The competition between the running backs at Georgia Tech has never been fiercer.

With the new spread offense generally utilizing only one running back, the football staff is searching to identify the two or three players who will get the most snaps. This is quite different than it was under the previous administration, where seven or eight players might carry the ball.

“That’s why it’s important that guys are ready,” said Georgia Tech running backs coach Tashard Choice. “As we continue to practice and get into camp, it will be important to see who makes the fewest mental mistakes.”

Among those contending for time at the running back spot is redshirt freshman Christian Malloy of Parkview. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Lilburn native played in one game last year, carrying four times for 27 yards in the win at Virginia Tech.

“Christian has done very well,” Choice said. “He’s very smart about recognizing the defensive scheme and picking up the blitz and running the ball. Don’t count out Christian Malloy. He had a good spring and this whole camp has been working his tail off.”

There are 14 running backs on the roster, some of them walk-ons and true freshmen who won’t play, and some will play in the slot. The competition for running back is open, but does tilt toward two-year veteran Jerry Howard, returning starter Jordan Mason and freshman hotshot Jamious Griffin.

“Our position is very competitive,” Smart said. “We’ve got a really good room … lot of talent. The cream has got to rise to the top.”

Choice rated the two most important priorities for running backs: protect the football and protect the quarterback.

“I won’t rave about your yards, but when you pick up a blitz or step up and block somebody, that’s when I get excited,” Choice said. “Blocking is tough, it’s selfless. I tell them, I’ll get more excited about your blocking than about your running. Everybody can run.”

One of the early surprises in camp has been the play of Dontae Smith, a redshirt freshman from Spring Hill, Tenn. He was moved to receiver last year and has been returned to the running back fold, has bulked up from 175 to 190 pounds and will get a chance in the backfield and in the slot.

“Dontae has been a big surprise,” Choice said. “You could see his personality as a football player change. He’s really matured and is trying to learn. He’s thirsty and that’s good for him.”

A number of Gwinnett County graduates continue to have an impact on the program. David Curry of Buford, who was granted a medical redshirt and has two more years of eligibility remaining, has elevated his game to the next level. Wide receiver Malachi Carter of Mountain View continues to take strides toward nailing down a starting job.

“Malachi Carter is playing at an unbelievable level,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “I’m not trading that dude for anybody.”

Carter played in all 13 games in 2018 as a reserve wideout and caught three passes for 56 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 18.7 yards per reception.