ATHENS – Back when this whole process started, Nick Chubb reached out to two people who knew exactly what he was about to go through: Willis McGahee and Robert Edwards.
Both were tailbacks who suffered serious, career-changing knee injuries. Edwards is a fellow Georgia product. Chubb found McGahee through Instagram. He asked both how he should approach that.
“It’s all the same: They say your knee depends on how hard you’re willing to work,” Chubb said.
Then Chubb, recounting the advice on Thursday, smiled.
“You’re telling the right guy that,” he said, a rare bit of bravado from the soft-spoken star tailback.
It’s not yet been 10 months since Chubb tore his knee up at Tennessee, a gruesome injury that required extensive surgery. It was widely assumed his return to the field would take until mid-season of 2016. An anonymous NFL trainer told Bleacher Report that Chubb might never play again.
Instead, all signs point to Chubb playing in opener on Sept. 3 – and starting. Even if Chubb won’t come out and say it.
“I like playing football. I wouldn’t mind getting out there,” Chubb said, smiling.
Chubb practiced for the third time on Thursday without a brace. It was yet another step forward in what’s been a remarkable recovery: He went from a big black brace during spring practice – when it was amazing already he was doing that – to some gradually smaller braces.
“I went through like five braces. So it feels good,” Chubb said.
It’s become fairly obvious by now that Chubb is playing against North Carolina, barring a setback. But he and the team have played it so coy that even a minor pronouncement – head coach Kirby Smart saying Wednesday night Chubb was “in line” for carries – led to a minor commotion. Chubb said he heard Smart said that, but that Smart hadn’t told him yet.
So why the coyness? Is it superstition?
“I like to stay focused, and not get too ahead of myself,” Chubb said. “I’m worried about tomorrow.”
The only question now is how much of a workload Chubb can carry. As a freshman two years ago he had three games of 30-plus carries, including the 38-carry performance at Missouri.
Could he carry that kind of workload again?
“I won’t be able to know until it happens,” Chubb said. “But I feel good. I feel good about where I’m at. Where my team is at, and the coaching staff. So maybe.”
Chubb said he was limited in both scrimmages – he couldn’t remember exactly how many carries – but did say he stayed in for pass protection.
Whatever happens, it’s an amazing return, as the two tailbacks he reached out to last fall can attest.
McGahee suffered an ugly knee injury in the 2002 national title game, on what turned out to be the final carry of his college career. He was still a first-round draft pick a few months later, but sat out his first season, but returned to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. He finished his career with 8,474 rushing yards.
Edwards had a rougher go of it, after blowing out his knee during a flag football game in 1999. That was following his rookie season, when he rushed for 1,115 yards for the New England Patriots. Edwards didn’t play again until 2002, and only had 20 carries. He didn’t play again.
Chubb now seems set for a return that, while completely expected, will still bring a spirited reaction. He was asked what that will be like.
“I know it’ll be a great experience,” Chubb said. “A lot of people supported me and cheered me on. I know it’ll be great.”