Georgia starting lineup hit with rash of injuries, what comes next

Tykee Smith-Georgia football-ACL
Georgia defensive back Tykee Smith (23), shown here during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, is questionable for the opening game. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

ATHENS — Football is a game of adjustments, something Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been reminded of in fall camp with a rash of injuries to projected starters.

Smart said after last Saturday’s scrimmage that senior Latavious Brini and West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith were splitting reps at the “Star” position in the secondary. An injury to Smith in Tuesday’s practice figures to change that arrangement indefinitely.

RELATED: Kirby Smart’s quick take on Saturday scrimmage

Smart released a statement on Wednesday saying Smith and tight end Darnell Washington have foot-related injuries and are “day-to-day.”

Smith has a sprained ankle, per DawgNation sources, and is questionable for the opening game. Washington has a foot sprain and is also questionable for the opening game. The 247Sports outlet has reported both players are out for three weeks for the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs.

A source told DawgNation that Smith and Washington underwent surgery on Wednesday, confirming other reports.

Georgia opens the season against No. 3-ranked Clemson at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

What’s next

Smart said last Saturday senior cornerback Ameer Speed is working at other positions, indicating the Bulldogs are building depth in a defensive backfield that’s down seven players from a season ago.

RELATED: Ameer Speed arriving right on time for Bulldogs

Where Speed lines up could be determined by how Brini is performing and other variables such as the opponent (matchups) and Smart’s comfort level with the other cornerbacks.

Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith are the starting safeties and senior William Poole is among the players providing depth along with David Daniels and Dan Jackson

Five defensive backs off the 2020 UGA team were on NFL rosters when training camp opened, and two others transferred, Major Burns (LSU) and Tyrique Stevenson (Miami).

Cornerback quandary

The shoulder injury that Smart said kept projected starting cornerback Jalen Kimber out of the scrimmage last Saturday adds to the puzzle the UGA staff must solve in the secondary.

Georgia has typically played a three-man cornerback rotation, but this season it might be increased to four as Smart looks to build depth.

Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick, Kimber, Speed, and emerging second-year cornerback Kelee Ringo would seem to be the primary options at cornerback.

RELATED: Kirby Smart high on Kelee Ringo, young corners

Smart mentioned freshmen Kamari Lassiter as “a surprise highlight of camp.”

Smart also said Nyland Green and Lovasea Carroll are “both in a growth process.”

What about tight end?

The 6-foot-7 Washington has been a popular pick for break-out offensive player of the year.

But a foot injury is nothing to fool with considering the power and explosion needed for receivers to get separation, run sharp routes and make leaping catches.

For perspective, Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell -- one of the seven defensive backs UGA is replacing this season, missed five games in 2019 with a sprained foot. Each injury is different, of course, and players can and do heal at different rates.

Smart said senior John FitzPatrick was also dealing with a foot sprain and missed scrimmage on Saturday.

Freshman Brock Bowers is a tight end, but second-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken explained that Bowers is more of an H-Back than the conventional sort that can perform the double duties of blocking and catching.

RELATED: Todd Monken explains versatile Brock Bowers

Georgia has depth at the position with talented — but unproven — options Ryland Goede and Brett Seither.

The Bulldogs lost a transfer at tight end in the last year also, with Kolby Wyatt leaving for Hawaii.

Other injury concerns

The receiver position and offensive line are both in a state of flux on account of injuries, with the receiving corps being a longer range concern than the offensive line.

Offensive line coach Matt Luke will get it right on the offensive line, but the hand injury to center Warren Ericson has put Georgia in scramble mode with Clemson’s ferocious front first up on the schedule.

RELATED: Offensive line a puzzle for Matt Luke to solve, and quickly

Eventually, the line will get ironed out before the meat of the schedule hits.

The receiving corps, however, saw five players transfer out in the past year and receivers George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock remain shelved indefinitely coming off ACL injuries.

To boot, Kearis Jackson just returned from summer arthroscopic knee surgery wearing a brace in practice on Tuesday.

Jermaine Burton, a talented second-year receiver who was limited in bowl practices and missed much of a spring with a hyperextended knee, also returned to practice on Tuesday after suffering an ankle injury.

Georgia had opened LSU transfer Arik Gilbert could provide a lift, but he is away from the team indefinitely dealing with personal issues.

RELATED: What comes next at ‘X’ with Arik Gilbert out

It’s a position Georgia needs to stay healthy at, as the Bulldogs plan to run multi-receiver sets with gunslinging quarterback JT Daniels under center.

Unofficial rundown on Georgia football injuries:

TE Darnell Washington (foot)

DB Tykee Smith (foot/ankle)

C Warren Ericson (hand)

CB Jalen Kimber (shoulder)

WR Arik Gilbert (personal)

TE John FitzPatrick (foot)

OL Owen Condon (Unknown)

WR Dominick Blaylock

WR George Pickens

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