Georgia Bulldogs need a healthy David Marshall back on the D-line ASAP
ATHENS — The fact that David Marshall is on the field this spring doing anything is good news for the Georgia Bulldogs. That he’s not able line up at his familiar defensive end position and compete against UGA’s vaunted offense is not.
The senior from Thomaston remains on a long road back from what turned out to be a Lizfranc injury of his left foot in the middle of last season. But while he made a full-pads appearance on Woodruff Practice Fields on Tuesday, there remains still miles to go before he’s ready to take on offensive tackles again.
“It was really the first time I’ve been out there with the team, so it felt pretty good to get back into the process,” Marshall said after the two-hour workout. “I’m feeling pretty good. Just trying to get back right, get my ankle back right.”
But pressed about how close he might be to getting back in the mix, Marshall wasn’t very encouraging.
“I ain’t that close yet,” Marshall said when asked if he might be 65 to 80 percent recovered. “Only thing I can do is stay in that training room and try to get back right. I’m in the process of getting back right now.”
Georgia needs Marshall to get back ASAP. He is a proven commodity on a defensive line that is pocked with question marks and ravaged by injury. In addition to Marshall, seniors Julian Rochester (knee) and Michail Carter (shoulder) are sidelined for the spring while recovering from offseason surgeries.
That has left Michael Barnett, Tyler Clark, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Malik Herring and Justin Young to carry the lettermen’s torch this spring. Only Herring and Young are experienced at the defensive end position, and the junior Young appeared in only one game as a backup a year ago.
Georgia added five defensive linemen in the 2019 signing class, but only Tramel Walthour, a 6-3, 280-pound junior college transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, is participating in spring practice.
Kirby Smart was asked Tuesday if any “other guys have emerged” on the defensive line yet.
“What other guys?” Smart said, incredulous. “We ain’t got anymore. We don’t have any. Defensive line is, like, super thin. I guess I’m whining to the masses because everybody will tell you ‘we don’t have enough defensive linemen.’ You know?”
At the moment, Herring is the man at defensive end. The 6-3, 280-pound junior from Forsyth became Jonathan Ledbetter’s primary backup last season, playing in all 14 games and starting one. But his role increased significantly after Marshall went down following Georgia’s home game against Vanderbilt last season. Herring recorded 15 of his 23 tackles in the eight games that followed.
Marshall was in Herring’s ear the whole way, trying help him with technique and play calls.
“I told him he’s got to step up, because he ain’t got me in front of him,” Marshall said.
But while Herring proved a proficient replacement, he couldn’t replicate the tremendous run-stuffing ability Marshall brought to the table. That’s what made Marshall and Ledbetter such a force at the end position. Georgia could have Marshall on the field on run downs, then send in Ledbetter to turn him loose in passing situations.
After Marshall went out, Ledbetter logged the majority of snaps in either situation.
“That’s in the years past,” Smart said of the impact of losing Marshall. “He’s a good player, so I’m not going to cry over that. We need him this year. I want him to stay healthy.”
Marshall’s trying. He wasn’t even certain he was badly hurt last season. While he felt a pop against Vanderbilt, it wasn’t until he got X-rays on Monday that he realized the extent of his injury.
He ended up having surgery to repair a Lizfranc fracture in the middle of his left foot, and he hasn’t been able to run or even walk at a normal gait ever since. The rest of last season was spent with Marshall having to be carried to classes in a minivan. then he graduated to a rolling knee scooter, then crutches and now nothing.
“I kind of can’t plant yet,” Marshall said. “I’m just running forward, straight. … I didn’t even know it was a real serious injury until I got the X-Rays. I didn’t know it until then.”
The Bulldogs continue to hold out hope Marshall will be ready to go by preseason camp. For now, he’s not making any predictions.
“I don’t get emotional,” Marshall said. “I just keep going and working until I get back right.”
Whenever that is won’t be soon enough.