," Lynch said. "I thought he grinded through it enough. He sat out one game and he tried to play in that SEC championship game when we needed him. You could just tell in practice he was hurt and it wasn't like, 'I'm gonna cop out in the game because I can't reach the level of success I've had in prior games.' I thought he was legitimately hurt and he fought through it more than anyone else could expect.

"I was just proud of him for going out there and having some carries."

Speaking of the SEC championship game, Lynch wasn't too thrilled with how the Georgia faithful treated Crowell when he was booed while limping over to the sideline in the first half.

“I thought that was one, disrespectful, and two, it’s like I don’t think anybody understands the pain that he’s going through, right now," he said.

Quarterback Aaron Murray said he saw a freshman who hadn't had to deal with practicing for two straight hours and wasn't used to the college grind. Like any freshman, it was tough to adapt. That's why Murray is thankful he redshirted his first season.

"It’s different, especially as a running back, when maybe in high school you’re just outrunning everyone and running people over, and you come to SEC football and these guys are coming at you every single play, taking you out by your knees, your ankles; it’s tough," Murray said.

Crowell promised change at the end of last season, and so far teammates see it. Running back Richard Samuel said Crowell isn't "going through the motions." Murray said he's more impressive in mat drills and Lynch said he's "finally getting it."

From what Lynch has seen, the image people thought they had of Crowell should change this fall.

"I’ve seen him mature from the day he got here and we had to drag him to workouts to now, where he’s the leader of his group during workouts,” he said. "He’s a kid that I think will make a lot of noise this year if he keeps doing what he’s doing.

"I expect nothing but good things from him."