Georgia injury update: How early injuries could factor into another championship run
ATHENS — Right about the time Georgia football was getting comfortable with the notion of having a championship starting lineup, another key question has popped up.
Do the Bulldogs have championship depth?
Georgia fans had to hear from Alabama fans the entire offseason how if Alabama had better depth in its secondary and at receiver the Tide would not have lost in the CFP Championship Game (33-18) after beating UGA 41-24 in the SEC title game.
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Kirby Smart detailed a number of key players who missed the first Georgia scrimmage on Saturday, some that turned heads more than others:
• OG Tate Ratledge (turf foe)
• RB Kendall Milton (hamstring)
• OT Earnest Greene (hamstring)
• WR De’Nylon Morrissette (hyperextended knee)
• WR Arian Smith (ankle)
Smart noted that projected starting inside linebacker Trezman Marshall is playing with a calf strain, while former All-American safety Tykee Smith continues to play in a knee brace.
Smith’s injury seems to be the most serious, as it required surgery and he’s out indefinitely.
“We just don’t have the depth at receiver,” Smart lamented. “We need to get De’Nylon (Morrissette) back, and we need to get Dillon Bell rolling to get where we need to get at wide out.”
Indeed, one of the more notable transfers was when perimeter threat Jermaine Burton transferred to Alabama after last season, putting a dent in that perimeter receiving depth Smart was referring to.
Former UGA defensive backs Latavious Brini (Arkansas), Ameer Speed (Michigan State) and (Jalen Kimber) were other players who transferred out.
Georgia added a deep and talented class of defensive back recruits, but Smart pointed out it has made the secondary young, too.
“I think your freshmen are your backups because you don’t have the depth,” Smart said. “It really shouldn’t be where they are your 2s, but most of our guys are 2s and in (some) cases 1s.”
It’s a common refrain that “every team has injuries,” and while that is true, not every team is as well-equipped to deal with them.
Consider, Georgia lost a record-15 players in the 2022 NFL Draft — not including Anderson, who likely would have been a sixth UGA defensive player selected in the record-breaking first round.
To boot, new transfer rules have paved the way for quality backups to move on, and the Bulldogs lost four former starters among the 13 players who excited via the transfer portal.
Suddenly, Georgia has gone from being one of the more experienced teams in the nation to among the younger ones.
“If you count,” Smart said Saturday, “Forty to 35 percent of our team are freshmen.”
Smart pointed out Georgia needs to have quality depth at running back.
“Durability is always an issue at back; I don’t think I’ve been through a year here where we didn’t have one of our top three backs miss a game,” Smart said after Scrimmage One on Saturday.
“If that happens, one of those guys (freshmen Branson Robinson and Andrew Paul) better be ready to step up and play.”
Milton’s hamstring isn’t thought to be too serious but any time a rising star like Milton isn’t on the field it raises eyebrows.
Injuries and ailments are common in fall drills, “bumps and bruises” as coaches like to call them.
But when players are “dinged up” enough to be held out or undergo surgery, it’s nothing to brush off.
A closer look at the 2022 Georgia football team reveals it does not have the same sort of depth that it relied on to get through last season when players went missing from the lineup for various reasons.
Most notably, Georgia had 23-year-old fifth-year senior Stetson Bennett ready when opening game team captain and starting quarterback JT Daniels was sidelined by a series of upper body injuries.
Then, when Florida team captain Adam Anderson was suspended and ultimately dismissed from the team on account of rape charges, fifth-year senior Robert Beal stepped in and stepped up, finishing as the team’s sacks leader.
Georgia’s depth on the line was so impressive that projected Top 5 NFL draft pick Jalen Carter wasn’t even a primary starter last season, playing behind 2022 NFL Draft first-round picks Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt.
Finally, Georgia fans know better than anyone that, outside of Jake Fromm’s 2018 and 2019 seasons, the quarterback position has been tumultuous.
UGA finished the 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2021 seasons under Kirby Smart with a multiple starting quarterbacks, with different quarterbacks starting the first game and the last game each year.
The Bulldogs have talent in their QB room, but none of the backup quarterbacks have extensive game action or starting experience like Bennett had entering into last season.
Smart has recruited plenty of talent to Georgia, but the Bulldogs will likely need to mature quickly this season in order to make another championship run.